Covering poverty in an indifferent world

November 28, 2012

By Lizzie Kendal

On Tuesday 27 November, a group of experts gathered at the Frontline Club to discuss the issues and nuances that surround the task of: Covering poverty in an indifferent world. This subject was recently explored by the BBC’s Why Poverty? series in an episode covering the campaigning efforts of Bob Geldof and Bono, and the resulting phenomena were also addressed by the panel.

Covering poverty in an indifferent world Frontline Club

Covering poverty in an indifferent world panel discussion

The Live Aid and Make Poverty History movements have been criticised for failing to fully achieve their ambitious aims. But today – as writer and activist Paul Vallely explained – millions of lives have been saved due to the public’s response and lobbying efforts in fora such as the Gleneagles G8 Summit in 2005.

“Most aid works, yet that’s not the perception as it comes across in the media.”

Paul Vallely also criticised an attitude of ‘cognative dissidance’ from issues of poverty as seen in the media today. This reflects, he said, an attitude of wilful ingnorance and cynicism currently adopted by many:

“They feel they want to defend the status quo which includes them not having to take any kind of responsibility for the fact that they are in a exploitative relationship with a lot of the other people in the world.”

On, the other hand, Andrew Hogg, head of media at Christian Aid, argued that in fact it is a matter of messaging:

“In terms of getting people to address that poverty, when it is presented in terms that they can understand, at the moment the door seems to be further open than it is closed.”

So what terms are currently being used to the most effect when communicating these issues? Lilie Chouliaraki, Professor of Media and Communications at LSE, proposed that currently a ‘post- humanitarian’ form of solidarity prevails. This approach, she said, moves the focus away from those who are suffering and onto the self:

“It’s about ‘us’, it’s about how we feel good, and by feeling good we are also contributing to other people’s well being… no distant sufferers are being portrayed in these campaigns, the others are completely left outside.”

It is within this paradigm that we find a significant use of celebrity she argued.

In defense of a celebrity focussed strategy, Jamie Drummond, co-founder and executive director of ONE explained:

“Every time somebody says ‘I hate it when celebrities are used to promote a cause, my answer is ‘well let’s try and get that cause, that mission, to get the same amount of coverage without a celebrity – what would it take? … Until we can do that, sometimes, we’ve got to live in the world we live in, we’ve got to use them, but we’d all like not to.”

As a closing thought, Lilie Chouliaraki added:

“Perhaps we can reverse the terms and then say ‘well why don’t we use that celebrity, that popular culture to celebritize people who are not celebrities yet, but who are doing incredible work… and make them the heros that they diserve to be.'”

Watch the full event here: