Charities — when can independence be questioned?

The independence of BBC Media Action, a charity based at the BBC’s broadcasting house in London, has been called into question after it received £4.5m from the European Union last year. The funds will be partly used to support a project to train hundreds of journalists in countries that share potentially volatile borders with the EU. MPs have expressed concern that this funding may influence the BBC’s impartiality when reporting on EU matters.

The BBC case serves to highlight the importance of a charity’s independence. In order for a body to be regarded as a charity, it must be independent. As many charities increasingly find themselves co-operating with the state in the supply of services, there is a concern within the sector that this may pose a growing threat to independence. But where does the line between acceptable support and coercive influence actually lie and is it always clear?

Questions are certainly likely to be asked of any organisation set up to carry out charitable purposes that are entirely dependent upon a governmental authority for funding and receives funding on terms that enable the governmental authority to decide what services are to be provided and who is to benefit…

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