PLENARY 1: CELEBRITY HUMANITARIANISM AND NORTH-SOUTH RELATIONS
Celebrity Humanitarianism and North-South Relations: Politics, Place and Power
Lisa Ann Richey, Roskilde University
Celebrities have become increasingly important political actors in global humanitarianism acting as ‘aid celebrities’, advocates, and cause marketers. From serving as UN ambassadors to appearing as spokespersons for major NGO campaigns, some celebrity actors have become permanently wedded to humanitarian work and public engagement. In the policy realm, celebrity endorsement may shift attention, shape decisions, and build/erode key alliances. Meanwhile, the figure of the celebrity offers an enticing lens to refract critical issues of gender—power, influence, and voice— within neoliberal North-South relations. This paper draws from the emerging literature on celebrities in North-South relations to analyse the contemporary celebrity discourses and practices of professional entertainer Ben Affleck and his engagement in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in order to understand how celebrities intersect with and popularize representations of gender. I argue that Affleck’s performances of North-South relations complicate the typical ‘white saviour’ discourses of American men who ‘save’ Africa, but also perpetuate the limitations of neoliberal feminism in performances of agency, voice and the primacy of the economic.
When Access in the North Outweighs the South: Comparing Ben Affleck’s Influence in the US and Congolese Contexts
Alexandra Cosima Budabin, University of Dayton, USA
From Sharon Stone at Davos to George Clooney at the United Nations, celebrities are edging deeper into elite spheres that address development. They hob-nob with policy-makers and philanthropists, address political bodies, and serve as unofficial ambassadors to international forums. Within this group, there are a small but growing number of celebrities who have started their own development organizations, crafting platforms that offer the prospect for greater influence—focusing attention on underreported areas but also promoting unique visions for interventions in the Global South. Media plays a critical role as a space for celebrity humanitarians to build credibility and influence.
This paper will offer a treatment of Hollywood actor/director Ben Affleck’s celebrity humanitarianism by examining his media activities on behalf of the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI). Affleck co-founded ECI in 2010 to spur social and economic development in the DRC. Despite the relative youth of ECI, Affleck’s work has already received extensive validation–from glowing compliments bestowed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to million-dollar starting funds to multiple invitations to address the US Congress. ECI has dual objectives that link the Global North and South. In the North, Affleck raises funds from elite circles, educates political elites, and lobbies the US Congress in order to shape foreign policy towards DRC. In the South, Affleck pays visit to local partners who have been given grants; ECI also conducts research to identify potential grantees for Northern donors.
Affleck’s NGO and its mission encapsulate a particular set of North-South power relations. Crucially, the platform offered by founding one’s own development organization marks the expanding territory for celebrity actors to mediate the Global North’s interventions into the Global South. There are serious questions Affleck’s celebrity engagement raises about our understanding of public accountability and the power of elites in global humanitarianism. This paper poses the question: how does a celebrity humanitarian such as Affleck mediate elite politics across two contexts through the media?
The national identity politics of Danish humanitarianism
Lene Bull Christiansen, Roskilde University
Studies into humanitarian communication have forcefully shown the current tendency towards individualisation and commercialisation in aid campaigning (e.g. Chouliaraki, 2012; Kapoor, 2012) and pointed out the gendered and colonialist representations in such campaigning (e.g. Barron, 2009; Clarke, 2009; Jefferess, 2002; Repo and Yrjölä, 2011). While these studies provide important insights, another side remains – that of collective identity narratives associated with humanitarian appeals. This paper posits that collective identity narratives have a vital importance in many humanitarian appeals and proposes to look beyond the mainstream US/UK contexts in order to make this point. The paper takes point of departure in the annual Danish aid telethon Danmarks Indsamling (Denmark’s Collection). Against the backdrop of the local identity politics in Denmark revolving around immigration policies and the aftermath of the so-called Muhammad Cartoon Crisis, the paper posits that the telethon represents a particular version of a national narrative. Two interconnected articulations of the local understandings of community (the Danish concept fællesskab) contribute to this narrative. Firstly, a version of national fællesskab, which envisages the nation as a divers, inclusive and outwardly caring community; Secondly, a version of global fællesskab, which links the Danish nation with a one-dimensionally depicted innocent childlike constitutive ‘Other’ in an affective economy of aid. These two versions of a collective identity narrative are seen to draw on the above-mentioned gendered and colonialist discourses while simultaneously engaging in local politics around diversity and national identity.
The Paradoxes of Celebrity Advocacy
Dan Brockington, University of Manchester
In the last 15 years there has been a sea change in the way in which NGOs, and particularly development NGOs, have interacted with the celebrity industries. Relations between the two have become much more intensive. This talk explores the anatomy of these new interactions to explore some of the paradoxes at work in the representation of development issues and the work of development advocacy. These are, first that celebrity advocacy occupies a significant proportion of the public domain, but does so without always engaging particularly well with much of the public. Celebrity is populist in form, but not always popular in character. Second, that failure to engage the public does not really matter. Celebrity advocacy can be a remarkably effective tool for working with corporate and government elites. Third, it is not just elites who may be deceived as to the nature of celebrities’ influence, in the glare of publicity we, the viewers and consumers of celebrity spectacle, are also blinded. We may think that the publicity is the important aspect of celebrity. But publicity can be a sideshow; what matters goes on behind the scenes.
My argument therefore is that celebrity advocacy which is now so well organised by NGOs marks, ironically, a disengagement between the public and politics, and particularly between the public and the civil society organisations which try to represent development and humanitarian needs. As such celebrity advocacy is part of the lived practices of post-democracy.
In this talk I present the evidence for these paradoxes, and explore some of its consequences for international development, and democratic practices. This talk will be of interest to people working on the Geography of Development, and particularly the geography of development NGOs and of the media.
Civil Society, Advocacy and Social Media: An examination of the Bring Back Our Girls Campaign
Ibrahim Mohammed, Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission
The Mass media especially Social media help amplify advocacy efforts by potentially reaching more people, in more places, faster than ever before. The Internet, mobile technology and social media have become part and parcel of our social life. As veritable tools of communication, they can be used to effectively raise awareness about people around the world who are powerless, helpless and can do nothing about a dangerous, difficult, or otherwise unfortunate situation. For this reason, Civil Society Organizations such as the Bring Back Our Girls Campaign easily find it a great opportunity to carry out digital advocacy through the use of digital technology to contact, inform, and mobilize disparate groups of concerned people around the World about the plight of the abducted Chibok Girls. This study takes a look at the roles of CSOs in creating awareness through digital advocacy, with a focus on the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) campaign that initiated the global campaign to free the abducted girls from their captors. The objectives of the study include; to assess the roles of BBOG in promoting awareness and to examine the effect of these campaigns on the rescue efforts of government(s). Content analysis and in-depth interviews will be used in the triangulation method, while purposive sampling will be used to gather the editions of the newspapers to be studied. The uses and gratification theory will be used to explain the research.
