It is an established social convention that personal acts of charity should be accompanied by a degree of modesty. But while individuals are expected to keep their altruism quiet, organisations thrive on publicity which is the life-blood of charitable and voluntary activity. It is essential for the economic viability of voluntary organisations and one of the key mechanisms by which they gain public credibility and exert political influence. Moreover, the significance of communication issues for the voluntary sector is increasing, for a range of social, political and economic reasons. This chapter explains why this is so and examines an important but neglected issue concerning public communication in this area: the role played by the mainstream news media in publicising different types of charitable and voluntary activity. 1
To understand why communication considerations have gained importance for voluntary organisations, it is necessary to appreciate the significant changes that have transformed their social, civic and political roles since the 1970s. This period has witnessed major retrenchments in the role of the state in welfare provision, prompted by spiralling costs of state provision during periods of economic uncertainty, and by a 'crisis in values' in the desirability of state intervention (Deakin 1987:172). In this context, the voluntary sector has been 'rediscovered' by commentators across the political spectrum and in many different national contexts (Kuhnle and Selle 1992).
In Britain, voluntary provision has been actively encouraged by successive political administrations, albeit with slightly different inflections. In the statutory social welfare system of the 1970s, the rhetoric of community and participation heralded a new age for voluntary organisations. In particular, a new concept of statutory-voluntary partnership arose (Wolfenden 1978). In the 1980s and early 1990s, successive Conservative administrations sought to roll back the frontiers of the state, and the voluntary sector was expected to