We need a greener, more dignified and just planet

Image: Christine Allen at the Olame centre in Bukuvu DRC with women survivors of violence © CAFOD


As Britain prepares to host the all-important COP26 climate change talks, Christine Allen, Director of CAFOD, argues that we have a unique opportunity to reset our economy, our politics, and our society. And the media has a crucial role to play.

As we enter a new year, the climate ought to be at the forefront of many people’s minds. There have been news reports that 2020 was the joint hottest year on record and in only eleven short months, Glasgow will host COP26 – the meeting of world leaders to discuss the climate crisis.

Although this annual meeting has been a fixture for over a quarter of a century, this year will be different. As we deal with the latest COVID restrictions, the common thread that binds us all, locked down in our homes, is a sense of the deep interconnectedness to each other and the planet. Recognising that we need each other, and we each have a part to play does wonders for our mental health. For many of us, the muted noise of daily business opened us up to the wonder and beauty of nature.

We know that we simply cannot go back to the way things were

To bring about a more equitable sharing of the earth’s resources, then politics and policies must change. Pope Francis’s letter on the environment in 2015, Laudato Si’, has helped to signpost the way. It was an eloquent and influential call for everyone to revise their relationship with our planet and with one another. Published when we were working towards the Paris climate negotiations, Laudato Si’ was seen as a critical intervention, with heads of state and diplomats alike acknowledging its significant effect.

Rather than simply being the Catholic Church’s statement on the environment from a ‘green pope’, Francis was calling for a radical conversion to a new society – where our politics, economy and social organisation benefit our planet and everyone on it. In giving the letter the subtitle ‘Our Common Home’, Francis asked us to see ourselves as a family in a home: a message that seems even more relevant in light of the pandemic.

Francis emphasises the dignity of all people, especially those who are poorest and least recognised in society. Whether it is investing in health and social care, green jobs or renewable energy sources, strengthening the social safety net or introducing a basic income, that respect for our common humanity must be at the forefront.

We have all shown how we can respond to a rapidly changing world

The changes we have lived through, and are still living through with the pandemic, shows what can be achieved with political will. In his call for a radical reset not just a return to an old normal, Pope Francis articulates what so many people are feeling. CAFOD supporters are now adding their voices to his most recent call.

In our plans for rebuilding from the pandemic, we reclaim the common home the Pope calls us to care for. This means plans for recovering from the coronavirus pandemic must also tackle the other injustices and inequalities that plague our common home. We have gone through too much in this crisis to simply return to the ‘old normal’ when the pandemic is over. Instead, the Holy Father implores us to build a ‘better normal’ – including by making sure the money governments are pumping into the economy is used to create green and decent jobs rather than bailing out polluters. It also means turning our climate ambitions from vague future targets to immediate cuts in emissions.

The media has a crucial role to play

As we approach COP26 and emerge from the pandemic, we need the media to portray the realities of the climate emergency – reporting on how people and communities are affected and ensuring that those stories are rooted in their voices and lived experience.  Hearing their voices reminds us that this issue isn’t a white middle-class concern – it’s life and death for so many who are vulnerable to climate shocks and who pay the price for our consumption.

The media’s approach to the climate crisis has been improving hugely over the past few years, most notably with the Guardian’s push to change the terms used by all their journalists to accurately describe the environmental crisis.

There is also improved reporting on the climate crisis with clearer links connecting local and the global; raising awareness with audiences who in turn we hope will campaign to persuade governments to prioritise urgent change.

Now is our unique opportunity to reset our economy, our politics, and our society. To build a thriving post-pandemic world, fulfilling the principles at the heart of Pope Francis’ call for conversion to a greener, more dignified and just planet.

 Christine Allen | Director, CAFOD

International content is under threat

Image: Publicity still from Sue Perkins: Along the US-Mexico Border © BBC


IBT Director Mark Galloway fears that international content is especially vulnerable, as public service broadcasters face radical change.

The pandemic has seen a big increase in consumption of TV news and has given public service broadcasters like the BBC and Channel 4 a much needed boost. Television news has long been the main source of information about the wider world for most people in the UK and has the unique ability to reach large, mainstream audiences. It plays a crucial role for NGOs wishing to reach beyond their core constituencies.

However, the future of the UK’s distinctive public service broadcasting (PSB) system is in doubt. The media regulator Ofcom is conducting a review, Small Screen: Big Debate, with the aim of strengthening and maintaining public service broadcasting in the face of threats from Netflix, Amazon, Disney and Apple. Both the BBC and Channel 4 face financial uncertainty and the Ofcom review is critical to the future of PSB.

In December, Ofcom announced its initial findings. Its verdict was devastating for the PSBs. It said that the traditional system of broadcasting in the UK is ‘unlikely to survive’ as a result of changes to technology, financing and viewer habits. Ofcom says that the remits of the PSBs will have to be ‘radically overhauled.’

What’s clear is that major change is underway

It’s likely that Ofcom will redefine PSB so that it has a much stronger digital presence. Channel 4 has already anticipated this change with its recent announcement of a digital first policy. It’s also possible that funding for public service content may be diversified to suppliers other than the traditional public service broadcasters, and platforms like Netflix may be required to produce public service content.

Ofcom has announced a public consultation on its proposals, before they are finalised and put forward to government. IBT will be submitting evidence to the Ofcom consultation in order to strengthen the role of international content. We will be working with our members to encourage them to submit evidence too, as Ofcom will be influenced by the number of submissions it receives.

Some of the changes proposed by Ofcom are to be welcomed such as the suggestion that the streaming services like Netflix should be required to produce the equivalent of public service content. The details of this have yet to be fleshed out.

Many issues are in play

The size of the BBC, whether licence fee money should go to other broadcasters like Sky Arts, privatisation of Channel 4, a redefinition of PSB to include online content and much more.

The PSBs face major funding challenges. Channel 4 has lost advertising revenue and the BBC is making cuts to its programme budget to pay for the age related licence fee concession. The new BBC Director General Tim Davie has made it clear that in the future the BBC will do less. ‘The BBC has spread itself too thinly‘ he recently told the Culture and Media Select Committee. ‘We need to make choices about the best use of limited resources.’

What will the broadcasters cut?

Two genres are guaranteed a major role in any future PSB system – entertainment and news. Big entertainment shows like Strictly Come Dancing and The Great British Bake Off will continue as they bring in mass audiences and PSB makes no sense if it doesn’t reach large numbers of people. News will stay as it is the television genre most valued by audiences.

My fear is that international content is the genre that is most vulnerable. It’s expensive to make and it has always had to fight for its place in the schedule. I’m thinking of programmes like BBC2’s Once Upon a Time in Iraq, BBC1’s Sue Perkins: Along the US-Mexico Border, and Channel 4’s Grayson Perry’s Big American Road Trip. These programmes are made for UK audiences, they take us on a journey and show us stories and issues that matter. Some have a much gentler tone like BBC4’s wonderful Handmade in Africa. Because they are made with a UK perspective, for a UK audience, these programmes don’t sell to other territories and they don’t generate commercial revenue like the latest David Attenborough show. And you will not find them on Netflix or Amazon.

Why does this international content matter?

Isn’t it enough to have good quality international news? No, it isn’t. Television news does a good job of covering global stories but its range is narrow and due to financial pressures, is narrowing even further. The big international stories of the day are covered but these inevitably present a limited picture of what life is like for people living in other countries. And not all TV viewers watch the news. Documentaries and drama fill in the gaps and they appeal to different audiences. They give us context and provide a much more realistic idea of what normal life is like in other places. They allow us to get to know real people and to connect with them emotionally.

We need television to do more than just focus on war, famine and natural disasters, because a nuanced understanding of the world is essential for our future place in the world. Now that Britain has left the European Union, there is a real danger that our horizons will narrow, that we will become more insular and inward looking. Global Britain needs citizens who are well informed and can engage with the world, economically, socially, culturally and politically.

Television has a unique role to play in engaging us with the world because it has the ability to reach mass audiences. Those who already have an interest in global stories and issues know where they can find the information they need. But the danger is that this small proportion of the population will be super served and the rest will be neglected. As Ofcom launches its consultation on the future of public service broadcasting, we hope that IBT members will join us in making the case for a wide range of international content.

Mark Galloway | Director, International Broadcasting Trust

Global Britain in a post-Brexit world – who will deliver it?

Image: A free eye screening and refraction session provided by Sightsavers’ partners at a local school in Uliper, Kurigram, Bangladesh © Reza Shahriar Rahman / Sightsavers


As the UK prepares to leave the EU, there is an opportunity for international NGOs to show that ‘Global Britain’ is more than just rhetoric, writes Alistair Burnett.

Global Britain – that is the future promised for the UK in the post-Brexit world that comes into being at midnight on New Year’s Eve, but has it yet progressed beyond rhetoric?

When Boris Johnson’s government announced its Integrated Review of security, defence, development and foreign affairs in February this year, it looked like a strategic approach examining all aspects of the UK’s role in the world was to be conducted.

That review is still not complete and is not expected to be published before the spring, yet several key announcements have already been made seemingly with short-term politics, rather than long-term strategy, in mind.

The merger of the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development – which so far looks more like a takeover of the latter by the former – has been accompanied by cuts in the aid budget and the (ostensibly temporary) abandonment of the pledge to spend 0.7% of GNI on aid.

At the same time, Prime Minister Johnson has announced a big increase in spending on the military and we’ve heard grandiose rhetoric from the Foreign and Defence Secretaries about returning British naval power east of Suez, including deploying one of the UK’s new aircraft carriers to the South China Sea to support American efforts to challenge Beijing’s territorial claims there.

If there’s an overarching strategy here, it is difficult to discern any coherence

Britain is a medium-sized military and economic power which has accrued a great deal of soft power in recent decades, not least through the work of DFID and being one of very few UN states to honour the 0.7% commitment.

This appears to be lost on the current cabinet who seem intent on appeasing critics of aid on the right of the party and the media, while trying to deflect attention from the diminution of UK economic and diplomatic power predicted to result from leaving the EU.

It is important to remember Britain’s role and reputation in the world is not just dependent on what its government does

Civil society also plays its part and has real influence.

What British aid and development NGO staff do day in day out, in their work to eliminate global poverty and to improve global health, is Britain playing a positive role in the world.

The same goes for what journalists at BBC World Service or British scientists or academics at British universities do day in day out.

So as Britain prepares to slip anchor from the EU, its harbour of the past five decades, there is an opening for civil society, particularly international NGOs, to show that ‘Global Britain’ is more than rhetoric.

Even if there is reduced funding available from the government and the public as a result of the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, international aid organisations can continue their work to help people in the world’s poorest communities to improve their lives.

And despite the Johnson government’s failure to listen to calls to preserve an independent DFID and to maintain its commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on aid, NGOs need to continue to advocate for the new Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office to retain both DFID’s erstwhile priorities and its staff who have built up significant expertise in reducing global poverty.