Social Media and Philanthropy: How Qatari Charity Organizations are Using Social Media in Persuasion
Rana S. Hassan, Qatar University
Social Media has become an essential tool in any integrated marketing communication plan created by marketers and public relations practitioners. It is used to promote awareness, market for a product, communicate with stakeholders, polish images, increase profit and sales rate and compete with other similar products. Recently, charity and non-profit organizations have increasingly using them to communicate with supporters, call for volunteer, call for a cause and promote good will. In Qatar, there are many charity organizations, which have different goals of supports. Most of them used to follow face-to-face communication for persuasion. They always have booths in malls and popular locations in addition to a representative to persuade people to donate and volunteer in addition to using traditional media such as TV commercials. Recently, many charity organizations in Qatar depended on social media in reaching more supporters and in documenting their activities. Digital Persuasion became an essential tool to include in non-profit organizations’ strategy. Storytelling in social media sometimes succeed in turning awareness into action. In some cases, individuals even use social media in calls for actions and financial support through their Facebook status. This study tends to examine the influence of charity organizations through social media and its impact on persuasion. The study will focus on charity organizations such as RAF, Qatar Charity and Qatar Animal Welfare Society through analysing their Twitter and Facebook pages in addition to distributing 200 questionnaire among citizens in Qatar to examine the impact of promoting organizations’ activities and customers’ perception and persuasion.
Web of Confusion? – The Quakers’ use of social media in their humanitarian work in Israel-Palestine
Alexis Constantinou, University of South Wales
Finding peace in Israel-Palestine has been the objective of many Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) and Faith-Based Organisations (FBOs). This paper will focus on the Christian FBO, the Quakers, use of social media as a tool to demonstrate their humanitarian endeavours in the region. Blogging and tweeting has proven to be an invaluable resource for their work. Volunteers record their own eyewitness accounts of human rights violations seen in the Occupied Territories by publishing photos and writing eyewitness accounts. Many, if not all, of those writing blogs are not journalists. However, within the last decade there have been major alterations to who is perceived to be a trustworthy source. As a result hyper-local journalism involving formats such as blogging have become a prominent feature of many humanitarian groups. By presenting evidence online humanitarian groups face critical evaluation of whether the evidence they gather is genuine and, in doing so, ethically correct. The most recent conflict during the summer of 2014 received unprecedented coverage online. Graphic images were posted on line but a BBC trending analysis found that some of the images reported by various online outlets were from 2009 or even conflicts from other countries. For humanitarian groups such as the Quakers social media has provided new opportunities but the anonymity they once could rely on is far harder to achieve. The aim of this paper is to demonstrate how humanitarian groups use social media as well as the pros and cons of such a decision.
AUDIENCES AND ACTORS
Role of Mobile Media in Supporting Humanitarian Activities in Conflict-Affected Areas
Philip Onguny, Saint Paul University
This article critically examines the extent to which mobile technologies can be adapted to meet humanitarian objectives in conflict-affected areas. It focuses on Ushahidi2 and SNA-K3, mobile-based applications that are increasingly playing an important role in understanding how ordinary individuals and affected communities directly contribute to crisis preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery. Some of these technologies have been applauded for providing dynamic timelines to track events as they happen and where they occur, offering multiple geo-locatable data streams to collect information via different sources such as YouTube, Facebook, and SMS, and enabling interactive mapping features to visualize activities on a map. Although there is an emerging discourse suggesting that the future of humanitarian work hinges on how innovative first responders adopt mobile technologies in their work, it is still uncertain if the expounded benefits outweigh the risks in terms of practicality. Often, two lines of argument seem to dominate the literature on the topic. The first one focuses on whether or not interactive media represent an alternative means to reach and mobilize segments of population alongside mainstream media and well-established organizations. The second, related to the first, suggests a correlation between online and offline civic activities such as political demonstrations. While these studies offer interesting perspectives on the potential uses of mobile media in areas such as global activism, less work has been done to examine how such applications can be integrated into humanitarian activities in conflict-riddled areas, a gap this article seeks to address.
Classical Antiquity as Humanitarian Narrative: Marshall Plan Films about Greece
Katerina Loukopoulou, Panteion University
This paper aims to contribute to the histories of global humanitarianism with a case study on the Marshall Plan (MP) films about Greece (1948-52). Amongst recent scholarship on the Marshall Plan film propaganda, there has been a growing interest in national case studies, such as Ireland, Austria and Italy. The case of Greece has not been explored so far. I will thus consider a small number of MP films about Greece, where the tensions between cinema’s drive for projecting utopian futures and the ‘nightmare of history’ and humanitarian disaster become visible through documentary film’s unique ability to transpose the history and the present into future promises. This applies, of course, to all MP films produced and distributed in Western Europe to propagate not only information about the European Recovery Programme (the official name of the MP), but most crucially to shape the projection of Western Europe’s future through a humanitarian narrative that was dressed within a utilitarian discourse of liberal humanism. In the case of MP films about Greece’s post-war reconstruction, this projection takes a special form, framed by narratives that promote a historical dialectic between modern and classical Greece. The case of the short documentary The Good Life (1951) is of special interest. Initiated by the British documentarian Humphrey Jennings in September 1950, The Good Life propagates post-WW2 (1945-) and post-civil war (1949-) reconstruction of Greece’s health system in relation to the country’s classical past. Building on recent scholarship about ‘useful cinema’ (Acland and Wasson, 2011), this paper will discuss the audio-visual rhetoric of this film in relation to the developing formation of a new geo-political context and alongside it a new humanitarian narrative for the future of post-WW2 Europe.
Spectators of distant suffering: towards an interdisciplinary approach for empirical inquiry
Eline Huiberts, Ghent University
This paper presents the first results of an on-going research project to investigate possibilities for an interdisciplinary and multi-methodological approach to study audiences in the face of mediated distant suffering. Several steps have already been taken to ascertain viewers’ reactions to images of distant suffering (Höijer 2004; Seu 2010; Kyriakidou 2011; Scott 2014). So far, most empirical inquiries have been undertaken in different disciplinary fields and although each contribution is valuable, the accumulating body of empirical knowledge still lacks coherence or structure. In our view, there is need for a more structured interdisciplinary and holistic understanding of audience reactions to images of distant suffering. This paper contributes to this discussion by drawing on interviews with different experts in both academic and practical areas of expertise. Academically from the fields of sociology, social psychology, ethics, cultural anthropology, communication science, political science and philosophy of science. Other expert interviews are held with those working in practical fields; functionaries of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), journalists and policy experts. The main objective of this project is to disentangle major methodological, epistemological and ontological differences and similarities amongst the different fields of research and practice. Secondly, this study will further deliberate on the advantages and disadvantages of an interdisciplinary and multi-methodological approach for empirical inquiries into audience reactions to distant suffering.
