Aid and the media: A troubled relationship

Watch the event here.

By Gianluca Mezzofiore

A panel at the Frontline Club, chaired by Mark Galloway, director of International Broadcasting Trust, an educational and media charity which works on range of projects to promote media coverage of the developing world, discussed yesterday the problems linked with media and aid.

“We have ups and downs and a lot of criticism, but on the whole there’s a good relationship with the disaster emergency committee. We need each other,” said Fran Unsworth, head of BBC newsgathering, who added that the corporation had a responsibility to licence fee payers to provide the information they require for their lives.

“We have to be responsible to our audience, but not audience-led,” she said. “It is our challenge to make the complex stories interesting for them.”

Andrew Hogg, Christian Aid news/campaigns editor and former news editor of the Sunday Times and Observer, admitted that NGOs need media to raise money and to highlight issues. “The relations with media is healthy and functional only if it involves mutual responsibility,” he added. “There is a huge responsibility upon us, but also media has the responsibility to report  on what we do in a fair manner.”

“The BBC documentary on aid agencies in Haiti which collected money but failed to deliver goods on the ground was interesting, but one-sided and created a deep impression in the public opinion,” Hogg said. “We deserve a proper scrutiny.”

Benjamin Chesterton co-founder of the production company Duckrabbit and the website A Developing Story, raised his concerns about media outlets relying too much on aid agencies. “When you a see a whole BBC photo gallery with aid agencies’ by-lines, instead of the photographer’s name, the independence of media is compromised,” he said. “Balance is fundamental, but we start losing it because aid agencies are too much on the grip of media.”

Unsworth replied that the BBC has no problems with aid agencies providing photos, as long as they are well-known and reliable. “There are strict policies about libelling,” she said. “It is not about giving credit to someone, but being transparent with our audience.”

Independent writer and consultant, Michael Green was director of communications at DFID from 2003 to 2007 and co-author of Philanthrocapitalism and The Road From Ruin. He expressed concern about the government’s policy on international aid and increasing the budget and commitments “despite the negative economic growth”

“Politicians should hear the public opinion’s voice,” he said. “There is a benign conspiracy among political elite to push aid ahead of public opinion.”

According to the EU barometer website 91 per cent of Britons still think it is important to help developing countries, but the percentage of people who thinks the government should give more aid has decreased from 50 per cent to 35 per cent since 2007.

A crisis of confidence is coming in the aid business. Part of the problem is how to engage people on these complicated issues. The other problem is with NGOs lobbying and campaigning. However, aid agencies are beginning to use online platforms, which give rich experience to the public and give them a chance to participate and engage with the NGOs. Like a shark has to stay alive, NGOs must communicate to propagate their brand.

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