It is also essential for NGOs to continue talking to the public through their own channels and to continue working with the media to tell the stories of the difference their work – and UK aid – is making to the lives of the world’s poorest people.

Brexit doesn’t mean turning our backs on the world and Global Britain provides an opportunity for humanitarian and development organisations and their supporters to show the UK remains positively engaged in building a better world for all where no one is left behind.

Alistair Burnett is a Trustee of IBT and former Director of News at Sightsavers and Editor of Radio 4’s The World Tonight.


Alistair Burnett |Media & Communications Specialist

Taking British politics, jargon and colonialism out of our language

Image: Jackline, 19, South Sudanese refugee in Uganda took part in Plan International’s youth consultations. © Plan International


Maryam Mohsin, media manager at Bond, is leading a project to review and update some of the language that is commonly used in the international development sector. It’s time, she says, for change.

When your objective is trying to change something, it’s tricky to know where to start. Do you first try and change what you do, or should you start by changing what you say?

The risk of doing the latter first is that it could lead to a false sense of “mission accomplished” without really digging deep and addressing why the change needs to be made. As we know, walking the talk is the hard bit. The inevitable answer is that you must do a bit of both.

This is exactly what Bond has been working on. How can we live our values through our work, policies, and how we communicate and treat others? It has been a turbulent year for our sector, and I am not even going to begin to mention a certain pandemic.

We have seen incredible social shifts that speak to the issues we hold dear – the death of George Floyd and the rise of Black Lives Matter, the #MeToo movement putting sexual harassment, violence, and gender inequality to the fore, #CharitySoWhite, #ShowTheSalary, #ShiftThePower – all of these critical issues have gathered momentum and have made it clear that no sector, including ours, is immune from the changes so desperately needed if we are to create a fair, just and equal society.

As a membership-based organisation, this obviously includes Bond. We are in the process of getting our “house in order” on a range of issues, from salary transparency, equity and safeguarding, to positive action on diversity and inclusion.

The area of work that I have been driving internally, with support from colleagues at Bond, from the UK NGO sector and from international civil society groups, is around our language.

It has been a thought-provoking process, and we still have some way to go, but we have made good progress.

Here are a few things we have learnt so far:

“Aid,” “beneficiaries” and “developing countries” have to go

These are the top three words we no longer want to use. Are these also in your top three? If yes, then I am glad we agree, if not, send me an email and I will keep the tally going.

The problem is, despite being great at saying what we want to get rid of, it is much harder to find acceptable universal alternatives, so here is an attempt (suggestions welcome).

“Aid” is an outdated concept that does not reflect the breadth of the work we deliver, nor the complexity. It suggests countries are helpless and in need of handouts rather than fairness, livelihoods, infrastructure, health systems and support, amongst many other things. At Bond, we are going to make a concerted effort to use “development” and/or “humanitarian assistance” instead.

Thankfully, most of us at Bond wince when we hear the word “beneficiaries” and have been avoiding any language that dehumanises or removes people’s agency. We instead use terms such as “the communities we work with,” “people who have been marginalised” or “project participants.”

“Developing countries” was ditched long ago by the World Bank, and is widely disliked for being outdated, subjective and patronising. As the Sustainable Development Goals make clear, living in a healthy, just, safe, and sustainable planet should be everyone’s goal, and inequality and poverty can exist anywhere.

The conclusion we have reached is to be as specific and accurate as possible when taking about other countries and use “lower income countries” or “world’s most fragile states”.

Ditch the jargon and false claims

As a sector, we use too much jargon. This excessive use of buzzwords and acronyms, with zero context makes our work inaccessible, creates barriers and excludes people, especially the public or policymakers. We need to stop using terms like “localisation,” “innovation,” “capacity building”.

As a sector we have also been guilty of giving the UK credit for showing leadership/continued leadership on a range of issues that we would in fact “like” the UK to show leadership on. There are exceptions, such as the level of investment the UK makes into tackling infectious disease, and we should be proud of this. But is the UK showing leadership right now on gender-based violence or on girls’ education or climate change? Claims of “UK leadership” must be backed by evidence before we make them, otherwise we are simply flattering egos and perpetuating myths.

Development and humanitarian assistance are political. But our language should remain nonpartisan

Political parties will come and go, but inequalities will remain if our language begins to mirror that of the people in power, especially if the intentions behind the rhetoric are disingenuous.

A good example of this is “Global Britain” or “aid in the national interest” or even “Build Back Better”. Nobody would disagree that the UK being an outward-looking nation, working in partnership with others for the global good, would be a noble cause, or that Covid-19 has pushed millions of people into poverty and the UK should work with others to tackle this global pandemic.

However, how these political phrases translate into action is out of our hands and can’t be controlled. Can we really be confident that by using similar language, mirroring the language of power, we can change the rhetoric?

It’s also impossible to ignore that some of these phrases, intentionally or unintentionally, hark back to colonialism and tied aid. They do not reflect the present or future, where the British public and NGOs want to see development assistance going to the people who need it the most rather than towards the UK’s short term political or economic endeavours.

Even the above three reflections will spark lots of debate, and every organisation will have its own journey and perspective. In no way does Bond expect this approach to work for everyone. But for Bond – we need to practise what we preach, if we are to have legitimacy and influence, and it is important that we aim to set the bar high for ourselves and encourage others to do the same.


Maryam Mohsin | Media Manager, Bond

How British Red Cross found their biggest audience on TikTok

Image: Examples of content from the British Red Cross TikTok account


TikTok is the fastest growing social platform of 2020 and has become an important tool for community building, brand engagement and even social activism. This year, British Red Cross have grown their TikTok channel into their largest social media audience in just a few months. Nana Crawford, Social Media Manager at British Red Cross, gives her top 5 tips for NGOs wanting to make the most of TikTok.

 

1. Choose the right moment to launch your channel

After seeing that the users on TikTok were predominantly quite young, we decided to use it for our campaign on introducing first aid into the school curriculum. We knew this would be a strong message for the younger TikTok audience, and would be something they might already be familiar with from conversations in their schools and colleges. That was a great starting point for us, and allowed us to test out different types of content.

 

2. Be flexible with your content production

I would always recommend that if you are going to start a brand TikTok channel, you need to have a lot of flexibility to be able to do whatever you want and be really creative. Otherwise you’re just recreating another Instagram channel on TikTok, and that’s not the point. The nature of the content on TikTok means that you need a different sign off process for content – basically, not have one! It doesn’t make sense to do a comedy sketch video and then send it to a director for sign off, because they wouldn’t get it and you would lose the momentum of posting the video.

 

3. Experiment to discover what your audience likes

It can be really hit and miss with what content does well on TikTok, so we’re still experimenting with different things. Sometimes we’ll post a video thinking it will do really well, and then it doesn’t. Then we’ll post something random we’ve been sent in by a volunteer, and it gets loads of engagement! A lot of it is to do with trying things and learning what your audience likes. Then it’s all about the timing and taking advantage of the hashtag challenges.

 

4. Stay true to your brand values

On TikTok it’s really hard to have a specific campaign goal in a sense of conversions, because it’s difficult to track on the app. Instead, you need to approach it from a brand awareness perspective. For us it was a great opportunity to show just how relevant we are, and that we can produce content that appeals to a young audience in their style. But everyone needs to find their niche and find what works for them. There’s no point trying to replicate what someone else has done, because that’s not the point of TikTok. The point of TikTok is to showcase your personality, or your brand’s personality. 

 

5. Engage your wider networks and volunteers

It’s not always our team that comes up with the ideas. It’s been a great opportunity to engage with our younger volunteers. They’ll often send us ideas or TikToks they’ve done, which is great because it’s a channel that they’re familiar with. For example, if a volunteer sends us a dance they want us to share, it also gives us a chance to profile some of the amazing volunteers we work with, which is really nice.

 


   Nana Crawford | Social Media Manager at British Red Cross

Comic Relief is right to stop sending celebrities to Africa

Image: Stacey Dooley posted this image of herself on social media whilst filming in Uganda for Comic Relief in 2019.


Comic Relief’s decision to no longer send celebrities to African nations as part of its fundraising appeals is a welcome move, and will hopefully go some way towards dispelling the myths that exist around Africa, says Chine Mcdonald.

In the year I was born, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure got their pop star friends together, including U2’s Bono, Sting, Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, to create a song to help raise money for those affected by the famine in Ethiopia. Their efforts are of course to be applauded, but the problem is that no song in popular culture in my lifetime has done more to propagate a problematic picture of Africa than Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’

I’ll admit it, the song used to be one of my Christmas favourites. Its catchiness masks its deeply warped view of what Africa is actually like. I remember when the penny dropped, and I stopped singing it. I realised that the ‘Africa’ sung about by these 1980s pop stars bore little resemblance to the continent I knew.

“And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time

The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life (Ooh)

Where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow

Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?”

They had got one thing right: snow was unlikely, but my family back home in Nigeria were full of life. When I think about nothing growing, nor rain falling, my mind harks back to the images of lush greenness I have seen as the plane makes its descent into Port Harcourt. I remember the times of being caught in the heavy downpours during the rainy season. None of these are the first things that come to mind when most British people think of Africa. The narrative is of the desolate place described in the Band Aid single.

It’s time to move away from the “single story”

As Mark Curtis, director of the World Development Movement, said when the song was re-released for a new generation in 2004: “It conjures up an image of a continent inhabited entirely by starving children with flies on their faces sitting in the sun-baked bed of a dried up stream.” This is not to deny that many countries in Africa do experience drought and famine and are facing the full effects of climate change as a present reality. What is missing, however, is room for both the luscious greens and the parched landscapes to exist.

The irony of the question ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’being posed in a charity single to help during the Ethiopian famine is that Christianity, the reason for Christmas, existed in Ethiopia centuries before Europeans arrived, Bibles in hand. Two thirds of modern-day Ethiopians are Christian, with the majority of those belonging to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church – one of the oldest organised Christian groups in the world. They know it’s Christmas.

Being an African and a British charity fundraiser is sometimes a strange place to be. My day job is to help find ways to tell stories that help members of the public see the desperate need that exists for people in some of the poorest and most marginalised communities around the world. But all my life I have struggled with what author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls this “single story” perpetuated about Africa.

The international development sector has some part to play in having, for decades, presented a single story of people from African nations. That’s why I’m so glad that Comic Relief has announced it will no longer send celebrities to Africa and are choosing to reimagine their use of imagery and video, using work from African film-makers to tell their own stories of the need that they see through their own eyes.

Tell stories that draw on our shared humanity, not our differences

We who work within development have been having conversations for years, challenging ourselves to do better when it comes to our depictions of the communities we work with, thinking differently about the language we use in our fundraising appeals.