Direct Connections? Do-it-yourself-Aid and Digital Media in Cambodia.
Anne-Meike Fechter, University of Sussex,
Over the past few years, a phenomenon described as ‘Do-it-yourself-Aid’ has become more widespread, and increasingly visible in the context of broader humanitarian and development activities. The term ‘DIY-Aid’ refers to enterprising individuals who set up their own projects in developing countries in order to support people in need. It is not necessarily a new phenomenon: Henri Dunant, for example, already commented on the ‘assorted individuals’ who ventured to help in the aftermath of the battle of Solferino. What has been changing significantly, though, is the ability of such individuals to raise awareness and resources in the form of time, effort and funds through their personal networks. This is, in no small measure, achieved through the use of digital media. Crucially, the ways in which these DIY-Aiders make use of websites, blogs, and social networks aims to make good on the promise that their projects reach real, tangible people, rather than the ‘generic poor’ as they are portrayed in fundraising campaigns, for example for international NGOs. The prospect of making and maintaining direct connections between supporters and supported is thus to a considerable extent facilitated through these media. The proposed paper discusses the modalities, backgrounds and implications of this enablement, drawing on ethnographic fieldwork among people undertaking ‘DIY Aid’ in Cambodia.
An Analysis of Al Jazeera Media Network’s Collaboration with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to “Give Voice to the Voiceless”
Eiman Eissa, Qatar University
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is a global humanitarian organization that focuses on helping all human beings regardless of their nationality, religion and gender. While Al Jazeera Media Network is an international news network based in Qatar with the slogan “setting the news agenda” and “every story, every side.” These two organizations met on the ground that awareness needs to be spread about humanitarianism, and so they formed a memorandum of understanding in May 2014 with the aim to “improve cooperation and give voice to the voiceless.” This research aims to explore the developments of this partnership and to evaluate its strengths and weaknesses. Media messages are analysed to reveal whether the aim of this partnership is to inform the public of the activities of the IFRC, to persuade the public to take part in humanitarian goals, or both. Also, a survey is conducted with university students in Qatar to assess this partnerships’ success in reaching its goal and the effects its messages have on the youths’ awareness and participation in humanitarian activities.
Red Balloons: Video production in refugee communities
Gillian Gordon, Royal Holloway
This paper explores the work of participant video making projects and their content in refugee camps and settlements and draws upon research in the field and current literature. It will examine the humanitarian messaging made by refugees in The Kakuma and Dadaab camps in Kenya and the uses of video narratives in communicating crucial information, managing and evaluating the humanitarian needs. This paper will look at the work of NGO’s, participant video projects, their texts and meaning. It will also consider the place of video culture in the refugee communities of Mae La, Thailand and Zata’ari Jordon and consider current understandings of the restorative potential of the creative arts and culture to work as a catalyst for change within refugee communities living in pre-designed refugee camps and in outlying urban locations.
The concept of video as intervention in working with trauma is an area that will be explored through anecdotal research (Gillian Gordon, Boston University, Filmaid International, UNCHR, WHO, Trojan Women Project). Implementing video production can potentially empower refugee communities through acts of art as well as the control of information. Participatory communication initiatives in Kenya have enabled community members in the production of films addressing gender-based violence (GBV), (HTP), and related health issues. In the digital age access to information is a human right and information is a critical factor for refugees in securing what they need. But how does the dissemination of participatory videotexts have an impact on the relationship between the spectators (local refugee community and the World Wide Web) and the refugees themselves?
Tear Gas is used around the world from Ferguson to Hong Kong. Yet, as journalists file daily news stories of tear gas deployments, its health effects remain undetermined, its death toll ill defined, and its legality a recurring question.
While researchers and campaign groups work hard to raise awareness of tear gases’ true effects, data is dispersed across nations, suppressed by governments, and spun by corporate manufacturers with a vested interest in keeping sales figures high. As NATO and the World Health Association have admitted, little is known about the real-world effects of this ‘less lethal’ weapon.
This presentation will engage participants in the on-going work of the Connecting Tear Gas Research project. We will discuss how we combine traditional academic research methods, alongside media monitoring, FOI requests, data scrapping and corporate market research to bring together often hidden knowledge around tear gases and the impacts less lethals have on people and their lived environments.
We will then introduce the audience to the ‘datalabs’ process we use to turn this raw information into resources for organisations and journalists, as well as tools for public engagement. In particular, we will share three of our on-going projects: (1) ‘media mapping’ that monitors news reports of tear gas use and creates interactive visuals; (2) the weapons ID app that is puts the tools of humanitarian witnessing in citizen journalists hands; and (3) an online memorial that serves as a visual vigil for those who have been killed by this ‘non-lethal weapon’.
Humanitarian Technologies: Ordinary Uses in Extraordinary Times
Jonathan Ong, University of Leicester (co-authors: Mirca Madianou & Liezel Longboan)
Digital innovations such as social media, SMS hotlines and smartphone apps have been celebrated for ushering in a new era of “digital humanitarianism”, enabling disaster-affected communities to “organize, coordinate, and respond to their own problems” (WDR, 2013). However, what is often missing from these highly optimistic accounts of policymakers and technology designers is the perspective of affected populations themselves. In what ways do ICTs actually matter in people’s lives after Typhoon Haiyan? How, if at all, do they use media to report about aid distribution and give feedback to NGOs? And how might everyday media practices in the Philippines as the most active social media country in the world be regarded as coping mechanisms in a “culture of disaster” (Bankoff 2003)?
This paper draws from the ongoing Humanitarian Technologies Project, an 18-month collaborative research funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council. It takes an ethnographic approach to better understand potential versus actual uses of technologies in disaster recovery. By presenting ethnographic accounts of affected peoples’ media practices for 1) online dating, 2) selfies, and 3) song requests via humanitarian radio hotlines, this paper argues that ICTs are crucial not only for their most “virtuous” uses, but for remaking ontological security and reaffirming social relationships in the aftermath of disaster. Humanitarian technologies are reclaimed for their most ordinary uses to neutralize extraordinary rupture, achieving everyday forms of belonging and dwelling, and constituting an orientation to a public–if not necessarily civic–space.
