A cynical move to undermine charity campaigning


Susan Smith argues businesses taking out a full-page advert criticising a charity is a dangerous move to undermine charity campaigning

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16th August 2017 by Susan Smith 4 Comments

The manipulative full page advert in national newspapers targeted at RSPB Scotland this week was nothing more than a cynical move from big business to gang up on legitimate charity campaigning.

Full of conciliatory and emotive language, it pitches the coalition of energy companies and other key stakeholders calling themselves Offshore Wind Farm Coalition, as reasonable, passionate, environmentally conscious and caring.

“These are real people, real jobs and real environmental benefits” a coalition spokesman is quoted as saying in related articles.  

It is a worrying sign for charity campaigning that these companies believe they can win the moral high ground on this issue

RSPB Scotland could equally argue the development risks real birds, real wildlife and real habitats already struggling with the impact of changing environmental conditions.

The truth is, the advert is a cynical move from the coalition to win public sympathy for its development and turn hearts against RSPB Scotland.

It is surprising and upsetting because it turns the tables on the charity sector and its natural position as an upholder of social justice, often through advertising. 

It is a worrying sign for charity campaigning that these companies believe they can win the moral high ground on this issue. It is a dangerous move in an on-going media war against charity campaigning, capitalising on insidious anti-charity rhetoric that depicts charities as self-serving and profligate.

It’s rare that charities take court action – they simply don’t have the resources to do it. They also worry about the implications of taking on the might of big business.

Earlier this year, John Muir Trust faced the results after it was forced to pay £50,000 to Scottish and Southern Energy  (a reduction from an initial £350,000 claim) after losing its challenge to the Stronelairg windfarm development.

This current case is clearly a difficult one, it’s been ping-ponging back and forth between judges and appeal judges for three years already. The truth is windfarms are not a black and white issue, they are not all good as the coalition would suggest and neither would RSPB Scotland argue they are all bad. Therefore, it’s right that the charity, which feels just as passionately about its case, should exhaust all possible legal routes before giving up.

The rest of the charity sector should stand behind RSPB Scotland and its right to fight an injustice through all the legal means open to it.

It is a brave move that sets an excellent example to the rest of the charity sector that you don't have to be bullied by business interests. 

Susan Smith is editor of Third Force News.

16th August 2017 by Rose Burn

An interesting point of view. Two thoughts came to mind 1 - do charities ever use emotive language to try and influence the public and 2 - if a business does not take out an advert in a paper (or similar approaches in social media) how else is it meant to take part in a popular debate, for example including facts and figures to take into account in the public discussion?

17th August 2017 by keith cowieson

I tend to agree with Rose Burn, public discourse and debate takes place in many different media - print media such as the broadsheets & tabloids, broadcast media such as TV & radio and all social media platforms. There is nothing cynical in this.If it is legitimate for charities to campaign, so is it legitimate for business to campaign. The more the pros and cons of a particular issue are exposed, the more informed the public (often members of said charities or shareholders of said businesses) will be. Transparency is a good thing in most cases and the public are not fools and perfectly capable of making up their own minds.Moreover, freedom of expression and a free press are bedrocks of a democratic society - they must not be stifled by any special pleading. The RSPB (of which I am a member) is perfectly capable of fighting its corner on the issue, and has been doing so for several years. That's partially why I pay my membership dues.

18th August 2017 by charlie Marshall

I dont think the RSPB is an impoverished underdog and should welcome the opportunity of justifying its position when faced with a contrary point of view. Charities are NOT always right and need to be seen to prove their own hypotheses rather than taking refuge in emotive and emotional statements. If you cant prove a point, dont advance it

24th August 2017 by Scottish Scientist

The Scottish Government could tell RSPB that if they do not end this legal action then the Scottish Government will reduce funding of Scottish National Heritage (SNH) with a view to impacting on SNH's ability to combat some of the pressures on seabirds, including the control of predators, such as brown rats and American mink, along the Scottish coast and on islands.The Scottish Government ought to make RSPB face up to the consequences of insisting on further hated legal action which would definitely increase the prospects of revenge cuts to SNH and much greater harm to the "world-leading breeding grounds" for sea-birds if there was an explosion in the numbers of predators such as brown rats and American mink.Scots are prepared to compromise but we are not prepared to have our economy ruined by bird-watchers. You want to play hardball twitchers?Scottish Scientist Independent Scientific Adviser for Scotland https://scottishscientist.wordpress.com/* Wind, storage and back-up system designer * Double Tidal Lagoon Baseload Scheme * Off-Shore Electricity from Wind, Solar and Hydrogen Power * World’s biggest-ever pumped-storage hydro-scheme, for Scotland? * Modelling of wind and pumped-storage power * Scotland Electricity Generation – my plan for 2020 * South America – GREAT for Renewable Energy