At Christian Aid, our imagery aims to present people with dignity, and we are extremely thankful for the generosity of our churches and supporters who give to our work – especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

As a charity fundraiser, I want us to tell stories that draw on our shared humanity, not our difference, that elicit not just pity in the prospective donor, but an empathy that comes from knowing that these are people made in the image of God just like us. We are not superior. We are not the saviour. We join in solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the world and rage at the injustice that sees them caught up by broken economic systems, conflict and humanitarian disaster.

I think we need to give the British public far more credit; they are able to understand stories with more texture, complexity and nuance and still be compelled to give. We don’t have to choose lazy tropes and stereotypes that put forward simple and binary stories.

As Adichie said in her TED talk The Danger of a Single Story: “The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

 


   Chine McDonald | Head of Community Fundraising & Public Engagement at Christian Aid

 

This article originally appeared on Premier Christianity. Find out more or subscribe to Premier Christianity magazine here.

Arresting Decline Needs More Arresting Stories

Image: Agness Awor, a midwife and eLearning student in Lira District, Northern Uganda. Here she’s using a Pinard horn to listen to the heartbeat of a baby. (c) Sam Vox for Amref Health Africa.


Former IBT Director, Paddy Coulter, believes it’s time for the international development sector to be more assertive in the face of a decline in public support.

INGOs need to assert far more confidently the founding values of their organisations.  They should not let themselves be driven by internal marketing and fundraising pressures in these economically challenging times. That was the message which sang out to me from a recent Oxford academic webinar on the topic of ‘Aid Agencies: Past, Present & Future’.

This is not the time to retreat into tired old communication tropes of the Lowest Common Denominator. Trustees and senior management must accept that the erosion of public support is a phenomenon of the past decade that had set in long before more recent scandals engulfed charities in negative publicity.  Numbers donating to UK INGOs have halved over the decade, falling from 18.7 million in 2013 to 9.9 million by 2019, according to research by the Development Engagement Lab of Birmingham University.

 

But if the history of international development campaigning in the UK shows anything, it is the need for relentless reinvention.

Aid may not be the only answer to global poverty but the creative Make Poverty History initiative of 2005 helped galvanise public mobilisation that saw the UK achieve the 0.7% aid target in 2013 – the first G7 country to meet this UN target.

Of course, what has been built up can go back down and certainly the fractious political climate of recent years is far from propitious, but can it really be said that INGOs have played a clever hand over this period? The inter-agency Campaign to Defend Aid and Development, set up in 2017, rightly insists that the focus should be on communicating progress in tackling poverty and the possibility of its elimination. But the Campaign’s audience research, Public Insight, draws attention to the necessity of redressing “years of under-investment” in what it calls the brand of international development.

Mark Galloway, Director of the International Broadcasting Trust, detects encouraging signs that agencies are moving off the back foot, instancing Save the Children’s The People in the Pictures project on ethical storytelling, which led to new guidelines for how its media and fundraising teams should work with and represent beneficiaries, and a similar initiative by Amref in the UK. He also cites WaterAid’s innovative ways of fundraising, attempting to move away from a transactional approach. But much greater creativity is called for across the whole INGO sector to share compelling stories of empowerment and development effectiveness. These will be needed more than ever in the face of the economic havoc wreaked by the Covid pandemic.

The 2020 Global Poverty Report of the Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative (OPHI) reminds us just how much development progress had been made pre-Covid, with  65 out of 75 developing countries studied significantly reducing poverty between 2000 and 2019. Forty seven of these countries were on track to halve poverty across vital dimensions such as health, nutrition and sanitation.

This is the time for INGO managers to regain their confidence, double down on their investment in communications, and speak out with much smarter, more arresting messages.

  Paddy Coulter | Partner in the Oxford Global Media consultancy

 

The Challenges of Reporting in a Covid World

Image: Alex Crawford reports from Yemen, inside a children’s hospital, as hunger and coronavirus devastate the country, for Sky News.


Tim Singleton, just a few months into his new role as Head of International News at Sky, gives a personal view of the challenges of reporting in the era of Covid.

What an extraordinary time we are living through. As journalists, we are trained to observe and report. But the pandemic is something we are all experiencing too. Which isn’t to say we are exceptional as journalists, but it’s a reminder that we need to deal with what’s happening in our home lives as well as our professional lives.

In practical terms the pandemic has meant a sea change in how we operate as a TV news operation. We need to work responsibly in terms of protection and social distancing, and adapt to working from home as so many have. Yet for Sky News, we also feel a responsibility to still get to the heart of the story, despite the hurdles that stand in our way.

This was illustrated in a most vivid way by Stuart Ramsay’s reporting from Bergamo earlier in the year. We all knew that Italy was in lockdown and had a problem. But no one had seen evidence of what it meant until Stuart and his team brought a hellish perspective to our screens from the hospitals there, and a warning from Italian doctors to the UK – act before it’s too late.

Now, a personal perspective… I know that the NHS listened and learned from what happened in Italy. I joined Sky in June, after a three year absence from journalism working as Director of Comms for DFID. Just three weeks after starting, my appendix grumbled and then burst, meaning a short stay at Northwick Park hospital and a slightly longer absence from my new colleagues. Which was inconvenient to say the least! But one nurse there did tell me it was the Italian experience that opened the hospital authorities’ eyes to what was coming. If Sky News played some part in that, then we should be proud of what we achieved.

Sky remains committed to international coverage, despite the challenges of filming abroad in a world of Covid

One practical implication of the pandemic has been a closing of borders across the world, but that hasn’t stopped us telling the story. Our correspondent in India, Neville Lazarus, filed a series of telling despatches about what’s happening there; we have done the same from our bureau in South Africa. Sky News has been unerring in its commitment to reporting on Covid’s spread across North and South America. And just a few days ago, Alex Crawford sent a distressing, upsetting but necessary report from Yemen, where Covid is just one factor among many in the rarely told story of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

We’re also very pleased that we refused to take our eyes off the climate ball. While the world focuses on Covid, this summer has seen the second largest Arctic ice melt on record. Sky News sent Adam Parsons to Iceland to see the melting glaciers, and Stuart Ramsay to Brazil to see the devastating – and under-reported – fires in the Amazon and Pantanal regions. Travel may be tough in a Covid world, but it shouldn’t stop us revealing truth and witnessing reality.

Sky News is particularly grateful to all the journalists and fixers who live and work in the countries we operate in. None of what we’ve achieved this year would have been possible without their commitment. And for them too, as well as us, a Covid world is an often difficult world.


  Tim SingletonHead of International News, Sky News

5 ways in which the UK media can improve its coverage of COVID-19 in Africa

Image: Heron Kayaga, a midwife at Mengo Hospital, Kampala District, Uganda, dressed in protective gear works in the labour ward. Photo by Esther Mbabazi for Amref Health Africa UK.


Written by Rachel Erskine and Janice Njoroge, Communications Managers with Amref Health Africa

 

Africa Bracing for a Head-On Collision with Coronavirus, The coronavirus could devastate poor countries, African Countries Fear They Are Defenceless Against Inevitable Spread of Coronavirus. These are just some of the headlines that have appeared since the first cases of coronavirus were confirmed on the African continent. As we write, the number of confirmed cases in Africa has just passed 1 million. Rates of testing vary dramatically from one country to the next, suggesting we may not be seeing the full picture – but the pandemic is evolving every day, and with each new development come fresh predictions of how hard the continent is likely to be hit. While this desire to paint the definitive picture – to tell what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls “a single story” – is understandable, it’s not always helpful. With this in mind, here are five ways in which the UK can improve its coverage of the crisis.

 

1. Remember that Africa is not one country

There is huge variation in experience, both between and within countries, communities and cultures. National authorities in Africa have taken a range of different approaches, just as they have elsewhere. It would be hard to speak of one common European experience: just compare the UK’s response with that of Sweden or Germany. In the same way, there are very few parallels to be drawn between the experience of Senegal – which acted swiftly to close its borders, has opted for widespread testing, and is implementing lessons learned during the Ebola crisis of 2014 to 2016 – and that of Tanzania, whose response has been hard for both local and international media to evaluate. Focusing on continent-wide trends is certainly important: but drilling down to look at the lived experience of countries and communities is equally so, and will make for richer reporting.

2. Tell stories of “rational hope”

The doomsday scenarios laid out by some commentators overlook the many success stories coming out of the continent. While it’s important to remain clear-sighted about the sharp rise in cases – and the already-apparent secondary impacts of the pandemic – we can, in parallel, continue to shine a light on examples of regional cooperation, innovative partnerships, strong leadership, pioneering research, and community-led change. Among the experiences of 55 countries there are both lessons to be learned, and reasons to be hopeful.

3. Make the personal political

South African writer Sisonke Msimang warns that well-told stories can create an “illusion of solidarity” that stops us from taking action. When we read about an exceptional individual who has overcome their circumstances, our feelings about that person can blind us to the structural inequalities that have created those circumstances. This holds true for the hero narratives we’ve been seeing in the stories of frontline health workers, in Africa and around the world, putting themselves at risk to save lives.

Yes, it is inspiring to read about extraordinary people stepping up to shield their families and communities from the worst of the crisis. But let’s put those stories in context and let’s use them to galvanise our collective efforts to create meaningful, measurable, systemic change.

4. Continue to report from Africa in a nuanced way

This global crisis has highlighted our interconnectedness. It has thrown into sharp focus the importance of strong, resilient health systems staffed by trained (and paid and protected) health workers. It has exposed long-standing fault lines and deepened inequalities and its ripple effects will continue to be felt long after the crisis has peaked.

What happens in Africa matters everywhere: because we are a global community, meeting common challenges with shared solutions. As the world recovers and rebuilds, let’s retain the sense of solidarity that has powered efforts to fight the pandemic. Let’s ensure that Africa continues to make headlines and that the stories that get traction are complex and varied.

5. Elevate African expertise

Too often, African voices are excluded from conversations about COVID-19 on the continent – and this despite the ubiquity of digital platforms that allow us to transcend distance. There is no shortage of expertise in Africa. Organisations such as the Mo Ibrahim Foundation have drawn on the wealth of available data to present a clear and accurate picture of the COVID-19 context, highlighting where efforts can be concentrated in the management and mitigation of the pandemic. We have also seen the Global Partnership for Sustainable Data call on the members of its network to support each other with vital resources, produce and analyse quality data, implement good practices, and share experiences. Amref Health Africa has teamed up with Dalberg to run #AfricaDialogues, a fortnightly series of webinars bringing African expertise to a global audience.

Journalists and editors should use this opportunity to seek out new voices, to amplify “local talent”, and to build relationships that will outlast the crisis. INGOs have a responsibility too, to put forward in-country colleagues and to elevate their expertise.


   Rachel Erskine | Communications Manager at Amref Health Africa
  Janice Njoroge | Communications Manager at Amref Health Africa

 

Rachel Erskine and Janice Njoroge, are Communications Managers with Amref Health Africa UK and Kenya respectively. Together, they co-chair Amref’s Global Website and Social Media Working Group. This blog represents the views of the authors rather than those of the organisation they work for.