A Genealogy of Digital Humanitarianism: Think Big (Data) for Development and Social Change?
Eleftheria Lekakis, University of Sussex
The evolution of technology has been hand in hand with the proliferation of discourses around its effects on social change. Throughout their history, media have been utilised for a series of politically progressive goals ranging from alternative printing presses to mobile technologies. This paper interlaces a history of ICTs for development and social change, in order to formulate a critical approach to digital humanitarianism (cf. Meier, 2012; Burns, 2014). It provides context for global humanitarianism vis-à-vis new technologies, such as big data, in order to build a coherent framework for analysing articulations and attempts of social change. This paper argues that important context for analysing digital humanitarianism includes an exploration of economic power (i.e. funding, structure, and influence of technologies), while also considering symbolic power (cultural intermediaries and narratives, organisation and hierarchy in civil society) and exploring how these intersect. Technological developments in the broader field of humanitarianism, in other words, need to be explored at the intersection of economic and cultural dimensions.
Orgad and Seu (2014) have developed similar context in understanding the mediation of humanitarianism in terms of a multi-situated dialectical process, the experience of humanitarianism and a move away from ‘prescriptive normativity’. Yet, it is often in accounts of cultural production of the global civil society, that discussion of technology takes either the driver’s seat (technological determinism) or the back seat (technological scepticism). The relationship between media technologies and humanitarianism evokes a call for rethinking and contextualising contemporary technological landscapes.
Journalism practice needs to communicate risk if it wants to achieve effective humanitarian communication
Jairo Lugo-Ocando, University of Sheffield
Regarding the need of an effective humanitarian communication that can political assist mobilisation and public engagement, most scholarly work has focused upon the ability of the news media to create regimes of pity. Some authors have gone further to say that if audiences are passive and uninterested, sometimes the media have to stand in for them, and agitate on their behalf (Seaton, 2005: 286). However, as this paper argues, this is a problematic stance that tends to ignore the power relations between those who suffer and the spectators. What is needed instead is a type of news coverage that creates political solidarity, which makes individuals at both sides of the screens see each other as equals and as having the same rights. To do that, journalism practice requires to set aside the sense of power and certainty that articulates in its narratives and embrace a view of ‘shared risk’ in which all people share the same concerns about a common future, therefore calling into play the principle of average utility (Rawls, 1971). By doing this, risk will not be simply interpreted as ‘fear’, but instead journalistically narrativised as a more rational process on our daily lives. By doing this, I suggest, journalism as a professional body can contest not only the utilitarian ethics that currently dominates humanitarian news but also challenge normative claims that it is there just to inform about tragedy.
Sensational Suffering: Religion, Media & the Politics of Pictorial Humanitarianism in the late-19th Century United States.
Heather D Curtis, Tufts University, USA
This presentation analyses the visual culture of late-nineteenth-century humanitarianism on display in popular religious periodicals. Probing how American Protestants exploited innovations in print journalism and photography to arouse sympathy for suffering strangers around the world during the 1890s illumines the linkages between late-nineteenth-century pictorial humanitarianism and earlier struggles to abolish slavery, while also foreshadowing the increasing entanglement of appeals for aid with the sensationalistic mass culture that intensified after the turn of the century. Studying the visual strategies Protestants employed to inspire empathetic engagement with distant and culturally different others in an increasingly modern, interconnected, and imperial era also exposes the ambivalent and contested nature of late-nineteenth-century humanitarianism. While American Protestants shared many assumptions about the nature of Christian charity, conflicting perspectives on the ethics of “sensational journalism,” diverging views on the spiritual integrity of American culture, and contrary opinions about the probity of U.S. imperial expansion produced subtle but significant differences in attitudes toward almsgiving. The culture of humanitarianism that emerged during the 1890s was, I argue, shot through with tensions made visible in the diverse ways American Protestants dealt with the challenges of picturing pain. Through this analysis, this presentation invites reflection on the ongoing influence of popular media in shaping the culture of humanitarianism within and beyond the United States. Shedding light on the conflicts that characterized earlier efforts to extend American charity abroad will help place the issues that bedevil contemporary humanitarianism in broader historical perspective and provide a wider frame for current deliberations about the politics of depicting distant suffering.
UNITED NATIONS’ NARRATIVES
Affective Economy in Humanitarian Reality Series
Kaarina Nikunen, University of Tampere
The paper explores affective economy in the making of humanitarian reality television shows. The case study in question explores the Australian originated television format “Go back to where you came from” (SBS) that follows the experience of six prominent members of the society sent to travel refugee route backwards to camps and dangerous conditions in conflict areas. The series, created in co-operation with UNHCR, is an example of recent philanthropist trend in television production, also discussed as “ethical entertainment”. By drawing on theorizations of affective economy the paper focuses on the ways in which the format combines emotional address with humanitarian objectives and commercial success. The paper explores how media industries adapt and seek economic value in affective humanitarian imageries and how, on the other hand, humanitarian organizations in the post-humanitarian era (Chouliaraki 2013), challenged by the increased individualization and marketization (Barnett & Snyder 2008) seek new ways to draw attention to their cause. The series format was sold to nine countries, yet it only succeeded in Australia. The paper explores the localizations of the format in Denmark, Germany and Italy, and points out the problems and challenges of localizing humanitarian address in a global reality TV context.
“United Nations” Children and Humanitarian Endeavour in Hollywood Films of the 1940s
Michael Lawrence, University of Sussex
Dominique Marshall has argued that the child is a privileged focus of global humanitarianism and was of particular significance in the attempt “to channel the humanitarian movements of wartime toward international cooperation in peacetime” (2002: 184). This paper derives from my current research project—The Children and the Nations: Global Humanitarianism and International Film, 1940-65—which examines ideological and aesthetic aspects of the representation of children in cinema produced during and in the decades following the Second World War. As Tara Zahra states, the Second World War “was not only a moment of unprecedented violence against children … [it] also spawned ambitious new humanitarian movements to save and protect children from wartime upheaval and persecution” (2011: ix). By exploring the depiction of groups of international children (and particularly refugee orphans) in three Hollywood pictures made during the war, this paper considers the significance of the child for generating sentimental feelings about global humanitarian endeavour during the establishment of the United Nations. Hollywood studios were instructed by the Office of War Information to ‘teach’ the public about the member states of United Nations, and especially China and Russia. My paper will show how children became a valuable means through which the cinema could not only idealise the global humanitarianism associated with the organisation (e.g., the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) but also the international constituency of the organisation itself.
