YOU could say that it’s my fault for watching daytime television, but, in my defence, it’s usually just while I’m having a bite of lunch or putting my feet up before starting into whatever the afternoon might hold in store.
It usually involves Heartbeat because, having been a priest in Whitby, it’s always interesting to see how they turn location shots of the town and of Goathland, into the fictional Ashfordly and Aidensfield.
Some of the programmes on daytime television are bad enough to begin with, but the advertising is even worse and in particular the endless appeals for donations and sponsorship.
And the way they so often seem to compete with one another is tasteless in the extreme. For £3 a month you can help a starving child in Africa, but also for £3, or even for just £2, you can help save a donkey… or a snow leopard… or a horse… or an abandoned dog.
You can even adopt them and they will write to you! Have you ever seen a donkey make an ass of itself trying to write a letter?
I finally couldn’t contain myself any longer and decided to write to the Advertising Standards Authority to ask them how they can allow such shameless scheduling.
Of course the reply came back to say that it isn’t their responsibility – nothing ever is with these bodies. What do they do all day to justify their existence and their salaries?
At least the recent Christmas appeal by the Salvation Army was a little more upfront – theirs was one-off £19 appeal. But even that is a little disingenuous.
Why £19? Because, of course, they hope people will round it off to £20 so they are already five per cent better off before they even start. But that advert, too, is scheduled alongside all the others so adding to the emotional tug at the heartstrings – and, of course, appeals to help the homeless and the hungry are always scheduled just as people arrive home to a nice warm house and are sitting down to a meal.
Do they think we don’t know that’s why they do it?
I think I’m correct in saying that legislation of some sort was introduced some time ago to stop charity collectors in the street from rattling their collection boxes and tins under your nose.
Now they are only allowed to stand there quietly – though the Big Issue sellers tend to be a little more, shall we say, forthcoming than that.
But these television adverts and appeals are basically the electronic equivalent of rattling a tin under our nose and they get away with it – unless we turn the sound down, of course.
Most of us are quite well aware of the many causes that rely on our generosity to fund their various activities. Many people have favourite charities which they support on a regular basis, but then have to resist feeling guilty because they don’t respond to every other appeal that comes along.
However, there are some charities that seem not to care how much people give, or how often, and will send their supporters letters asking whether they might consider giving even more.
Presumably the extra they receive in that way compensates for the support they lose when angry donors decide to take their charity elsewhere – as I’m sure many quite rightly do.
I recall one church-based charity which one year included in its gift envelope a piece of cardboard with five holes for £1 coins cut in it – more than hinting that this was the minimum they hoped everyone would give.
People give what they can afford to give and many were rightly offended by such a dictatorial approach. Whoever’s brainchild it was should have been ashamed of themselves.
Just how much money is spent on endless television appeals, promotional materials, and administrative costs and salaries?
People give to charities with the intention of helping a specific cause or people in need, not to see their hard-earned donations siphoned off for other things.
And why do there seem to be more and more charities basically working in the same areas of need? How many church-based overseas aid agencies are there?
How many charities do we need housing abandoned and maltreated cats and dogs? How does the Charity Commission or whoever it is who approves their coming into being not see that limited resources are surely better pooled than divided?
And then, as has been regularly mentioned in these columns and in Letters to the Editor, why does our Government continue to pour millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money into supporting the poor and needy of India when their own government is pouring its own money (and possibly some of ours as well) into a space programme?
You couldn’t make it up.
Neil McNicholas is a parish priest in Yarm.