Anything But Normal: How the media can be a force for change in the aftermath of Covid-19

Image: A community celebrating the reversal of desertification in the village of Majhoub, Sudan. Photo by Practical Action


Abbie Wells writes about Practical Action’s new campaign and urges the media to work with INGOs as a force for change in the aftermath of Covid-19.

Coronavirus has radically changed life as we know it, but what’s clear is that there’s huge enthusiasm and support for the world not to go back to normal once it’s over – pollution levels are at a record low, plant and animal species that were dwindling are making a resurgence and the world as we know it is unrecognisable. What the world needs now is INGOs, private sector, governments and institutions to work in collaboration and partnership to forge a new world order that protects and benefits those that have suffered the worst effects of Covid-19.

To us, collaboration is key and our work with big corporates and foundations enables us to look up from the detail and the grass roots, take a different perspective and create answers to multi-layered problems. In working with us, we help ensure the private sector understands the needs of the people they want to work with.

A unique opportunity for the media to use their influence

The media should play a key role in helping the world emerge for the better – looking at the way they operate and act almost as convenors of those who can help make change happen, rather than simply operating as news broadcasters. This is a unique opportunity for the media to use their powerful influence as a force for good, in a world where objectivity is fine, but even objectivity itself has become politicised.

Practical Action has many examples of working with the media to generate positive, inspirational and mutually-beneficial coverage that has gone far beyond a simple article in a newspaper. For example, recently, Damian Carrington, The Guardian’s Environment Editor travelled to Sudan to see one of our projects that is helping farmers at the coalface of climate change to regreen the desert and change their lives.

This article was seen by the Head of UNEP in Sudan who went on to share it with the Sudanese Prime Minister and the wider donor community, including DfID. A great example of the impact a positive piece of media coverage can have.

We’ve also worked with a number of Bauer Media outlets including Magic FM and Absolute Radio through partnerships on our UK AidMatch campaigns. These partnerships are important for reaching new people with development messages but equally as a reciprocal, collaborative relationship that benefits Bauer financially and Practical Action in building support and fundraising.

The world should not return to the way it was

At Practical Action we’ve launched a campaign called Anything But Normal, calling for the world not to return to its previous state before coronavirus hit. There’s already been some great strides in the discussion with BBC Radio 4, BBC Sounds and the World Service running a series called ‘Rethink’ focusing on how the world can emerge in a better position post covid-19 and The World Economic Forum are hosting a number of discussions entitled ‘The Great Reset’ which bring together thought leaders, NGOs, the private sector and the media. But there’s more to do and the conversation needs to continue to gather pace and not become side-lined and forgotten.

Collaborations such as that which BBC Futures developed with NESTA are a perfect example of the media working in partnership with NGOs to effect change and at Practical Action it’s something we’re keen to explore.

 

   Abbie Wells | Engagement Officer at Practical Action

 

How the media can help us achieve a real and sustainable green recovery

Image: Pollution in the city of Shanghai, China. Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash


Luna Williams reflects on some of the ways in which the media has chosen to report the positive environmental impacts of the pandemic.

As lockdown draws to a close in the UK, commentators have highlighted some of the positive impacts on the environment. As business closures, travel restrictions, and social distancing policies have been rolled out across the world, the Earth’s airways, seas and roads have been substantially cleared of human activity. With this, so have many of the unattractive elements of humankind’s presence on the planet.

Carbon and nitrogen oxide emissions have plummeted. In China, carbon emissions are down 25% compared to the same period last year, and nitrogen oxide levels dropped 50% in the same period. This story is much the same in other locked-down countries. Since the US implemented restrictions in March, cities around the country have seen massive reductions in pollution levels; New York alone has seen a carbon reduction of almost 60% in just over a month. Similarly, satellite imagery from NASA has shown visible signs of greenhouses gasses clearing across Europe and data has indicated significant drops in European countries’ pollution levels. In the UK, air quality has improved by up to 60% in some cities since the lockdown, and this is mirrored in Italy, Germany, Spain and France.

‘The Earth is slowly healing’ the media tells us

Mainstream and social media reporting has reflected this shift, with many reporters and members of the public coming forward to celebrate the idea that the Earth is healing while humanity hits the pause button. Images of formerly smog-filled cities, like Los Angeles, New Delhi, and Beijing, have surfaced across various platforms, accompanied by headlines and captions which revelled in this concept. “The Earth is slowly healing,” CBS News wrote, while The Guardian described “nature bouncing back” in their coverage.

Alongside this, other tales of a revived natural world have been popping up, forming one of the few so-called ‘silver-linings’ of the COVID-19 pandemic. From deer grazing in a housing estate in East London, to alligators roaming shopping centres in South Carolina, and cayotes at California’s famous tourist attraction the Golden Gate Bridge – pictures, videos and testimonials have excitedly described the presence of wildlife in formerly urban and human-dominated spaces.

Indeed, it makes sense that people are excited by these kinds of stories. With the news dominated by the loss, suffering, and economic hardship the pandemic has already caused, the idea that the world is in some way being revived by humanity’s absence from it has brought with it a ray of comfort for many, who would otherwise have little positivity to hold on to.

The media helps articulate a way forward after the pandemic

In fact, reporting stories like this is extremely important, not just so that we have something to motivate us through what is undeniably one of the hardest times in most of our lifetimes, but also so that we are able to understand just how much impact humanity’s actions do and can have on the world and also to answer questions about what we want a post-pandemic world to look like.

However, there is also a very real danger that discussions around the topic of climate change and the coronavirus can border on ethically dubious territory. When we stop celebrating the temporary revival of the planet as a side-effect of lockdown measures and start celebrating the pandemic itself, a dangerous narrative evolves. This is one that tiptoes into the realms of eco-fascism, a school of thought that dictates permanent, draconian restrictions on human life in the name of environmental revival.

But some newspaper headlines are far from helpful

There are numerous examples of media platforms slipping into this kind of narrative. The Sun, for instance, published an article at the beginning of May that described the fact that “coronavirus has saved [thousands] of lives” due to drops in pollution levels, while The Guardian published a headline (quoted from a UN representative) which stated that COVID-19 was nature’s way of “sending us a message”.

Although it is tempting to want to cling onto something positive at this time, we must remember – as members of the public and as reporters – that a global pandemic cannot and should not be considered a reasonable means of solving the climate emergency. Of course, we should celebrate the environmental changes we are seeing as a by-product of lockdown measures. But we should use the experience as a way of both understanding the importance humanity plays in preserving the health of the planet and forming new, sustainable environmental policies in the future.

The media has a responsibility to ask questions which reflect real, tangible and ethical change. We need more reporting which questions and analyses how we can achieve this. Can remote working become more widespread in a post-pandemic world, for instance? Or could we be effective in building up the renewable energy sector as we make the journey back towards normality? By asking these kinds of questions, the media can play its part in calling the government to action, so that this time can be used as a means of trialling and assessing how we can bring about real, sustainable environmental legislation in the future.

‘Returning to normal’ should be about learning, and finding new and improved ways of protecting the planet — without sacrificing human life or freedom.

 

 

Luna Williams is the political correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service. The IAS is an organisation that assists private clients, as well as asylum seekers, refugees and trafficking victims. It is currently working alongside charities on a campaign to encourage the government to call an amnesty for undocumented migrants.

How Plan International UK used video to bring the voices of girls in crisis direct to Parliament

Image: Focus groups in Uganda included participatory art-based activities to reflect on and draw the journey of their lives. Here Alice draws her river of life. © Plan International


Video is a powerful advocacy tool and it’s been at the heart of Plan International UK’s recent Girls in Crisis campaign, as Alex Martin explains.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic was sweeping the globe, millions of girls around the world were living through crisis – due to conflict, disaster and displacement. That’s why, in March 2020, we launched Our Vision: A Call to Action by Girls in Crisis – an eight-point plan for change, co-created with girls and young women living through crisis.

Our experience shows that girls are among the worst affected by any crisis, yet their voices are often the least heard. This is despite that fact that they are the experts in their own lives and know what needs to change.

We needed to understand the change they wanted to see, so that we could bring it to life through their own voices

From the start, we saw this as a multimedia project with voice, video and photography at the heart as a key tool in our advocacy approach. We ran youth-led consultations with over 150 young people – Congolese refugees in Rwanda, South Sudanese refugees in Northern Uganda and girls living in conflict-affected North East Nigeria. Each location represented a different experience of what it is like to be a girl living through crisis, whilst also sharing many commonalities. From this, together, we created a clear blueprint for change for the international community to endorse.

“It is important for governments to listen to the voice of the girls so they can resolve our issues.”
Umalisa, 22, Congolese refugee in Rwanda
middle column“I wish for the future generations to be deciding for themselves, advocating for others and having a peaceful place to live.”
Sandrine, 27, Congolese refugee in Rwanda
We knew that, to be effective, this needed to be more than a written document

We wanted these inspirational young women to have the opportunity to tell their stories to leaders and decision makers themselves – to deliver this in their own words and to finally have their voices heard. Therefore, we created a video Call to Action.

Video is a powerful tool to give these young women the platform to directly share their story. But we would only have one opportunity to film with the young women in each country. It meant that consultations, policy analysis and filming were happening at the same time. We took the time to answer questions, explain the campaign and ensure all participants understand where their voices would be heard – in Rwanda, the conversation about consent took over an hour. It was brilliant to see the girls empowered to ask us some tough questions and make an informed decision as to whether to be involved. It was fast-paced and challenging but it was worth it – the result feels truly owned by the young people.

The video is a culmination of this process – each girl’s story and demand spoken directly to camera with a montage of solidarity at the end – and we are so proud of it.

It is a powerful reminder of the resilience and strength of young women and their capacity to change the world

We launched the Call to Action at an event in the UK Houses of Parliament in early March. The video took centre stage and it was so powerful to watch as screens all across the room broadcast the girls’ eight-point plan for change directly to decision makers.

Since then, the context has changed dramatically due to the corona virus pandemic. This has exacerbated the difficult living conditions for those living in humanitarian contexts such as refugee camps, where water is scarce, conditions crowded and social distancing often not an option. And we know from our experiences during the Ebola outbreak that girls face unique challenges during such crises.

We know it is more important than ever to ensure we are listening directly to girls and ensuring their voices are central to our advocacy.

That’s why we are reaching out to the girls involved in developing this Call to Action to hear about the impacts that this pandemic is having on their lives so this can be reflected in the project. Next, we will be calling on the international community to endorse this Call to Action with a focus on ensuring that the rights and needs of girls living in crises are central to world leaders’ agenda at the G7 Summit in the UK in 2021.

