Observations Body Politic

Faith, hype, and charity

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e317 (Published 11 January 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e317
  1. Nigel Hawkes, freelance journalist, London
  1. nigel.hawkes1{at}btinternet.com

Does it matter if charities exaggerate for the sake of free publicity?

Charities are an important source of health information and regularly provide stories for media organisations willing to swallow more or less anything they say. It suits both parties: journalists get a story with the imprimatur of a well known charity, while the charity gets free publicity on a platform of its own choosing. Who loses? All too often, public understanding is the victim of this cosy relationship.

Margaret McCartney wrote recently in the BMJ about the practices of Barnardo’s (BMJ 2011;343:d7802, doi:10.1136/bmj.d7802), which set itself up as a champion of Britain’s children against the supposed hostility of adults by means of a survey that asked loaded questions, then published the answers as if the critical epithets (“feral,” “angry, violent, and abusive,” and “beginning to behave like animals”) had sprung unbidden to the minds of the adults questioned, rather than being put to them as statements with which they were asked to agree or disagree. The Times was so easily persuaded that it ran a leader declaring that “the …

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