Anti-poverty charity Oxfam criticises UK media portrayal of Africa

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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Oxfam, an international organisation intending to eliminate poverty, has criticised the way in which Africa is depicted to United Kingdom (UK) audiences. In a press release, the charity said the continent was being portrayed in an "overwhelmingly negative" way which is "undermining popular support for efforts to bring an end to hunger on the continent". Dame Barbara Stocking, CEO of Oxfam, has said the way in which the continent is being depicted to UK audiences "is obscuring the progress that is being made towards a more secure and prosperous future".

Oxfam cited a survey of 2000 people conducted by marketing research company YouGov, suggesting three fifths of people have become less sensitive towards footage containing persons suffering from such problems as drought, disease and hunger, while 23% avoid looking at footage of this nature upon sighting it. Oxfam said the way in which broadcast media portrays developing nations, including those in Africa, was perceived to be "depressing, manipulative and hopeless" by those surveyed. Stocking believes "it’s a natural instinct to turn away from suffering when you feel you can do nothing to alleviate it."

47% of respondents considered hunger to be one of the three largest issues for Africa next year. 43% of respondents thought media portrayal of conditions for persons living in developing areas suggested no hope for improvement. In the 2011 Human Development Report, published by the United Nations Development Programme, over three fourths of the 46 countries ranked under the 'Low Human Development' category — the lowest-ranking category in the Human Development Index — were African. The Democratic Republic of the Congo ranked lowest on the list; the other fourteen entries in the bottom fifteen of this category were all African nations. Stocking has said Oxfam does not mean to "gloss over" issues surrounding African citizens at a significant risk of harm and stressed that malnutrition rates "remain stubbornly high".

However, of people surveyed only one fifth believed they could actively assist in eliminating food poverty in Africa. Meanwhile, 74% believed it is possible to eventually resolve the issue of hunger in Africa.

"[W]e’ve come a long way since the 1980s and Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas?," Stocking said. Band Aid, a charity supergroup created by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, was formed following the broadcasting of footage of Ethiopian citizens experiencing a famine in the mid 1980s.

"We need to shrug off the old stereotypes and celebrate the continent’s diversity and complexity," Stocking said, concluding: "If we want people to help fight hunger we have to give them grounds for hope by showing the potential of countries across Africa".