The RSPCA has lodged a formal complaint with the Press Complaints Commission against The Daily Telegraph after the charity claimed the newspaper failed to print an apology or offer a right to reply after a series of “potentially defamatory” articles.
The RSPCA says the stories were “factually incorrect and reflect a biased and unbalanced reporting style”.
In a statement released last week, the charity said: “The articles show clear support for the political agenda of the Countryside Alliance in seeing the return of bloodsports.”
“We are referring in particular to the stories claiming we broke charity rules over the successful prosecution of a hunt and saying we were warned on hunt prosecutions by the Charity Commission.”
RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant said: “These stories are a sustained attack on the RSPCA. [The Daily Telegraph] is not entitled to produce factually inaccurate articles that smear the good name of the RSPCA.”
However, in a Daily Telegraph article, Christopher Hope wrote that Gavin Grant had refused an interview.
The newspaper declined to comment on the matter, but a twitter feed on 18 January read: We stand by christopherhope’s RSPCA story. Nothing misleading about reporting what the Charity Commission raised with the charity.
Meanwhile, Third Sector, the leading UK magazine on the voluntary and not-for-profit sector, published a report on the “brand value” of the RSPCA, as analysed by YouGov.
In the report, the charity scored a high “buzz score” of 8.7 on 19 December, just after the Heythrop judgement.
But as information about legal fees and the subsequent articles in the UK press came out, the score declined to -0.1 on 16 January.
According to the article: Our figures show that as the charity gained attention from the hunt judgement and subsequent media coverage, its reputation declined in almost equal measures.
The RSPCA issued a statement in response to the article, which said: The RSPCA is pleased that the YouGov analysis shows we are regaining general public support in spite of a series of misleading and inaccurate stories.
Gavin Grant added: “We have always been respected by those who care about animals and we are continually grateful for that support.”
“We make no apology for taking to court those who abuse animals. That is one of the reasons we were founded 188 years ago and is what our supporters expect of us.”
Meanwhile, Simon Hart MP, organised a debate on 29 January at Westminster.
He told Shooting Times magazine: “The purpose of Tuesday’s debate (the first of its kind) is to question whether a charity that acts as a prosecutor, and which claims to comply with Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) guidance on prosecutions, is conflicted by the fact that it also has a political and commercial interest in the cases that it takes.”
“To demonstrate this there are numerous examples of curious cases that do not appear to meet CPS guidelines.”
“And secondly, the debate seeks to highlight the fact that the good welfare work of the RSPCA ‘on the ground’ is compromised by an increasingly animal-rights based agenda being pursued by the RSPCA leadership.”
A spokesman for the PCC said: “In this case the Commission concluded that there was no breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The ruling states that there was no breach of Clause 1 (accuracy) and that the newspaper had endeavoured to present the RSPCA’s viewpoint throughout the coverage.”
RSPCA lodges complaint over Daily Telegraph stories.