Insights Michael Baker

Dog days

Long faces at the RSPCA this week as The Times reported that the animal charity’s quest for a new chief was dogged by age discrimination AND a victory for a California nurse who took on Facebook and Instagram’s publishing policies

Long faces at the RSPCA this week as The Times reported that the animal charity’s quest for a new chief was dogged by age discrimination. The interim boss, Michael Ward, 57, is said to have received a six-figure payoff as he was sent off to the knacker’s yard in favour of a whipper-snapper twenty years younger.

Response: A spokesman for the RSPCA refused to engage in “speculation about employment matters” saying that after “ten very successful years with the society” Ward had decided to “move on”.

Impact? From the outside, the lack of a clear rebuttal suggests we’re not getting the full picture or that the charity, which was behind the convictions of 704 people – including eight children – in England and Wales last year, believes that it is above responding to scrutiny. Last year the RSPCA raked in £119m from the public and was warned by the Charity Commission to bring its governance “up to a standard that the public would expect” in the wake of the departure of their last top dog. The decision not to comment on the substance of these latest allegations rather left an elephant in the room.

What could have been done differently? The RSPCA is not the only charity struggling to come to terms with public accountability. The boss of Oxfam, the charity at the centre of allegations of the sexual abuse of victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, stepped down this week with the organisation’s press office making dubious claims about the decision having “absolutely nothing” to do with handling of the crisis. This, despite the head honcho saying as recently as February that he would only step down if he lost the board’s confidence.

A charity’s viability rests on the goodwill of the public and as with any organisation we invest in, we want to know that stated values align with how they treat their employees and partners. Charities can and should be held to account and in response, they need to engage with the issues, rebut allegations early if they can and explain how they will clear up the mess if they can’t. The risks from a goodwill impairment are in some respects far greater for charities than for publicly listed companies.


Images of childbirth on Facebook and Instagram will no longer be censored after the social networks agreed this week that the photos should be categorised as “educational and celebratory” rather than “offensive”.

It was a victory for US campaigner and registered nurse Katie Vigos and adds to the questions about how social networks monitor content and impose their values and norms on the “global community”. What other images are being withheld, on what basis and do policies differ around the world?  The technical know-how is there to change the systems which serve content up and this decision lends further weight to the argument that they curate content as publishers rather than act as mere platforms.