Art House Aid: Reading Development and Humanitarianism in the Texts of Audiovisual Assistance
Benjamin A. J. Pearson, University of Michigan
In 1974, UNESCO established the International Fund for the Promotion of Culture (IFPC), providing financial and technical assistance to states and individuals for the creation of artistic works and the bolstering of cultural industries – particularly of the audiovisual variety. The project was a significant departure from the organization’s previous international interventions in culture, which focused on the preservation of static sites of heritage. It also embodied a new way of thinking about economic development assistance that was more concerned more with quality of life than simple economic indicators. Today, 40 years after the Fund’s creation, development aid to audiovisual industries has proliferated, particularly within international organizations. UNESCO and the EU operate multiple programs providing economic assistance for the production and distribution of TV, film, and new media, as well as training for audiovisual professionals in the Global South.
While the primary stated of such programs is economic development, they also espouse humanitarian aims, such as democratization, cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue, and conflict resolution. Yet, these audiovisual productions more resemble art house films than traditional forms of development and humanitarian media – indeed, many have won awards at high profile festivals such as Cannes. Using a content analysis of several dozen films produced with funds from EU audiovisual aid programs, I will explore how development and humanitarian aims are encoded in these productions, paying particular attention to the disjunctures between policy aims and their textual embodiment (or lack thereof). This paper is part of a larger project on EU and UNESCO aid to audiovisual industries in the Global South, and builds on previous archival and interview research conducted at the European Commission.
Peace Journalism as research scholarship and a form of media development in conflict
Jake Lynch, University of Sydney
Peace Journalism (PJ) is a set of distinctions in the news representation of conflicts, of all kinds, which has grown over recent years both as a field of research scholarship and as a normative concept in media development as a form of conflict intervention. In this paper, I will show how forms of reporting recognised as Peace Journalism can prompt and enable readers and audiences to take issue with the characteristic framings with which calls for armed ‘humanitarian intervention’ in conflicts are launched and justified. In its call for journalists to devise creative ways to depict conflicts as processes, rather than a drumbeat of violent events, it provides opportunities to diagnose problems in structural terms, and to consider and value nonviolent treatment recommendations. Peace Journalism has been promoted through exhortatory and pedagogical initiatives, and as a form of journalist training it draws on the principles of critical pedagogy. In doing so, it can be a component of conflict intervention approaches that wish to work around the ‘liberal peace’ model – based, as it is, on the implantation of standardised institutional frameworks, overcoming resistance where necessary, and which forms an essential conceptual underpinning to calls for ‘humanitarian intervention’.
This paper will draw on the presenter’s long experience as a leading original researcher in Peace Journalism; as a creator and facilitator of training courses for professional editors and reporters in many countries, for clients including major aid and development agencies; and as an experienced reporter and presenter in international television news.
The Role of New Media and Technologies in Peacebuilding
Vladimir Bratic, Hollins University
This study examines the latest trend in peace, conflict and democratization literature and practice which principally agrees that new technologies can generate improvements for countries in conflict. This enthusiasm for the impact of technology on societies in conflict is remarkably reminiscent of the earlier claims about the traditional media impacts on democratization and development. This is why it is surprisingly that the discussions about the applications of new media and technologies treat it with clean slate disregarding the lessons from the research on traditional media. Theoretically, the impacts of new technologies are handled dialectically; there are a number of diverging viewpoints and schools of thought (i.e. Internet optimists, pessimists and realists). Practically, the evidence from the new media applications demonstrates ability of the new media to inform, involve and mobilize citizens. Additionally, new media seemed to have enhanced the ability of peacebuilding agents to achieve their goals in almost all facets of their practice.
Overall, majority of new media applications provide evidence for many repetitive, though often improved functions (e.g. informing, persuading, entertaining) while new original application are constantly developed (e.g. Big Data analysis, crowdsourcing, satellite monitoring). Yet, there is no evidence of magical power of new technologies on peace while numerous obstacles continue flourish: hate speech proliferates due to the online anonymity, free speech continues to be repressed and authoritarian actors and terrorist groups continue to be successful in engaging in propaganda warfare.
The Beautiful Americans: the Peace Corps and the popular reinvention of the Third World
Agnieszka Sobocinska, Monash University
In the early 1960s, the Peace Corps brought international volunteering to a new prominence. Its sophisticated publicity material reached popular audiences in the United States and across the world. The publicity presented the United States in a positive light, as vigorous, noble and idealistic. Romanticised images of young American volunteers selflessly helping ‘underdeveloped’ nations also resulted in a ‘Peace Corps mystique’ that, for the first time, made foreign aid appear glamorous. Reaching into the public sphere in a way that few international issues did, the Peace Corps informed popular views regarding international development and foreign aid, just as these issues reached a new prominence within the international system. This paper will argue that the Peace Corps’ publicity affected popular Western ideas about global disparity, and contributed to the broader process by which publics in the West came to understand the division between the Global North and the Global South. It will show that, by presenting ‘developed’ nations as modern and dynamic, and ‘underdeveloped’ nations as backward and passive, the Peace Corps helped shape popular understandings of the Third World at a time when its meaning and location was under negotiation.
FORMS OF ENGAGEMENT
Trying to inject ‘the humanitarian gene back into this big beast’: Intra-organisational struggles over the meaning and purpose of media production at Save the Children UK.
Kate Wright, University of Roehampton
What is ‘humanitarianism’? How should it guide humanitarian organisations’ engagement with mainstream journalists, media audiences and those whom they seek to represent? This paper explores why and how different readings of such complex, normative issues shape the intra-organisational struggles (Orgad 2013; Powers 2014) of even the most commercially-driven aid agencies. In order to do this, this paper uses data drawn from thirteen semi-structured interviews conducted with those whose decisions shaped the ways in which Save the Children UK collaborated with BBC News Online to construct an audio slideshow about a former child soldier in South Sudan.
This media item was initiated by a multimedia producer appointed by the Humanitarian Head, Gareth Owen, in order to reintroduce what he saw as ‘humanitarian’ values into the charity’s media relations. For Owen argued that Save’s press officers had prioritised fundraising so much that they had ‘forgotten’ the political importance of ‘giving voice’ to vulnerable others and ‘educating’ media audiences about why the aid system failed to prevent ‘humanitarian emergencies’. Whilst Owen was happy for this media work to be conducted through relatively niche media outlets, the press office were not and effectively ‘hijacked’ previous arrangements in order to ‘sell’ the piece to a more popular news outlet, so achieving ‘more bang’ for the organisation’s ‘buck’. Yet press officers also legitimised their highly commercialised stance in relation to what they saw as their ‘humanitarian’ purpose: that is, reaching as many audience members as possible in order to create powerful, imagined relationships between them and those represented.