Watch the Call to Action video

 

communications officer at plan international   Alex Martin | Communications Officer at Plan International UK

 

Uganda photography by Quinn Neely and Rwanda photography by Rob Beechey – Copyright 2020

The media are failing to tell the stories of 1 billion people

Image: The little girl, Fymee is learning to walk again on her new artificial leg in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. © William Daniels / HI


Disabled people are fast becoming the forgotten victims of this pandemic. There are an estimated 1 billion people with disabilities worldwide and yet their stories are consistently under reported by the media. We invited Vikki Furse from IBT member Humanity & Inclusion to give us her view.

Despite being “the world’s biggest minority”, people with disabilities are often forgotten and their stories are not heard. They regularly face discrimination and exclusion from water and sanitation, healthcare, education, work, and community life. Should they also face exclusion from the media? We at Humanity & Inclusion say no, we need the media to highlight this terrible inequality.

Now more than ever we can’t ignore the plight of 1 in 7 human beings who desperately need our attention and compassion. In times of crisis, like the one we are living through with Covid19, we know that people with disabilities will be disproportionately impacted and will be left behind. Although there has been some media coverage highlighting the stories of people with disabilities, too many media outlets ignore their plight. We recently received a reply from a global news outlet, saying that they could not report the story of the people we support because they do not cover disability

How can it be that any media organisation can simply decide to ignore the stories of 1 billion people?

We are hearing stories of isolation, exclusion and hopelessness from the people with disabilities we support around the world.  In a survey of 700 people with disabilities in Nepal, which we have just released, almost a third report a mental health impact, like anxiety and hopelessness and three quarters are experiencing a drop in their basic household income.

Every day we hear the stories of the people behind these statistics. Like Bimala and her son Birendra from Nepal. Birenda is 12 and has cerebral palsy. Before the lockdown we were providing him with regular physiotherapy and also making sure he was included in school, which meant that his mother was able to go to work during the day. With the lockdown, Birenda’s school has shut. His mother can’t take him to the hospital to get his treatment. She has to stay at home to take care of him and she can’t work. Because of his disability, Birenda does not understand the current pandemic and why he can’t go to school. With the lack of money, Bimala is very worried about the future of her family and how she is going to provide for them.

Birenda and Bimala’s story is one of thousands that our colleagues hear every day

But their stories should not only be heard by us, they should be heard by everyone. Everyone should know about the terrible impact Covid19 is having on so many people with disabilities. And for this we need the media to relay their stories.

 

vikki furse head of communications at humanity and inclusion  Vikki Furse | Head of Communications and Individual Giving at Humanity & Inclusion UK

What WaterAid can teach us about handwashing

Image: Sashi, a Chikankari worker is pictured washing her hands before she cooks meals for her family in Sadamau, on the outskirts of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India on 20 December 2019. Photographer – Anindito Mukherjee for WaterAid India


IBT member, WaterAid, is one of the world’s leading experts on handwashing and hygiene promotion and the COVID-19 pandemic has given its work added urgency. Om Prasad Gautam shares his top tips on achieving the change in behaviour that is necessary if the pandemic is to be tackled successfully.

The current battle against the spread of the COVID-19 has highlighted in horrifically stark terms the fundamental importance of handwashing with soap and water in controlling the spread of infectious diseases. Three billion people across the world – and 75% of the population in the least developed countries – do not have access to somewhere to wash their hands with soap and water.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, this lack of the most basic of services together with a denial of rights to water and sanitation, led every year to tens of thousands of deaths from diarrhoeal and waterborne diseases, mostly hidden from the headlines and ignored by those with the power to change this situation.

Now in the face of a terrifying disease, everyone is having to learn quickly about putting hygiene at the heart of daily life. Currently, fear is acting as a powerful stimulus for people to drastically change their behaviour, but we know this may not last for long. Here are the key lessons that we have learnt from working in this field for almost 40 years.

1. It’s more than just soap and water

You can’t just give people soap and expect them to want to use it, know how to use it or why. If you are forced to decide between buying food or school books or soap, then just being told that soap is important is not enough to put it on the shopping list and change behaviour around washing hands.

We all know that knowledge only is not enough – otherwise we would all adhere faithfully to public health guidelines on exercise, diet, smoking etc. Key to bringing about lasting behaviour change is understanding and targeting the motives that drive people to change their habits – so they can move from knowledge to actual practice. When there is an outbreak of disease like now or during Ebola outbreaks, a motivation to change behaviour can be fear but it can be temporary stimulus.

But Ebola showed us that often behaviours adopted during a time of acute crisis do not become long term so WaterAid works with other motivations such as nurture –loving your family and wanting to protect them. Other drivers include a sense of wanting to fit in and so we work to make washing hands a social norm.

2. It has to include everyone

Gender, age, disability, ethnicity, race, religion and economic and health status all play a part in determining who will and won’t have access to the basic necessities of clean water, sanitation and handwashing facilities.

We are committed to tackling inequalities across all strata of society and our programmes always consider how everyone, especially those that are the most marginalised – can access them.

3. Go beyond your immediate sector

What’s clear is that there are strategic moments when messages and lessons around hygiene are most effectively transmitted and it is often by working in tandem with other sectors, such as health or education, that change is most successfully implemented. For example, we reached thousands of mothers with life-saving hygiene lessons in Nepal when they took their babies to be vaccinated in a government-run routine immunisation programme.

4. Schools, homes, hospitals – it has to be everywhere

Even the best designed behaviour change programme to get people to wash their hands will fail if there is nowhere to wash hands. So our work is community wide – helping to ensure that every home, school and healthcare centre has somewhere to wash hands with soap. Yet globally only around half of schools have somewhere for pupils to wash their hands with soap and water and over 40% of healthcare facilities have nowhere for doctors and nurses to wash their hands where they see patients.

5. A whole system needs to be in place

Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programmes that focus solely on providing taps, toilets and one-off trainings are unlikely to deliver lasting outcomes. To be successful, you need a whole ecosystem in place – so you need taps that keep working because the utility company is well staffed and adequately financed, you need every teacher and every school child to receive training, you need the health centre to be able to rely on always having soap available. Otherwise, it is just not possible to keep the good habits going.

6. Support, influence and work with Governments

We have learnt that by supporting and working with governments, we can be most effective and implement at scale. This means making the case as to why investing in WASH pays dividends in terms of increased health, dignity and productivity. In the face of a global pandemic, the importance of good WASH is hard to overstate and so we are working with governments to rapidly increase the provision of handwashing facilities and also supporting mass media behaviour change campaigns.

7. Research, monitor and evaluate

Our behaviour change work is based on getting to know the community context – what matters to people, what holds back people for behaviour change, what motivates them and then monitoring over time to see if the programme has been effective. Then we evaluate and make changes as needed.

8. Use the media creatively

Most of our initial COVID-19 response has been using digital, social and mass media, in order to comply with social distancing requirements. For example, in Zambia we have worked with celebrities, athletes and artists to record hygiene promotion videos that have been posted on social media platforms. In India we launched a high profile campaign using text messaging, WhatsApp groups, community radio and local TV channels. In more normal times, we also use community-based projects like performing traditional dance and theatre in Ethiopia to pass on hygiene lessons.

 

Om Prasad Gautam | Senior WASH Manager – Hygiene, WaterAid UK

Let’s make the case for a swift, collective global response

Image: March 2020 – Djenné, Mali. Mercy Corps is adapting its programming, like this food and sanitary product voucher distribution under the Food and Reconciliation in Mopti program, with social distancing and hygiene measures.


Communicating during the COVID-19 crisis is a challenge for INGOs. Maryam Mohsin, media manager at BOND, suggests how we can find the right tone of voice in our media and public messaging.

For the first time in the living memories of many of us, the whole world is facing the same immediate threat: Covid-19. How we speak to others, the language we use and what information we trust counts now more than ever. We only need to switch on the news and listen to political leaders for five seconds to see the impact words and tone can have on relationships between people and countries.

So, how can we all get our communications right at a time when everyone’s priorities have shifted and when the UK public is being bombarded by Covid-19 related news from every direction?

I recently worked with policy and media colleagues from UK INGOs, big and small, to help flesh out appropriate words, feelings and sentiments that can help us reach our audiences with the thought and care needed.

Here are some key ideas on how to effectively communicate during this crisis.

Empathy, solidarity and hope need to be the cornerstones of communications right now

As development and humanitarian communications professionals, at times working in some of the most challenging contexts, we know this all too well. There have sadly been too many moments when I have spoken to people at their rawest, and in moments when they have needed to get their story out in the hope of making something change. Right now, these are the same conversations I am having with family, friends and colleagues, as well as people working in countries around the world.

Showing sensitivity to what’s happening in the UK is crucial, especially when we know we haven’t seen the worst of this crisis yet. Many UK INGOs are showing solidarity by reconfiguring their services to the UK to help take the pressure off frontline services. Others are volunteering to help get food to people most at risk.

But we can also do this through the words we use. Everyone can see frontline workers putting their lives at risk for us and we all want the people we care about to get through this.

Let’s praise the heroes in societies around the world and recognise that everyone’s fears, worries and tragedies are equally valid

There’s no “I” in “us.”

Like many of us in the sector, I find it hard to let go of the idea that charities help others because it’s the right thing – not because of what we’re set to gain. Covid-19 puts the whole of humanity in the same boat. Right now, we need to make the case for a swift, collective global response whenever we get the opportunity.

We need to emphasise that the world is only as strong as its weakest health care link. This message will help us hit home the reality that if we don’t act now to help people everywhere, we risk losing lives and will struggle to return to normality anytime soon. There is currently no cure for Covid-19, which is why talking about the global nature of this crisis and the need for a global, unified response is critical. Because it is the truth.

Remember the importance of using language that reflects hope, backed up by facts. We are seeing countries help one another emerge from the other side. Serious conversations about debt relief for poorer countries are happening. Let’s also remember how far we have come in eradicating polio, malaria, smallpox and nearly ebola. The world has people with the expertise to help countries pull through this.

Demonstrate why INGOs are now more important than ever

Why are INGOs so important to tackling the Covid-19 crisis? Because we will ensure nobody is left behind.

This is what the third sector does best, both here in the UK and globally. We reach people who are hardest to reach. We are the relentless voice in political ears that flags problems and solutions, and are quick to point out the gaps in funding or programming that leave the vulnerable behind. We make sure leaders do what they say they are going to do, and are transparent and accountable. We deliver on the ground through communities and local partners.

We do this life-saving work by helping the people hardest hit to tell their own stories. In your communications, talk about the people you support and their needs in this crisis. Talk about who you are, what you do and how your INGO can help us get on the front foot of this crisis, especially to your existing supporters, the wider public, policy makers and political leaders. If ever there was a time to support the third sector in all the shapes and sizes it comes in – this is it.

Maryam Mohsin | Media Manager, Bond

It’s time for the media to shine a light on the world’s most vulnerable communities as they fight this pandemic

Image: Mercy Corps adapting its humanitarian aid programming, like this registration for emergency cash distribution in the DRC, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.


