Friday, 13 January 2012

What will it take for the UK media to present positive images of development?

By Spencer Henson

Colleagues of mine have just produced a short film examining how the British media portrays developing countries. It features interviews with journalists and filmmakers, such as Jon Snow (journalist and news presenter, ITN), Caroline Nursey (director, BBC Media Action) and Richard Kavuma (journalist, The Observer, Uganda).

This film particularly interested me as it picks up on some of the issues that I’m researching using the UK Public Opinion Monitor (UKPOM) – a representative panel of the UK public who are surveyed about life in the UK. We’re interested in people’s beliefs, attitudes and values towards development – and how these impact on the choices they make in their lives.

Our research with UKPOM has shown that most of the UK public think they are uninformed about aid and development issues. What’s more, it’s clear that the UK public widely associate developing countries with images of disasters, famine, war and corruption. As the film shows, the media plays a key role here; it is where most UK people hear about the South.

Such media coverage is critical for the fundraising efforts of international development NGOs in times of emergency. However, it perpetuates views that are rather destructive in the longer term; concepts of ‘charity’, of nothing getting better (and hence aid not working) and of helplessness. The media also rarely do anything to bring forward the wider structural issues that underlie global poverty.

This begs the question, what will it take for the British media to present more positive images of global poverty and the South, and what will it take for the UK public to watch them?