In the abstract, normative arguments may be made in support of either faction. But in this instance, the effects of the latter approach on the child concerned were extremely worrying. For the last minute changes of plan and the privileging of speedy media production in the name of ‘value for money’ meant that he and his family were not properly informed about the purpose of their media participation. Indeed, they only found out that the piece was for a news outlet a month later – long after a slideshow about them had been published on one of the most popular news websites in the world.
Celebrity, social entrepreneurism and new models of societal engagement in Brazil
Bruno Campanella, Universidade Federal Fluminense
Taking the participation in social and humanitarian campaigns of Brazilian TV host Luciano Huck as a case in point, this paper investigates how new models of celebrity civic engagement based on social entrepreneurship are becoming increasingly popular in Brazil. Just like Angelina Jolie, Bono Vox, and George Clooney, Huck is frequently promoting humanitarian and environmental campaigns aiming at some of the most challenging problems facing society. If, on the one hand, the type of action championed by him lays bare social imbalances created by neoliberalism, on the other, it simultaneously offers a rationalization that safeguards it against anti-capitalist critiques.
Moreover, Huck’s successful combination of social entrepreneurship with private interests is seen by many as an alternative model to the public social policies implemented by Brazilian Labour Party, in power since early 2000’s. These social welfare programs created in the last decade are often described by some segments of society as opportunistic, and a return to the “old” practices of state intervention.
For many, Huck, which has over 15 million followers on Facebook alone and hosts local variations of internationally known Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and Pimp my Ride, represents a distinct project. He openly champions the idea that the solution for some of the deepest problems faced by Brazilian society should start from private initiative. Celebrities, in this context, have a role to play by endorsing contracts with businesses that want to build a socially concerned image.
The Problem of Images? Television and the Humanitarian Industry in Britain since the 1960s
Andrew Jones, University of Birmingham
The mass media is widely understood as a critical force in the contemporary humanitarian system, for publicising distant suffering and mobilising responses. However, there has been little systematic historical analysis of how the media and humanitarian organisations have interacted and shaped one another over time, in national or international contexts. This paper does so through an overview of the relationship between the British humanitarian sector and television, from the early 1960s to the present day. It will probe how the rise of leading British aid agencies (such as Oxfam and Save the Children) has been fuelled, shaped and contained by the institutional and technological development of television. News footage and images of overseas emergencies stimulated the growth of humanitarian empathy within Britain. The types of action fostered by such images has also undermined long-term efforts to promote solidarity and tackle the structural causes of global poverty, by promoting a certain understanding of the majority world. As this paper will show, the main television broadcasters in Britain (the BBC and ITV) also actively reinforced this process through their charitable appeals mechanisms and deliberate interventions into the sector. However, it will also be argued that humanitarian NGOs have themselves been complicit in this process, using provocative images of starving children to drive fundraising within a crowded marketplace. This analysis complicates linear narratives of modern humanitarianism, and highlights how crucial media institutions and technologies have been in determining the trajectory and possibilities of modern humanitarianism.
COMMUNICATING SOCIAL CHANGE
Portraying global poverty : Learnings from the microcredit experience
Odile Vallee, School of Communication of Audencia Group
This communication presents a research developped in my Ph.D. Analyzing the communication processes that supported the construction of microcredit as an international cause, I examined the uses and the stakes raised by the the « positive » portraits, both photographic and narrative, mobilized by the microfinance players.
The tools developped by those players over a timespan of forty years imposed themselves in the range of actions carried out by organizations, profit and non-profit, seeking to help out precarious populations. Those tools, financial in nature, are converted in humanitarian ressources through the practical, discursive and symbolic lenses provided by actors such as the Microcredit Summit Campaign (The Campaign). Indeed, this international microfinance network promotes microcredit as a tool against poverty. Its efficiency as such draws upon the positive impact of the photographic portraits of borrowers and the narratives of success they epitomize. They function as an implicit norm aiming at expressing and positionning microcredit for they are both widely used in the communication devices developed by The Campaign and highly mediatised. They circulates in social and institutional spaces and their relevance, accuracy and ethics are debated.
The semiotic and narrative analysis of the portraits used by The Campaign from its inception (1997) reveal the universal-oriented picture of poverty they draw and the paradoxal statuses of suffering they bear. It sheds light on a symbolic role that exceeds the strategic one assigned to them by the rhetoric stakes carried by the microfinance discussion, triggering anew the persistent debate about the deserving and non-deserving poor.
Fair trade brand communication in social media as (post)humanitarian communication. The case of Pizca del Mundo (Poland) and Reilu kauppa (Finland)
Kinga Polynczuk-Alenius, University of Helsinki
Mervi Pantti, University of Helsinki
A traditional vision of humanitarianism links it to non-profit organisations providing aid in emergency situations. However, ethics of solidarity and the urge to alleviate suffering beyond geographical borders is increasingly incorporated into the operations of commercial entities. A potent example of business founded on the humanitarian principle of global justice is fair trade: a new supply chain model that aims to create the opportunity for the underprivileged producers from the South to break the cycle of extreme poverty by offering access to Northern markets under beneficial, rather than exploitative, conditions. Thus far, fair trade brand communication has not been sufficiently addressed as an alternative form of humanitarian communication.
Against this background, the paper analyses the brand communication of Pizca del Mundo, a Polish fair trade brand, and Finnish Reilu kauppa (Fairtrade Finland) on their Facebook fanpages. It examines these fair trade brands as campaigners who call for solidarity and public action, and analyses the role of the brand audiences or fans in mediating and disseminating the narratives of global inequality and suffering. Drawing on Chouliaraki’s (2013) work on post-humanitarianism and previous studies on fair trade activism (Lekakis, 2013), the paper identifies the inherent tensions residing in fair trade activism that stem from the incompatibility of humanitarian goals of sustainable development and social justice in the global South with the individualised fair trade consumption.
The paper contributes to the knowledge of (post)humanitarian communication by investigating the everyday practices of fair trade communication as a form of humanitarian advocacy and activism.