By Douglas Alexander, Christina Lamb, Simon O’Connell, Ed Williams, Ceri Thomas and Anne-Marie Tomchak

It is understandable how in these complex and challenging times, as we’re asked to socially distance and self-isolate, that there’s a tendency to look inwards. However, now more than ever, we should be connecting with others around the world who are also facing the same threat. The COVID-19 pandemic transcends borders, it is a global crisis and if we are to overcome it, the solutions have to be local, global and collective. 

Journalists and media outlets in the UK are already playing an important role in providing vital information to an anxious public. In the months ahead they will also have a key role to play in finding and communicating these solutions, and in telling our shared stories. 

While it’s understandable that we are all worried about our own families, communities and countries in these difficult times, we know from our experience that people in fragile and conflict-affected places will be disproportionally affected by this virus. Vulnerable communities around the world already experiencing humanitarian need due to violence, poverty, food insecurity and extreme weather are more susceptible and for many, COVID-19 is just the latest in a long line of emergencies threatening their families, their lives and their livelihoods.

Media coverage of coronavirus needs to expand beyond domestic news

At a time when people are crying out for social connection, when we are seeing news consumption levels rise exponentially, with almost half of the population saying they are watching more television and one-third reading more newspaper content, there’s now a great need for coverage to expand beyond domestic news, share knowledge and connect the local with the global like never before.  For a country as outward-looking and internationalist as the UK, there’s a responsibility on all of our media outlets and news correspondents to step up and recognise the importance of better international coverage in the weeks ahead.

We welcome the BBC’s (the most trusted brand on the coronavirus) new Africa tracker, launched last week and the Independent’s coverage of an Imperial College report looking at the potential impact on lower-income countries. Can we have more of these?

The world is facing a never-before-seen event on a global scale. Younger people are becoming more engaged with media, with a 60% increase in streaming among people aged 18 to 24 and a 49% increase in live TV viewing. It is our responsibility to provide them with the full global picture, and the harsh reality is that this pandemic is going to hit other, more fragile countries much, much harder.

Let’s celebrate some of the stories of heroic efforts being made around the world

As we rightly see the celebration of so many of our local heroes and inspiring stories of community spirit and volunteerism, there are also incredible stories of people in places like Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Pakistan who are adapting quickly in the face of huge constraints to ensure people have the urgent supplies they need.  Health, water and sanitation teams pivoting to protect communities against COVID-19, examples of social distancing in refugee camps, and innovative remote management of ongoing emergency distributions.

As well as informing and awareness-raising, the media can also play a crucial role in demonstrating our inter-connectedness and global responsibilities – which include reminding the UK Government of its ongoing commitment to help vulnerable communities around the world, upholding the values of humanity and compassion, and showing us that we are more dependent on each other than ever before.

Our message to the UK media

To the UK media, we ask: help us shine a light on the most vulnerable communities battling this outbreak, partner with us to tell the stories that connect us all – of teams striving to respond to the world’s greatest needs in some of the world’s most challenging places and against all odds, and support us to share solutions, so that together we can beat this, for everyone.

 


Douglas Alexander, Former Secretary of State for International Development
Christina Lamb, Sunday Times Chief Foreign Correspondent
Simon O’Connell, Executive Director for Mercy Corps
Ceri Thomas, Tortoise News 
Anne-Marie Tomchak, Journalist and broadcaster
Ed Williams, President and CEO of Edelman EMEA

Douglas, Christina, Ceri, Anne-Marie and Ed are all members of Mercy Corps’ European Leadership Council

 

New ways of telling stories

We recently launched our new report Podcasts: where next? In the audience was Catherine Raynor, co-founder of Mile 91, a storytelling agency for charities and changemakers that provides both production and training services. She was previously Head of Media at VSO and during that time was a Trustee of IBT. We asked Catherine to give us her key takeaways from the report.

If someone told you there was a way to tell stories that didn’t mean squeezing everything into two minutes, was possible to produce on a low budget and that would result in more than half your audience researching more about what they’d learnt, would you be interested in knowing what that was? I assume your answer is yes.

These are just some of the things I learnt at the launch of Podcasts: where next? I think we’ve all been to events where we come out with a freshly clear inbox and a report that eventually finds its way into the recycling. This is not one of them and I would really encourage any charity storyteller, regardless of whether you work for an international organisation, to read this report because it is packed full of really fascinating insight and practical advice that is transferable to any sector.

The panel event, hosted by Channel 4 and chaired by Krishnam Guru-Murthy, was a rich, varied and at times funny conversation. Here are my top ten takeaways:

 

1. The market is booming

In 2019 one in eight adults listened to a podcast at least once a week, double the number just five years earlier. But the stat that blew my mind is that in the 15-24 age group podcast downloads surpassed music downloads for the first time in 2019. For charities desperately trying to reach younger audiences this is massive news.

 

2. They’re the most engaged audiences in town

68% of audiences listen to the entire episode they’ve downloaded and with 91% listening alone you really do have a captive audience. 67% of listeners go on to discuss a topic with family and friends and 52% will research more about the topic.

 

3. Longer is better

In an era when a three minute film is the ‘long’ version and an in-depth written story tops out at about 500 words, podcasts are almost inconceivably luxurious in the opportunity they offer. But 20 minutes is seen as the best digestible length.

 

4. You can be nuanced

The longer length means you can explore an issue or a story in more length, unpicking back stories and discussing the complexities of an issue. People who listen to podcasts are an interested audience who are actively seeking information so give it to them

 

5. Don’t be boring

Actively seeking information is not an invitation to be lectured to. Podcasts are still entertainment, so find creative ways to broach your issues. One of the panellists, Sarah King, was from the Institute of Development Studies and their podcast is called Between the Lines which follows the book group model, centring each episode on a different book.

 

6. Ditch your talking heads

Podcasts are not the place for clipped rehearsed soundbites. We’ve all turned off the radio when a slick overly trained spokesperson is spouting key messages and that’s just a one minute interview. Podcasts are intimate experiences and need engaging and authentic voices who will talk freely and openly.

 

7. Podcasts are good for sex

A comment that got a ripple of laughter from the audience, but the point was serious: podcasts allow you to liberate issues and conversations that may not work for radio or the TV sofa shows.

 

8. Commitment is needed

Chucking out one podcast and expecting it to be a success is not going to work. Commitment and consistency is needed and you have to invest time in discoverability. Whether you go for an interview, round table discussion or narrative format, it will take time to grow your audience so you need to commit to a series or a regular pattern of new episodes.

 

9. Content is evergreen

Although it will take time to build your audience old episodes will always be there (if you want them to be) and so, when you capture new audiences, they will be able to rummage around in your archives.

 

10. They are not expensive

Podcasts do not need to be big budget endeavours. Taking your audiences to communities and countries they may not otherwise visit is an opportunity but it is not the only way. With the right voices you can produce perfectly good podcasts in a quiet room and with a good quality microphone.

 

These are just some of my takeaways but the report is full of lots more interesting insight plus advice on hosting platforms and how to pitch stories to existing podcast. Do have a read.

Global Britain after Brexit

It’s time for the media to stop focusing on Brexit and look more closely at the UK’s global role. The general election is a great opportunity for the international development community to highlight UK soft power as the sector makes the case for retaining 0.7% and the importance of a separate Department for International Development.

By Nasim Salad, UK Policy & Advocacy Coordinator, ONE

 

In the last 3 years, Brexit has dominated not only UK foreign policy, but also media coverage in general. As such, the role of Britain’s global influence has received few column inches despite our soft power being amongst the best in the world.

Britain is currently ranked as 2nd in the Soft Power Index. From our world class universities and lifesaving scientific research, to our internationally renowned entertainers and artists, Britain’s global influence across academia, science and culture is well documented. Yet, Britain’s commitment to international development, one of the most prominent contributors to our world-class soft power, is all too often omitted.

Whilst the British press enjoys lauding our international pre-eminence in areas such as sport or science, the global recognition and respect for the UK on its development assistance is rarely covered. Many people are often surprised that the UK is admired for its international development achievements.

During the general election, this positive narrative should be conveyed more strongly across platforms, to inform the public of not just the incredible work that UK aid achieves, but to also celebrate that our development efforts are applauded globally.

Maintain 0.7%

Former Secretary of State for International Development, Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell, once described the UK as a “development superpower”. The UK commits to spend 0.7% of its national income on aid, the only major economy to do so. The Overseas Development Institute has said it is necessary for every donor country to reach this target to end extreme poverty. This commitment is recognised internationally; a British Council survey of 20,000 young people from across the G20 nations showed that support for global development was the greatest driver of trust in the UK.

Retain a separate DFID

Britain’s development efforts are highly regarded. The Department for International Development (DFID), the main Government department delivering UK aid, is frequently ranked as one of the best development agencies in the world for its effectiveness and its transparency. UK aid has a remarkable impact on some of the poorest people in the world. In just 4 years, UK aid has reached 32 million people with humanitarian aid, helped 56 million children to be immunised, and supported 14 million children to gain a decent education. The British public understand that their generosity is helping to alleviate poverty. Recent polling suggests that 89% of UK respondents believe that helping people in developing countries is important.

At a time of political instability and rising populism, it is vital that Britain remains outward looking. This means ensuring that we retain an independent Department for International Development. In their Soft Power Index report, the authors at Portland Communications remark on recent rumours about departmental mergers, suggesting that such a merger would;  “Send a signal that the UK cares less about global development than it once did. The resulting impact on Britain’s soft power is unlikely to be positive.”

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and DFID are both experts in their respective fields. DFID lifts people out of poverty by educating children and vaccinating young mothers. The FCO exerts Britain’s diplomatic prowess in the world’s most difficult regions. Combining the functions of the departments risks blurring their respective objectives and damaging our international reputation just when we need it most.

2020 is a make or break year, Britain has many opportunities to enhance its soft power. It will be hosting the UK-Africa Investment Summit, the COP 26 (UN Climate Change Conference), and the Replenishment Conference for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. These summits offer major opportunities to enhance this global presence, and to lead efforts to promote sustainable economic growth in Africa, tackle climate change, and end preventable disease.

Maintaining the 0.7% commitment and accelerating efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals will be key to preserving our hard-earned global reputation. Now, more than ever, the British media need to be cheerleaders for our soft power.

 

Climate refugees – why the language the media uses matters

Since 2008, around 26.4 million people have been forced to leave their homes, not for political reasons, but because of environmental disasters. Natural catastrophes such as earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and droughts have been hitting humanity without prejudice; displacing millions of men, women and children all across the globe.

 

The label ‘Climate Refugee’ has been commonly attributed to those individuals forced out of their home countries for disturbances relating to nature and is used across mainstream media platforms. Worryingly, however, despite having to leave their nations, they do not fall under the ‘traditional refugee’ model; meaning they are not offered the same protection or rights. This is because the 1951 Refugee Convention states that a person must be fleeing direct persecution, which threatens their life or safety, to be defined as a refugee. This persecution often relates to religion, political belief, race, sexuality, and gender identity. Obviously, a climate refugee cannot claim to be persecuted by nature – at least not in any sense beyond metaphorical – and so therein lies the issue.

