Media has a real case to answer over bullying helpline coverage

The news that The Charity Commission has launched an investigation into the National Bullying Helpline (NBH) after more than 160 complaints about its activities, once again raises the vexed question for some journalists of why they didn’t subject the group to much greater scrutiny when it first hit the headlines last Sunday morning.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no particular axe to grind against the journalistic profession. I quite like a lot of journalists, greatly respect what they do and think they often get a raw deal from the public and sometimes the PR profession. However the conduct of some members of the press and media on this story has been frankly shoddy at best and, to take a less charitable view, deliberately circumspect.

The Charity Commission website.

Having taken soundings from people with various political views who witnessed the story breaking last weekend, it’s clear that there was something not quite on the level about the NBH. Alarm bells should have rung for journalists. Even the most basic Googling and background research should have made them tread more carefully before reporting, almost uncritically, the organisation’s allegations.

Early this morning, the BBC’s Today programme dragged its political correspondent Carole Walker into the studio to breathlessly report the latest news that The Charity Commission had taken the decision to prevent the NBH from transmitting or disclosing information, including details about the nature and source of the confidential calls it has received, without the commission’s permission. Did she have anything to say about how and why her colleagues and associates failed to do a better job in investigating the NBH’s activities? Not a word.

Should the latest developments in this story come as such a surprise? I don’t think so. Journalists have a case to answer on this. I look forward to seeing the media run a news story very soon on why it displayed such a lack of scrutiny over the National Bullying Helpline.

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