Charity and the Media
An Australian Example
Aidan Simmons, Bachelor of Journalism/Arts
“There are an estimated 600,000 entities in the not-for-profit sector which contribute around $43 billion to the economy of Australia making it larger than the communications industry, agriculture or tourism. The majority of these are small unincorporated neighbourhood groups or associations that provide support for and wellbeing in the community”. – Office of the Not for Profit Sector Website of Australian Government. Clearly charity is alive in Australia. Personally, I am an active participant in a Charity in my local community. As a student of Journalism though I have always paused to ask myself: Why then do charities seem to have such a tough time with media exposure? The answer is long and complex and will be the focus of this report. One thing is for certain though more research needs to be done on how charities utilise the media in Australian context, as this study is only a cursory analysis of a much, much bigger issue.
The primary focus of this report is the way Australian charities use the news media. It draws heavily on a similar study conducted in Canada called: ‘Promoting Philanthropy? News Publicity and Voluntary Organizations in Canada’ by Josh Greenberg and David Walters. This study heavily influences my own personal look into the reporting on charity in the Australian media which follows my discussion of Greenberg and Walters. I have also endeavoured to try to provide a cursory history of Australian social welfare attitudes and a brief history of Australian charity, largely informed by Brian Dickey’s brilliant ‘No Charity There’. I also will look at the reasons given for ‘giving behaviour’ amongst people. The ultimate purpose of this study is to strive to better understand the way charities and the media interact, as well as to better understand charity and social welfare issues in Australia. I sincerely hope my analysis is useful for both those in the not-for-profit sector and media scholars. A Background to the Australian Context:
Australia’s first charity was founded in 1813. Still active today this group now simply known as ‘The Benevolent Society’ and was then called the ‘New South Wales Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Benevolence in these Territories and the Neighbouring Islands’. The majority of the men in this group were evangelical Christians having previously served as missionaries elsewhere. The story of this first charity is interesting in illustrating a two themes tied up in my research. The first is charity’s deep connection to religion, which will be explored as we continue to wind through this paper. The second is the way that charity often serves to partner government incentives. In his book No Charity There Brain Dickey looks extensively at the social welfare history of Australia, regarding the early benevolent society he writes: Governor Macquarie put considerable pressure on these men of Christian faith to employ the majority of their resources garnered from donations in New South Wales on the needs of the colony, rather than on supporting missionary endeavour on the islands (Dickey, 1987) The result of this was that:
The founders [of the Benevolent Society] craved Macquarie’s approval… for they knew that without it neither funds not social acceptance would be forthcoming. They abandoned their missionary schemes and decided to concentrate on mortality and benevolence in Sydney… They raised money from donations and dispensed outdoor relief… they saw their work as supporting, rather than replacing government rations. (Dickey, 1987) Clearly Modern Australia has very little in common with its colonial origins. Exploring the vast and deep history of the Benevolent Society lies beyond the scope of this paper and will not be attempted. This example is demonstrative however in encapsulating the way charity has worked...
Cited: by Jay et al. 2002). Finally Outputs as the name suggests is the outcome of the donors decision resulting in some form of giving behaviour; either time, money or an in-kind contribution.
While the authors results by their own admission were undesirable:
Ten participants were invited to each focus group session. Nine attended the first session and two attended the second. The primary limitation of focus groups is the lack of generalisability due to the small sample size (Keown 1983, Calder 1977). This limitation was further compounded by the small turnout for the second session. (Jay et al. 2002)
I have however decided to include the six broad categories and what they encompass for the benefit of anyone in the charity sector. There are strong arguments for keeping these themes in mind in communications plans and I am sure if a comprehensive study of the Australian people were done many of these issues would prove decisive reasoning’s for people’s actions. Even within my fairly limited study (nothing more than what is reported in the news!) there seemed to be a strong slant towards the significance of processing determinates shown by personal connections to a disease being something so frequently mentioned. Perhaps one could even make an argument that a large personal connection with Cancer on the part of Australian’s is owing to the Cancer Council’s success. I personally think this would be a legitimate claim to make.
In conclusion, it is discernibly true that reporting on Charity in recent times has increased. It is interesting to note the Social Welfare History of Australia’s past and the way Charity has continued to act in my the same role as it has Historically as a supporter of Government services. It is also interesting to note the missionary/Christian origin to many charities. The study of Greenberg and Walters (2004) provides an interesting and useful means of interpreting my own data; I don’t have anything further to add than my own mini-conclusion to my findings. Finally the work of Jay et al. (2002) provides interesting food for thought for those in the Charity sector and media scholars seeking to explain the reasons for certain Charities dominating media exposure; other than of course the all mighty dollar!
[ 1 ]. < http://annualreview.cancer.org.au/financial-report/expenses-payments.html>
[ 2 ].
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