For a third sector of the airwaves

For a third sector of the airwaves


Peter Stanford

Third Sector magazine




Thanks to the Third Sector reader who emailed me with the offer of a kilt after my recent hymn of praise to the Scottish NHS. I’d love to say yes, but we have problem knees in our family. My wife claims the first bit of our son she saw as he was being born was his ‘Stanford knees’ – big, knobbly and all the more prominent because thereafter the rest of the limb tapers away like a table leg rather than bulging out in best rugby player fashion.


BBC Scotland has me hankering for the north once more. It is launching a series on the voluntary sector to be broadcast in July (Third Sector, 11 May). This column has long advocated a Third Sector of the airwaves to reflect and endorse the size and importance of the charitable contribution to national life. Once again, Scotland seems to have responded rather faster than the rest of us south of the border.


Whenever I’ve tried this argument on television and radio folk, they tend to have several stock responses. The first is that charities are worthy rather than sexy in media terms. You wonder where they have been hiding during the tsunami appeal, the London Marathon and Bob Geldof’s Live Aid efforts.


Then they argue that charities are well covered elsewhere – in consumer magazine programmes such as You and Yours or on celebrity gameshows as recipients of the prize money garnered by ‘names’ who agree to be locked away in a kitchen/house/jungle. The problem with this is that the public’s involvement is all too often incidental.


Finally they suggest that creating a ‘charity slot’ would pigeonhole us as something that can be separated out from national life, rather than showing us as integral to it. Up to a point, I can see the argument. It is why I always switch off during the Radio 4 Appeal with its undertones of ‘Do your good deed for the week and then don’t give it a second thought.’ But the logic is flawed: why do we have sport slots, or religion slots, or lawyers’ slots?


What strikes me most as I go about my travels is that in every charity office there are inspired and inspiring individuals with so much to tell you that you inevitably leave fired up and determined to change the world.


I then end up repeating what they’ve said to me to others, but the impact is diluted. How much better if we could cut out the middleman and give them a chance on our airwaves to speak for themselves.



Peter Stanford is a writer and broadcaster and sits on various trustee boards