At the height of the madness surrounding the Kony film I fired off an email to Milicent Teasdale who organises events at London’s Frontline Club suggesting a debate.
And sure enough here it is. I’ll be on the panel and hanging about afterwards if you want to say hello (or punch me if you belong to the Anastasia Taylor Lind school of debate).
One of the key questions I’ll be trying to tease out is why there appears to be double standards in the development community about how we communicate need?
Huge numbers of people have been critical of the content of the Kony Film (rightly so) but almost no-one has debated Save The Children’s current TV-led fundraising campaign that has been much more in our faces in the UK. A campaign that in total spend quite possibly costs more than the Kony film.
Why is it that one way of portraying a problem in Central Africa (Kony style) is so unacceptable, and another (Save The Children) is so accepted (advert below)?
Save The Children must believe that this is the most effective way of raising cash and that the end, more cash and more lives saved, justifies the means – more pictures of nameless half-dead African children presented to us without context.
Recently, in a pitch to a major charity, we suggested that work like this represents a race to the bottom. All that is really left now is to actually show a child die in a ninety second fundraising advert. And of course if you subscribe to the theory that the end does justify the means, and that this is the most effective method of raising cash for good causes, then this is the logical next step.
I’ve watched babies die in the Congo. We filmed it happen. Its upsetting, unfair and would have made one hell of a guilt inducing advert. But I’m still sat typing this post at a computer twice as expensive as I need, in a room full of stuff I’ve bought that I don’t need. And to get beyond guilt and to provoke me to action you have to find a way to connect me with the people in the pictures.
I should feel connected with those people anyway. We’re all human, right? But I don’t. And I’m not alone. So we need to be asking ourselves deeper questions about why we don’t feel connected? Why we don’t feel compelled to do more? Why we live in a world where we don’t actually care that much about babies dying in ‘Africa’? What we witness in the media impacts the way we think about people. And to think of Africans as helpless is essentially racist, because it’s not true. And encouraging this way of thinking preserves, in my opinion, a racist relationship with a continent that deserves better.
Things are shifting rapidly. The Kony debate was so interesting because new voices emerged. People in Africa spoke out and they were heard. That’s a step forward.
I should also point out that very little of Save The Children’s communications comes down to shoving half-dead children in our faces and asking for money. Their ‘No child born to die’ advert eloquently argues that every child has the potential to become someone great. Its a strong message delivered in an inspiring way, but it’s not intended specifically to raise funds. For that it seems we still need half dead babies.
(Blurb about the event at The Frontline Club Below)
Date: April 4, 2012 7:00 PM
The recent KONY 2012 campaign video has been met with strong criticism, but nobody can question its effectiveness in reaching a mass audience. The film, created by Invisible Children and featuring director and founder of Invisible Children Jason Russell, is reportedly one of the fastest spreading viral videos ever, reaching over 100 million views in a week.
It has been criticised for presenting a complex situation as a simplified problem with a simple solution, for reinforcing the idea that Africans are helpless victims who need to be ‘saved’ by ‘the West’ and for misrepresenting reality.
Despite its inaccuracies this campaign has created wider awareness about Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) than any news report or campaign that has come before it, so what can be learned? Join us for April’s First Wednesday as we debate whether the KONY 2012 campaign is a force for good or a worrying development in campaigning.
Hosted by Paddy O’Connell of BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House.
Benjamin Chesterton, radio documentary and photofilm producer, co-founder of the production company duckrabbit and the website A Developing Story.
Amanda Weisbaum, Programmes Director at War Child, who work on the ground with communities affected by the LRA in Northern Uganda and Central African Republic.
Musa Okwonga, a football writer, poet and musician of Ugandan descent. He is author of A Cultured Left Foot which was nominated for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award and Will You Manage?. He is one half of The King’s Will, an electronica outfit that blends poetry, music, and animated videos.
Mareike Schomerus, Research Consortium Director of the Justice and Security Research Programme at LSE and author of many publications including Chasing the Kony story in The Lord’s Resistance Army: Myth and Reality.
Callum Macrae, a film-maker and journalist who has reported, filmed and directed many award-winning television documentaries for Channel 4, the BBC and Al Jazeera English among others. He first made a film about Kony and the LRA in 2003, and has written and made several films about the LRA since.