As climate change continues to displace more and more people every day, it is important to consider how the mainstream media addresses the topic. Dina Ionesco, the Head of the Migration, Environment and Climate Change (MECC) Division at the UN Migration Agency, feels that the term climate refugee is perhaps a harmful one for many reasons. She suggests, instead, that it should be replaced with the term ‘climate migrant’.

In an article for the UN, Ionesco reasons that, while using the term refugee resonates symbolically, it is not an accurate label. This is because climate migration is mainly internal. Individuals largely do not cross borders and therefore don’t need to seek protection from a third country, or at an international level, as refugees do. She also explains that migration is not necessarily forced, because the onset of climate change often occurs at a slow pace; therefore movement is, to a degree, a matter of choice. She suggests that countries think first of migration management and agreements rather than refugee protection. She also warns that opening the 1951 Refugee Convention, as to include climate migrants, might weaken the refugee status which would be tragic given that so many people severely need protection.

Instead of creating new terms and notions, Ionesco encourages the use of already existing laws. She suggests that human rights-based approaches are vital for addressing climate migration, pointing out that the governments of these countries must hold the primary responsibility for their citizens’ protection. She states that many migration management solutions are available to provide a status for those who move in the context of climate change impacts. These solutions could come in the form of humanitarian visas, temporary protection, authorization to stay, and regional and bilateral free movements’ agreements.

Although the matter of how the media defines climate migrants is a question that still needs to be answered with more clarity, one thing is clear: the issue of climate change is not going anywhere. In 2018, there were a recorded 17.2 million new displacements associated with disasters in 148 countries and territories. Figures such as this prove just how monumental the problem is. However, there remains no set definition within global or national law and policy to protect these environmentally displaced individuals. The sooner these groups can be fairly categorised, the sooner they can receive the right legal treatment and consequent protection. But until such a time, perhaps the mainstream media should reconsider its blanket use of the term ‘climate refugee’.

 


This article has been written by Hal Fish who is a political correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service; an organisation of UK immigration solicitors.

Islamophobia in the media: Enough is enough

I never thought I’d be the victim of Islamophobia – I’m not a Muslim, after all. But working in comms for an Islamic charity, Islamic Relief UK, I have come to accept that it is now part and parcel of my everyday life.

 

I’m not alone, obviously, and what I face is a tiny fraction of the Islamophobic abuse my Muslim friends and colleagues face. In our office, the social media team regularly reviews offensive remarks on our social channels, weighing up whether to ignore, rebuff or report them. In fact, so hateful are some of the comments, we even have a dedicated police officer to whom we report. Likewise, my colleagues in the media team frequently have to respond to Islamophobic reports in the press about our work.

So just how widespread is Islamophobia in the media and why does it influence all of our work?

Mainstream media: Offensive reports and negative stereotypes

Anyone interested in the subject of Islamophobia in the media must follow the incomparable Miqdaad Versi. Assistant General Secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, Versi records examples of Islamophobia in the British press and, where possible, gains corrections on inaccurate stories. It’s practically a full-time job.

As Versi says in his article Islamophobia not an issue in the British press? You’ve got to be kidding, anti-Muslim sentiment is rife in the mainstream media. Surprisingly the editor-in-chief of the Daily Express, Gary Jones, agrees. He has admitted that many of the stories published in the paper prior to his arrival had contributed to an “Islamophobic sentiment” in the media and that its front pages had sometimes been “downright offensive”.

 

Examples of media coverage of Islam

 

Anyone with even a passing interest in the news can see that Islamophobic comments are promoted by broadcasters as well, with right-wing extremists invited onto news and political programmes on a regular basis, often without being challenged about their Islamophobia. Sadly, chasing ratings seems to be more important than acquiring balance or reasoned debate.

So why do editors and broadcasters allow such words to be published or spoken without question? Versi is frank on this issue: “Let us not kid ourselves. Stories that play on the public’s fears and feed their prejudices are popular.”

In The role of the media in the spread of Islamophobia Sam Woolfe argues that “the media uses bold and harsh language to promote this kind of fear because bad news sells”. This constant drip feed of bad news focussed on Muslims and Islam merely “propagates and reinforces negative stereotypes of Muslims (e.g. that Muslims are terrorists, criminals, violent or barbaric).”

Drawing the line: Using the Riz Test

Such biased, negative coverage, however, doesn’t just appear on the news or politically-focused programmes. No, just think about last year’s inexplicably popular TV programme Bodyguard, which focused on Islamic terrorism. It pandered to every single stereotype of a Muslim: the cowed and oppressed woman (wearing the niqab) and the terrorist suicide bomber.

 

BBC’s popular drama, Bodyguard accused of stereotyping

 

It broke every single rule of the Riz Test, which adopts five criteria to measure how Muslims are portrayed on film and TV. To put is simply, if the film/show stars at least one character who is identifiably Muslim (by their ethnicity, language or clothing), one should ask: Is the character

  1. Talking about, the victim of, or the perpetrator of terrorism?
  2. Presented as irrationally angry?
  3. Presented as superstitious, culturally backwards or anti-modern?
  4. Presented as a threat to a Western way of life?
  5. If male, is he presented as misogynistic? Or if female, is she presented as oppressed by her male counterparts?

If the answer to any of the above is yes, then the film/TV show in question fails the test. It’s that simple. Try it next time you watch a TV show, the news or read the paper. You’ll be surprised how few actually pass the Riz Test.

The power of the media: Real consequences

So, are Muslims disproportionately bad or does the media focus only on the bad stories?

In Spreading Islamophobia: Consequences Of Negative Media Representations, Muniba Saleem in fact highlights how current negative representations of Muslims in the media actually propagate harmful behaviour. Saleem explains how, given the extent to which the British public is influenced by the media, negative portrayals of Muslims in the media result in an increase in “negative attitudes towards Muslims” and “support for policies that harm Muslims.”

Having worked in international development for the past 25 years, I have myself noticed exactly the same thing when I first came to work at Islamic Relief. In my blog on Islamophobia, I point out how many of my friends and family automatically had negative assumptions about Islamic Relief based not on their knowledge of the charity, but on their ignorance of Islam and Muslims as a whole.

Given that only 5% of the British population is Muslim, it is likely that most people in the mainstream know very few Muslims, so their negative perceptions are unlikely to be based on actual experiences. Instead, they are much more likely to be based on what they have seen or heard in the mainstream media. Some of this is, of course, based on the reporting of terrorist acts perpetrated by Islamists. Yet in relative terms, are Muslims actually committing more terrorist acts than anyone else?

Well, the figures speak for themselves. Recent research undertaken after the brutal murders in Woolwich found that in the decade prior to that event, press coverage on Muslims and Islam in British-based newspapers had increased by around 270% and 91% were of a negative nature. What’s more, Islamists are three times more likely to be called ‘terrorists’ in media coverage of attacks than those on the far-right. Islamists were (rightly) referred to as terrorists in 78% of news coverage, however far-right extremists were only identified by this label in 27% of articles.

Social media obviously plays its part too. When each terrorist attack happens, a flurry of offensive tweets are unleashed. Journalists in search of a quick soundbite and so-called balance seek out soundbites from the worst offenders. Thus people like convicted criminal and former-EDL leader, Tommy Robinson, gain a disproportionate amount of coverage.

 

 

Islamophobia in the media: The effects

The reality of Islamophobia in the media affects Muslims in every area of their lives. Here at Islamic Relief, every time we carry out a fundraising or advocacy campaign, we have to think carefully about how this will be reported in the press and on social media. Of course, every NGO worth its salt should carry out a risk assessment on its campaigns. However, not every NGO has to think about how their words or stories might be twisted by an Islamophobic (often far-right) agenda.

As Ramadan begins, we launch our latest campaign featuring an inspirational quote from the Qur’an on buses in major cities asking: “Can you be 5:32?” This Qur’anic verse states: “Whosoever saves a life, it is as though they had saved the whole of mankind”.

 

Islamic Relief UK’s Ramadan campaign

 

It’s a beautiful inspirational quote which reminds Muslims of the sanctity of life and recalls our own mission – to transform and save lives. Nonetheless, we had to prepare ourselves for potential backlash. Some of the many questions we had to consider at length included:

  • Would we be attacked for advertising on buses, with people asking why we do so when Islamic terrorists have blown themselves up on buses?
  • Would we be told we were only allowed to put this message on the bus because we have a Muslim mayor?
  • If we quote the Qur’an to illustrate a positive point, will another quote be parroted back at us by far-right extremists to highlight what they think of as a negative quote?
  • If we go on TV or radio to defend the campaign, is there a possibility that the interview will get hijacked by Tommy Robinson?
  • Is there a possibility that our ads will be vandalised?
  • Will we be asked to justify the actions of the Sultan of Brunei (making homosexuality punishable by death)?

Are we being paranoid? Are we looking too much into things? Absolutely not. All of the above and more have happened to us over the past year alone. It’s horrid that as we prepare for the holy month of Ramadan – a month in which Muslims partake in immense charitable giving – that we should have to prepare for an Islamophobic backlash in the media and on social media. Yet this is the reality.

So next time you see a negative headline about a Muslim or Islam, ask yourselves what’s the real story behind the headline? Likewise, as you tune into a new TV show, film or video game featuring a Muslim character, ask yourselves ‘does it pass the Riz Test?’ If the answer is ‘no’, then simply switch it off. Please. As a non-Muslim, I can confidently say that such features do more harm than good. Islamophobia in the media threatens us all, whatever our faith and cultural background. It’s time to put an end to this abuse, today. Be aware of media bias, use the Riz test and ensure that you’re not propagating harmful Islamophobic narratives. We all deserve better.

 


This article has been written by Judith Escribano, Head of Communications at Islamic Relief UK.

 

Why children’s TV needs the support of campaigners for international development

What children watch on TV has a major impact on their understanding of their world and could affect their future support for, and interest in, international development.
By Lorriann Robinson, IBT advocacy adviser 

 

The UK is recognised as a global leader in aid and development and the generosity of the UK Government is matched, perhaps even surpassed by that of the UK public. Over the past 30 years, the UK public have donated more than a £1 billion to Comic Relief and in the past month alone, the public donated over £33 million to help families in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi to recover from Cyclone Idai.

Campaigners understand that we need to keep making the case for aid and development and this requires strong public support for global development. Development agencies often engage young people through their programmes and campaigns, but few make the connection between what children see on their TV screens and how this might influence support for development causes in the years to come. There is already compelling research to show these issues are connected.

New IBT research shows children want to know more about the global world. 80% of the children we surveyed for The Challenge of Children’s TV said they were interested in the world outside the UK; 86% felt it was important for them to know what was happening in the world but only 9% said that they knew a lot about other countries. Children’s programmes that focus on other countries are greatly skewed towards North America and there is very limited coverage of some regions, particularly the Middle East. Despite the interest from children to see more television content about the wider world, this need was not being adequately met by the UK’s public service broadcasters. Overall IBT’s research found that international issues and events are not on most children’s radars.