Young, Global, and Ready to Read: Contemporary Humanitarian Children’s Books
Emily Bauman, New York University
We tend to think of humanitarianism as the work of adult actors, not just in terms of its production but also within the vast network of humanitarian consumption. With the normalization of the humanitarian industry in contemporary global media and culture, however, humanitarian narrative and images have started to orient themselves to younger audiences. This paper will investigate a little-studied area of humanitarian media: children’s books. How does children’s literature figure in the larger field of humanitarian discourse and visual culture? Does it reproduce dominant humanitarian images and representations or are there specific tendencies we might identify in this slim but growing body of texts? I show that humanitarian children’s literature is in fact not representative of the field at large but is limited to development (rather than emergency) discourse and telescoped to a single narrative prototype and “moral,” that of the “teach a man to fish” or “plant a seed” formula. The idea of the “seed” as supreme development goal and form of global aid is played out visually in the multiple picture book versions of Wangari Maathai’s autobiographic story, among others. This formula is particularly suited to the children’s literature genre in general, but I argue that it also plays into one of the hottest areas of the contemporary aid imaginary: microfinance, while at the same time resurrecting longstanding development tropes and teleologies identified years earlier by Arturo Escobar. Through close analysis of select examples I will show how this corpus might reflect back to mainstream humanitarian studies the nature of its own investments and the persistence of old forms of thinking, even at the crux of its self-proclaimed reform.
Distant suffering online: The unfortunate irony of cyber-utopian narratives
Martin Scott, University of East Anglia
The internet is often celebrated for the abundant opportunities it appears to offer citizens to become more informed about and inspired to act on issues related to global justice and international development. But to what extent do users actually make use of such opportunities? And what social processes are such decisions governed by? This article begins to answer these questions by analysing the results of a two month study of UK Internet users’ online behaviour. The results reveal, not just a general resistance to using the Internet to develop a cosmopolitan consciousness, but also the dominant modes of avoidance research participants used to justify their inactivity. The unfortunate irony is that, despite demonstrating the inaccuracy of cyber-utopian narratives, the results also suggest that such narratives may nevertheless provide a means of challenging current modes of avoidance – thereby promoting digital cosmopolitanism.
Sentiments of Aid: Everyday Humanitarian Communications for Online Microfinance
Anke Schwittay, University of Sussex and Paul Braund, RiOS Institute
Using the example of microfinance – the provision of small-scale financial services to poor people – we argue for a form of everyday humanitarianism that constitutes Northern publics as microfinance supporters. This humanitarianism works through the mobilization of affective investments, which are financial, social and emotional commitments to distant others to alleviate their poverty through microloans. Within this economy of affect, microfinance appeals to its supporters through images of smiling women entrepreneurs, through its obligatory success story of development with the help of microenterprise, and through mediated encounters with micro-borrowers through online lending platforms. One of the most successful of these websites, particularly in the US, has been Kiva.org, which was established in San Francisco in 2005 and has since grown to include more than 1 million lenders and borrowers, facilitating loans of more than 600 million US dollars.
In our presentation, we compare the mediated space created on the Kiva.org website with the seemingly more direct and personal – albeit still technologically-linked – connections established via Kiva Zip, which is a mobile phone platform that lets lenders communicate directly with their borrowers in the US and Kenya. Examining the interactions among lenders and borrowers on the website and on the zip platform, we analyse the affordances of mobile technologies for affective investment and for everyday humanitarian communication.
New Media and the Mediation of Humanitarianism: The creation of a global consciousness or commercialization of human suffering
Noureddine Miladi, Qatar University, Doha, Qatar
Satellite TV and new media are said to have enhanced communication across communities on a global scale. Social media has been hailed to have helped provide unprecedented platforms for free speech and empowered communities, the disadvantaged and the youth around the world. But also through live coverage of natural disasters, wars and conflicts new media have brought human crises to every home and to the attentions of everyone. Moreover, reporting humanitarian crises on social media have also taken reporting humanitarianism to a new turn which is maximizing the unlimited access to text and audio-visual data on human catastrophes to become part of a global consciousness. The UK is a unique country where humanitarian work is a thriving business across all communities. The efforts to serve an unlimited number of humanitarian causes cover almost every possible part of the world where there is humanitarian need. The UK NGOs have become nowadays multi-million organizations managed by top executives. They compete with businesses and banks in their professional marketing strategies and commercial branding.
Based on survey questionnaires as well as semi-structured interviews with ethnic minority groups in the UK, this paper analyses the role of new media partly on the creation of a global consciousness about human crises and partly on the commercialization of human suffering. The paper calls for a move from emotion-oriented humanitarianism to adopt new morally compelling strategies to mobilize the public away from the commercialization of human suffering.
From Action to Alleviation – Humanitarian Engagement with Conflict Victims: The Case of Biafra1967-70
Mie Vestergaard, Roskilde University
This paper forms part of a PhD project (2013-2016), which deals with the question of how universal aspirations of addressing distant suffering shapes humanitarian agencies’ engagement with conflict victims on the ground. More specifically, the paper contributes to studies on humanitarianism by examining how public victim representations are produced and disseminated, which kind of action they encourage and legitimize, and how humanitarian agencies navigate between “global calls to act” and political restraints on the ground in a complex conflict context. Instead of reproducing contemporary critique of humanitarian agencies as being wrong in their, often simplistic, representations of victims, the paper applies a historical and intra-institutional perspective on the internal deliberations of humanitarian agencies when categorizing and representing victims. The paper uses the paradigmatic case of the humanitarian response to the Nigeria-Biafra conflict in 1967-70; a response that produced an unprecedented call for global solidarity with the “Biafran victims”. An interdisciplinary framework is applied to examine classified archival material collected at the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva from February to June 2014. By analysing historical material on humanitarian agencies’ categorizations of victims – from field reports, official headquarter policies, and publicly disseminated victim representations – the paper adds empirically grounded insight to contemporary debates on humanitarianism in existing policy-oriented and theoretical literature.
Comparing Russian, French and UK Television News: Portrayals of the Casualties of War
Emma Heywood. University of Coventry
This paper examines portrayals of victims in foreign conflict reporting by Russian, French and UK television news. It compares the reports of Russia’s state-aligned news provider, Vremya; BBC’s News at Ten; and France 2’s 20 Heures and examines the extent to which they draw on, or sideline, the news value of compassion for victims of fighting to maintain the newsworthiness of their conflict reporting. The article focuses on coverage of the intra-Palestinian fighting in June 2007 and discusses representations of two very different forms of victimhood to determine how the broadcasters perceive ‘victims’. The first concerns civilians caught up in the fighting and the then emerging humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the second focuses on coverage of two hostage-takings. This paper forms a basis against which present-day media reporting of victims of conflict can be compared and analysed.
