UK charity accused of censoring criticism of energy giants

Tuesday, 10 December 2013 19:34 GMT

A Somali child is checked for malnutrition at a Save the Children UK clinic at their camp in Hodan district of Somalia's capital Mogadishu, November 2012. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

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LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A whistleblower has accused British charity Save the Children of suppressing criticism of energy giants for fear of upsetting existing or potential corporate donors.

The aid agency, which raised £300 million last year, quashed press releases criticising British Gas price rises in an effort to protect a partnership worth £1.5 million over 10 years, according to The Independent.

The allegation features in a wider investigation into charity finances by the BBC’s Panorama programme, which will be broadcast on Tuesday.  

Dominic Nutt, head of the press team at Save the Children until 2009, told The Independent that press releases he wrote criticising fuel poverty - which puts pressure on poor families - were “spiked” because of fears they could damage corporate partnerships.

“When British Gas put their prices up, our policy colleagues asked us to send out a press release condemning them ... I wrote the release, got it approved by the policy experts and prepared to press ‘send’,” Nutt said.

“But the release was spiked because, I was told, it would upset British Gas who were Save the Children donors.”

Save the Children refuted Nutt’s allegations and said it had run a fuel-poverty campaign in January 2012 which was critical of energy companies, including British Gas.

The charity is also accused of dropping a potential campaign about the effects of fuel poverty on children while it was under consideration for funding from energy firm EDF, according to the Independent.

Save the Children said there was no connection between any publicity plans and the EDF funding, which eventually went to another charity.

“It is simply wrong and misleading to suggest our silence can be bought,” said the charity’s chief executive Justin Forsyth.

The Panorama investigation also criticises Comic Relief on its investments in funds which bought shares in the alcohol, arms and tobacco industries between 2007 and 2009. The poverty relief charity said it was legally obliged to maximise the return on its donations.

Amnesty International UK is shown to have lost £750,000 on its annual benefit show. Amnesty denies it went wrong.

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