Opinion: Calling a spade a spade – the media need to learn the difference between charities and activist groups

Matthew Wilcox

A recent choice in terminology has left us scratching our heads.

A headline in The Guardian on Tuesday will have caught the eye of anyone with an interest in aquaculture, “‘Unacceptable Greenwashing’: Scottish Farmed Salmon Should Not Be Labelled Organic, Say Charities.”

The article highlighted an open letter by a number of well known activist groups who contend that the Soil Association’s certification of Scottish farmed salmon as “organic” is nothing short of an environmental affront.

Forehead raising

Fair enough, that is their right, but it is the it’s the language of the headline that’s making us raise an eyebrow — or perhaps an entire forehead.

Here’s the catch (no pun intended): With reporting, the use of words is important. the article casually refers to activist groups in this context as “charities.” Cue the collective raised eyebrows.

Now, when we think of “charities,” we often picture organizations generously doling out financial aid or support to those in need. Heartwarming stuff, really. But activist groups? It’s not quite the same thing.

Describing these folks as “charities” in this context gives off a vibe that’s slightly off-key. It’s like calling a hammer a musical instrument—it may technically fit the definition, but it doesn’t quite hit the right note.

Yes, some of these activist groups may have charitable aspects or engage in charitable work, but let’s not forget their primary role: advocacy.

Charities primarily focus on providing direct support, resources, or aid to individuals or communities in need. They engage in activities like fundraising, delivering essential services, and alleviating immediate suffering.

No room for fishy business

By contrast, activist groups are more inclined to advocate for specific social or environmental changes. They operate through campaigns, lobbying efforts, and awareness-raising initiatives to promote their causes, challenge injustices, and influence public opinion or policy.

Almost 100% of Scottish salmon is RSPCA certified; So why is the charity’s president calling to end salmon farming?

Legally, charities get special recognition and tax benefits for their nonprofit status. Activist groups? Well, they have a more flexible legal landscape.

Or as Salmon Scotland CEO, Tavish Scott put it:

WildFish masquerades as a conservation organisation and is actually an angling pressure group that wants to make 12,500 hard working salmon farmers, who live in some of Scotland’s most remote communities, unemployed during a cost-of-living crisis.”

In the great theatre of debate, these kind of casual inaccuracies are the smoke and mirrors that can turn a serious discussion into a circus act. When businesses face scrutiny to the extent the salmon industry does, it’s crucial to get the facts straight.

Accurate use of language underpins transparency, accountability, and informed decision-making. It safeguards the public interest and shields against the haze of misinformation. So, let’s uphold accuracy and steer clear of misrepresentation. In journalism, there’s no place for fishy business.


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