A path into alternative models? The role of citizen journalism in global representations of humanitarianism
Valérie Gorin, CERAH, University of Geneva and the Graduate Institute
In 2014, the Guardian’s Witness website launched its “Postcards from reality” platform, to balance the negative and stereotypical representations of failed states published on Foreign Policy’s website “Postcards from hell”. This highlights a recent interest for the emergence of citizen journalism and its potentials for more global representations of humanitarianism. Four decades of media studies have shown how the main media are regularly criticized for their use of sensationalism and simplification in the coverage of armed conflicts or famines (Moeller 1999, Franks 2013), producing images framed and selected for their Western symbolic and cultural meanings. Therefore, one of the main concerns is the need to understand “the absence of alternative, critical visualizations” (Campbell 2012, 89) of humanitarian crises in general and of suffering in particular. Citizen journalism and its use of digital media are thus seen as potentials to move away from Western bias and to encourage dialogue (Ritchin 2013) between beneficiaries of aid, audiences and potential donors.
This paper wishes then to examine citizen representations of humanitarian crises through the websites of Guardian Witness, Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, PixelPress and the project “Everyday Africa” on Tumblr and Instagram. The comparative analysis of the amateur productions disseminated through these digital media will help to question: 1) is there a new visual culture on humanitarianism and how much can it be considered as (un)biased, (in)accurate, (i)representative? 2) How much citizen representations are filling professional gaps? 3) Can we speak of empowerment of local communities through their picturing of their own realities?
PLENARY 2: SYRIA
A Social Media Revolution? Syrian chemical attack images in western media and international politics
Noora Kotilainen, Finnish Institute of International Affairs
Due to widespread use of amateur images disseminated via social media, the Syrian war (2012- ) has been referred to as a war documented like no other. This paper takes up the case of the Damascus gas attack (August 21st, 2013) to examine the contemporarily articulated social media effect – A notion that the use social media and amateur images in mediating war have a power to revolutionize the ways in which the spectating world sees and reacts to the suffering of distant others.
Contemporarily images swiftly flow from one context to another, gathering new uses, meanings and significations along the way. Firstly I set out to analyse the image flows: the meanings the amateur images gathered while flowing from the local level into the global level, as well as the signification process of the images in mainstream media’s journalistic remediation. Secondly, I observe how the images telling of the suffering of the Syrian people devolved into the international political debate on the situation of Syria. I examine how the images were referred to and used in political argumentation and rhetoric rationalizing and legitimating the western response to the situation – namely the planned western military response. I also pay attention to the novelties that amateur images and social media mediation potentially have on conventional practices of representing distant suffering. In the light of the Syrian case, I aim to deconstruct and to draw conclusions on the global (western) uses of social media and amateur images of crisis and suffering, and to critically assess the assumption of the social media’s revolutionizing force in mediating war and crisis sentiments.
Reporting Za’atari: The media portrayal of children in the world’s 2nd largest refugee camp
Toby Fricker, UNICEF Jordan
Za’atari refugee camp, Jordan, hosts some 80,000 Syrians who have fled the conflict in their country, more than half are children. The Syrian war is widely acknowledged to have had a devastating impact on the lives of children. Since opening at the end of July 2012, Za’atari has been saturated with media coverage. In Jordan, the camp has come to symbolise the refugee crisis as a whole, despite the fact that less than 15% of all Syrian refugees in the country live there.
This practical presentation uses unique on the ground experience to highlight the role of aid agencies in working with international media on issues and stories related to children. But who drives the media narrative and portrayal of Za’atari’s youngest? This presentation looks at the unique role that aid agencies can play in influencing the editorial of print, online and broadcast media. From self-produced content, to celebrity and other high profile visits, aid agencies have been in a position to drive and direct media coverage.
The dangers and complications of reporting from Syria mean that refugees provide even more valuable first hand stories. With Za’atari just a one-hour 15-minute drive from Jordan’s capital, Amman, this presents a unique opportunity. Life and events within Za’atari itself also often meet the news values cited by Galtung and Ruge (1965). When they are missing, a celebrity can bring the focus back. More recent restrictions on media permits for Za’atari have further increased the reliance on aid agencies to access strong child focussed stories.
The relationship between aid agencies and media can be positive or negative. The ideal result is reporting that provides the nuances and deeper context required to tell accurate and engaging stories about children. Aid agencies, whilst raising awareness about relevant issues and promoting their work, share the responsibility with media to achieve this. In the context of Za’atari you can find examples of both.
Working on the side of dignity: reflecting on the Syrian crisis
Juliette Harkin, University of East Anglia
This paper explores the intersection of the concept of dignity (and solidarity) within the context of Syria’s conflict and the media development response to it. There have been a great number of small and medium media interventions but the work has been mainly covert for security reasons. The Syrian revolution and the whole Arab Spring in which it emerged raises urgent questions about the political positioning of formal and informal political actors in the conflict and their relations with the development ‘industry’. Rightly, it is argued, activists and other actors are challenging not just their government but also exposing some of the problems in the media development community as they privilege work with those who show solidarity, who respect the sanctity of human dignity and who understand the political aims of the groups or ‘beneficiaries’. This paper will reflect deeply on my recent professional experiences as director of a major Syria media project, since the start of the Arab Spring. It will draw on relevant literature in media development, including Martin Scott (2014), and policy documents, including the HIVOS Briefing Note (Kawa Hassan, 2012), ‘Dignity Revolutions and Western Donors: Redefining Relevance’. It argues, in sympathy with a recent plea by Dr Atallah Kuttab of SAANED, for a dignity-centred approach to (media) development with due import on the human responses that this entails.
Humanitarian media events: the case of the Belgian appeal for Syrian refugees.
Robin Vandevoordt, University of Antwerp
When somewhere in the world disaster strikes, chances are that West-European NGO’s will put their hands together by launching national fundraising appeals. In these appeals, the media, public institutions and individual citizens are asked to contribute their share by donating a sum of money or, better still, by organizing their own fundraising activities. If all goes well, the appeal then soon acquires a festive character, as an entire nation interrupts its regular course of affairs to organize fundraising activities ranging from small family barbeques to widely broadcasted live shows. In this presentation, I will conceptualize these appeals as ‘humanitarian media events’ by drawing attention to their distinctive features, in line with recent attempts to broaden the notion of ‘media events’.
These theoretical reflections are then applied to the case of the Belgian appeal for Syrian refugees, launched in April 2013. This analysis consists of three components: the media, by comparing the coverage on Syria throughout the period of the appeal, both in print and broadcast media; the campaign, relying on in-depth interviews with campaigners; and the public, by using interviews and focus groups both with persons who organised a small-scale fundraising activity, and with those who did not. This presentation thereby aims to develop a neo-Durkheimian framework to understand the nature and course of national humanitarian appeals, and the role-played by a variety of social actors.