Why Not?

14 07 2011

Category; Politics, Media

“Why Not?”

That was the question asked by the charity fundraiser (or chugger) for Save the Children as I walked past today, with a shake of the head and a weak smile.

Why not? Well, four reasons: 

First; do no evil

The man from Save the Children had the bad luck to collar me just as I’m reading a shocking analysis of the work of international aid agencies.

Linda Polman’s book ‘War Games’ (click here for details) catalogues how international aid agencies actually do much harm. How the work to save and improve lives actually, in many situations, does exactly the opposite.

Different sides in disputes manipulate situations, journalists and aid agencies. Journalists and agencies are often complicit in that manipulation but in their zeal to save those in front of them, they worsen the fate of many others not in front of them or their lens.

One example looked at in detail; Goma where the murderers were cared for, fed, paid and allowed to regroup while the victims were left to rot, literally. The conflict was prolonged and exacerbated directly because of the work of aid agencies.

Second; emotional manipulation

Save the Children is currently running the most emotionally manipulative advertising campaign it is possible to run. There is a child. The child is ill. If you do not give Save the Children money, the child will die.

This is in keeping with what John Graham of Save the Children told the Independent newspaper in 2003 (click here to see the article);

“If you don’t have starving babies you don’t get the money.”

Third; it’s business not personal

Aid is business. The man whose path I crossed was, of course, not employed by Save the Children, but by an agency paid to raise funds for them. Paid £484,000 in the UK last year – click here for details. He was using a sales technique to make me sign on the dotted line; if you can’t get a man to sign; challenge him. It’s last ditch but it can work; hope the punter’s resistance is overcome by pride. If I had signed, many months of payments would have gone to the agency – click here for details.

It’s also business for the aid agencies. Linda Polman outlines how they scrabble around the world trying to pick up contracts from Western governments and international bodies.

Fourth; that old razzle dazzle

Today was coincidentally the day it was announced that there is to be a new, prime-time talent show on ITV, Born to Shine,  (click here for details) which strongly features Save the Children. Presented by several people with extremely white teeth it uses celebrities to ‘showcase’ (their word) Save The Children’s work and ‘see children with exceptional talents attempt to teach celebrities a new skill.’

I’ve written before about media coverage of tragedy – see here. 

If the use of celebrity to showcase tragedy, and vice versa, the manipulation of narrative to fit marketing imperative and the distorting simplification of extreme complexity doesn’t put you off, then maybe the immorality of paying warlords and assisting in the cause of genocide might just make you too think before signing up to fund international aid agencies.

Don’t international agencies do good? Of course most of them do a great deal of good and save a great many lives. But they do not only good and lives can also be imperilled in the way they work. When it’s a political goal to have 1% of UK GDP handed over to them it’s a subject that ought to be seeing a lot more study and open debate than there currently is. Why not?

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