Wandering Thoughts

September 6, 2009

War, Aid and Photos

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 5:18 pm
Tags: ,

William Easterly now has his own watch site, which might be interesting. Although I reckon they should have called themselves Aid Watch Watch.

Meanwhile, Easterly’s co-blogger Laura Freschi has a post taking MSF to task for an advertising video.

Ignoring the specifics of the MSF add, there is an interesting more general debate to be had about the use of images in fund-raising. One which development NGOs have been having for a long time. At its heart is the question “is it right to use advertising images of people in developing countries that perpetuate (unfair) stereotypes of utterly dysfunctional countries and desperate, passive poor people waiting for our help?”

Here’s the dilemma: assume that these sorts of images are very effective in raising money (their continuing presence suggests they are) and assume that the money is put to good use.

The question you then have to answer is, “is that good overcome by the harm caused by the adds?”

This question itself has two parts:

1. Do these adds really do much to shape people’s perspectives of the lives of the poor in developing countries?

2. And, if they do, does that really matter? I.e. is any real, significant, tangible harm done.

On question 1, I think the answer is probably yes, but it’s arguable whether the impact is significant when added to the impact of ongoing media reporting of bad news from developing countries.

On question 2, I really don’t  know: if middle New Zealand had a more accurate understanding of the lives of the poor in developing countries would that change much? Maybe some of our policies towards these countries might alter, maybe? And would that have an impact? Potentially, I guess.

Of course, if you’re talking about the USA or Europe, the impact of changed policies would potentially be much larger. But even then you have to ask what policy changes are currently being hampered currently by stereotypes?

I don’t have the answers but that is what the debate is about. Because if the adds do no real harm, then you’d have to say the good done through the money raised makes them ok, at least from a consequentialist standpoint.


1 Comment »

  1. I remember reading an article on Ethiopia some time ago. It’s a bit hazy but the gist of it was that Ethiopia is a stunningly beautiful country, with diverse flora, fauna and geography to go with it. But the fledgling tourism industry there suffers because the enduring image of Ethiopia in the mind of rich, European (and other) would-be toursists is that of drought, dry, ugly plains and dying children. These images date back to the 1980s famine in Ethiopia and the subsequent ‘feed-the-world’ publicity. So there’s one example of how the images we use have a lasting and potentially negative effect. Arguably, a sustainable, thriving local tourist industry will do more for Ethiopia than charity.

    Comment by Jo — September 19, 2009 @ 8:08 pm

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