The Stevenage-based Comet has hit out against the Victims of Crimes Trust after discovering that journalists are charged £1 a minute to call its press office.
Comet reporter Louise McEvoy discovered through a Freedom of Information request to Hertfordshire Police that a ‘substantial’number of children aged under 17 had been given cautions for serious crimes including rape, arson and conspiracy to murder, and wanted a comment from the trust.
When she accessed the trust’s website she was informed that press and media enquiries are charged at £1 per minute, 70p of which would be donated to the trust.
McEvoy said: ‘By charging £1 a minute for access to their press office, the Victims of Crime Trust is distancing itself from the media. ‘You should be able to make a conscientious, independent decision to make a donation to any charity, and not be coerced into it.’The trust was founded 14 years ago byNorman Brennan, a full-time serving police offer who also runs the organisation with one other director and a part-time secretary. Brennan came up with the idea of setting up the premium rate number two years ago to help to fund the charity.
Brennan said: ‘We’ve assisted the media for past 14 years and they never contribute towards our running costs – apart from GMTV – and we substantially help the media out, more so than most in the country, on law and order. I cannot recall ever receiving any money for it.
‘We are inundated with media requests, we receive no government funding and no grants whatsoever, so as a desperate measure to try to get some money for the huge amount of help we give the media, we set up the media number. Very few journalists use it, the majority call me on my mobile.’He continued: ‘We don’t have a media department like most charities, it’s myself that has spoken out on law and order issues and I’m contactable 24 hours a day. ‘We will probably get rid of the phone line anyway, because it doesn’t make any money.’Comet editor Darren Isted said: ‘There are ways and means of gaining funding from organisations and it doesn’t seem appropriate to do it through a press office or media line. ‘You want unfettered, free access to a press office and you don’t want to feel you are being charged by the minute. They said they don’t get a lot of money from that line and it’s no wonder.’PR Week editor Daniel Rogers said he had not heard of any other PR operation charging for information. He said: ‘The press office function is inherent in any organisation. It seems bizarre to make journalists pay to communicate. It’s an interesting idea, but the danger is, journalists won’t pay and therefore the trust won’t get its message out.”