All of this means children are missing opportunities to understand the developing world. The share of television content telling children about the developing world has dropped significantly between 2007 and 2018, and last year, only 17% of new international content shown on the UK’s main public service broadcast channels featured the developing world, compared with 30% in 2007. Children interviewed for IBT’s study shared the same, sometimes negative, perceptions of Africa, having watched television adverts and news items that depict poverty and suffering on the continent.

This matters for children, for the UK, and for development causes. High quality children’s content about the global word can help children to understand and contextualise news events which can help to reduce their anxieties about these events. It can also help to promote social cohesion, encourage democratic engagement and help children to develop skills that will be essential to the 21st century workplace.

Children are the development supporters, campaigners, and leaders of tomorrow and it’s in all of our interest to ensure they have a balanced understanding of developing countries, the people who live in these countries and the issues that affect their lives. As IBT’s research shows, children are being let down by broadcasters who are not doing enough to show children in the UK a balanced perspective of the wider world.

 


IBT’s new research report, The Challenge of Children’s TV, looks at how children see the world, where they get their information from and how new media content can be more effectively targeted at children to engage them with what is happening in the wider world.

Download Report

Why Children Need To Understand Global Issues

For our third article in our The Challenge of Children’s TV blog series, we heard from the Executive Director of Unicef UK, Mike Penrose, about the benefits of children being aware of global issues, the best way to engage them in the wider world and Unicef’s collaboration with First News, a weekly news publication for children.

 

Q: In your opinion, what are the benefits of children in the UK being aware of what is happening in the wider world?

At Unicef UK, we know that children who are engaged in international issues at a young age are more likely to be active citizens who want to make a positive contribution to the world.

There is also research which suggests that getting involved in action towards a better world has a positive impact on young people’s mental health. They will gain a better understanding of the differences between people, which they will then embrace, rather than fear.

 

Q: From your experience, are children in the UK interested in events taking place around the world or in the lives of people in other countries?

We believe that children in the UK are incredibly engaged and interested in the lives of people in other countries.

Thousands of children have taken part in Outright, which allows them to learn about important global issues in a fun and engaging way, and ensures their voices are heard by key political decision-makers. Children have also worked on our family reunion campaign, which saw them championing for the rights of refugees to be reunited with family members in the UK. As well as lobbying for the Safe Schools Declaration, which was endorsed by the Government. It really demonstrates the power of children’s voices to create change.

Our work in schools across the country never fails to show that children are incredibly engaged and keen to learn about other people’s lives from around the world.

 

Q: How aware do you think children in the UK are about global issues?

From my perspective, centennials are incredibly socially conscious and I think there is always an eagerness for children to learn more about children who live in different countries. However, it is often the case that a child’s awareness is reflective of whether they are taught about international issues at school or at home.

Through Unicef’s Rights Respecting Schools Award, we work with schools up and down the country to ensure that children are aware of their human rights. Our teaching resources are full to the brim of stories about children from around the world and one of the main areas of impact of this work is the increase in children and young people’s support for global justice. Our Rights Respecting Schools regularly tell us that by linking their curriculum to global learning they have increased the levels of pupil engagement.

I would urge all schools to make sure their students are taught about their rights to ensure that they leave education as global citizens.

 

Q: Are there any examples of TV or online content that you think has been successful in engaging children in the UK – and if so, why?

Thankfully, there is some brilliant content, which both engages and represents children. First News is an excellent example, with over 2.2 million readers each week, they produce articles using child- friendly language to explain complex issues. For instance, we recently worked with them on a Special Report about the Yemen conflict.

During Soccer Aid for Unicef in 2018, we also worked with First News to send Kendra, one of their young reporters and a pupil at a Rights Respecting School, to Lesotho to report on Unicef’s education work there. It was brilliant to see Kendra engaging with school children in Lesotho and bringing their voices to life in the UK through her fantastic reporting. I am always incredibly proud of our work with First News and hope to do more media work with publications which both represent and engage children in 2019.

 

Q: In your opinion what should the media be doing to increase the engagement of children in the UK with the wider world?

While the BBC have been leading the way with children’s news for decades thanks to Newsround, last year it was brilliant to hear about Sky News commissioning Fresh Start Media to produce FYI, a weekly children’s news show. Not only is it informative, but by having child presenters they are putting young people right at the forefront of news reporting.

We have heard repeatedly that centennials are incredibly politically motivated, therefore, more broadcasters should consider making informative programmes which engage and represent young people. In the age of ‘fake news’ it is important that children can rely on a number of trusted sources to educate them about world issues.

 

Q: How important is this issue for Unicef?

At Unicef, it is a vital part of our core mission to uphold the rights of every child. Therefore, it is incredibly important for us that every child has a right to access reliable information, have a say in decisions that affect them and to have a quality education. A vital part of upholding those rights is ensuring that children can learn about international issues and understand their capacity to bring about positive change in the world.

 


IBT’s new research report, The Challenge of Children’s TV, looks at how children see the world, where they get their information from and how new media content can be more effectively targeted at children to engage them with what is happening in the wider world.

Download Report

Put Down Your Flags: Why consolidation is key to better aid delivery

by Simon O’Connell, Mercy Corps Executive Director

South Sudan is host to a myriad of international NGOs. The world’s newest country is in a state of protracted crisis. A combination of long-running conflict, a weak economy and drought has driven 3.7 million South Sudanese from their homes and left seven million people in need of aid.

In response, a lot of organisations are trying to help – often under extremely difficult and dangerous circumstances. Alongside 214 national non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the South Sudan NGO Forum includes 115 international NGOs. My organisation, Mercy Corps, is one of them.

There is little doubt that these NGOs provide vital assistance in a country affected by long-term conflict and food insecurity that last year resulted in famine. The aid delivered by NGOs is, literally, life-saving. But, is the NGO sector structured in the best way possible to have maximum impact?

Ensuring large scale, lasting impact in fragile and volatile places like South Sudan comes with significant challenges. There are only 200 miles of paved road across the country, and much NGO work is reliant on air transportation. Risks to both people and resources are high; logistics are complex; security assessments and protection are time-consuming and difficult. All of this makes working here extremely expensive.

Whilst extensive coordination and information sharing does occur, there are over 115 different international agencies in South Sudan, each taking on the individual management responsibilities and costs of operating in this highly fragile environment. With humanitarian needs in South Sudan, and across dozens more countries around the world today, at almost unprecedented levels, more needs to be done by international agencies to join forces to reduce duplication and improve aid delivery and efficiency.

The large number of organisations can also affect the quality of aid delivery. Recipients of international assistance are sometimes left bewildered and frustrated by the number of different agencies entering and leaving their lives.

 

Why are there so many international agencies?

Each individual NGO has its own existential imperatives. Each was founded with its own particular mandate. Each has to raise money and to do that, each needs to be visible. Intentionally or not, this puts NGOs in competition with each other – for exposure, supporters and, ultimately, money. Each NGO needs to fly its flag (and frequently those of its funders) in places like South Sudan, because their visibility is central to their ability to raise the money they need. This perceived competition between agencies and a focus on bolstering brands and identities also affects trust, with negative stories about NGOs often linked to the crowded NGO landscape. With the media central to the public perception of aid organisations, the effects of these stories add up, with only 46% of people in the UK viewing NGOs as trustworthy.

Yet, in today’s world of extensive humanitarian need and pockets of deep, protracted fragility, NGOs still have a crucial role to play. Globally there are an estimated 10 million NGOs of one kind or another. They have contributed to extraordinary progress in recent decades, with both extreme poverty and under-5 mortality falling dramatically. But two billion people still live in places affected by instability, conflict and violence. There are 68.5 million forcibly displaced people – the highest number on record. Climate change is an increasingly active and urgent reality. With such complex issues and widespread needs, now is not the time to reduce aid budgets or commitments to addressing the root causes of poverty and displacement. It’s time to take concrete steps to improving how aid is delivered.

A key part of the answer of how to do this is through some consolidation of the international NGO sector – to improve efficiency, diminish duplication and ultimately be better for the recipients of their assistance.

 

Why not just better coordination?

Tremendous efforts have been made over many years to improve the way NGOs work with each other, with UN agencies, with governments and others: joint needs assessments, clusters, pooled funds, Humanitarian Country Teams, the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response, the professionalisation of humanitarianism, the idea of ‘humanitarian passports’ – the list of initiatives to improve coordination in the humanitarian sector is long.

NGOs have demonstrated a significant ability to work together, for example the Consortium of British Humanitarian Agencies – now the Start Network – that took responsibility for a whole chunk of the UK’s humanitarian funding and has gone on to deliver extremely efficient, rapid and successful responses. The Start Network continues to push the boundaries of cooperation in the sector, while NGOs have also played their part in the Grand Bargain – a major set of commitments agreed at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, outlining increased cooperation in a range of ways.

These initiatives show the desire of organisations to work better together, but cooperation itself comes at a cost, with large amounts of time and resources spent on initiatives to improve NGO coordination.

There will also always be a limit to how efficiently hundreds of different organisations are able to work with each other. Each of those organisations still has to carry, to some extent, the cost of their own logistics, security, assessments, and information gathering. NGOs remain independent organisations with their own identities, responsibilities and costs.

 

Consolidation – a solution to greater scale, impact and value for money

The idea of consolidation in the NGO sector has generally been controversial, evoking an image of predatory capitalism that is anathema to many in the sector. Whilst occasional consolidation between NGOs has occurred, this has invariably been driven by financial imperatives. Instead of NGO mergers happening only when organisations are in a state of financial stress, they should be incentivised to merge voluntarily – simultaneously reducing operating costs, inefficiencies and confusion for those on the receiving end of aid. By reducing the number of NGOs, efforts to improve cooperation and coordination, including in areas like safeguarding, would become easier.

That does not mean we should eradicate the diversity that is in many ways the NGO sector’s greatest strength. There’s a tremendous need for innovation and nimbleness in the aid and development sector; often more present within smaller organisations. Everywhere is different, and it is impossible to have cookie-cutter approaches that apply equally well in Yemen as they do in Mali – or indeed here domestically in the UK. I am not advocating that aid is done solely by a small number of mega agencies, and international NGOs need to continue to up their game to increase public trust. They must continue to demonstrate efficiency, and increase transparency and accountability. They must also prioritise supporting and strengthening local and national aid providers.

Locally-led, less bureaucratic structures and systems are essential, and this is where local and national NGOs tend to excel. They often have a particular geographical or operational niche that brings something unique. At the international level, however, there are too many organisations duplicating each other’s work and needlessly competing with each other. While each of the 214 local and national organisations in the South Sudan NGO Forum may be offering something distinctive, I simply don’t believe that it is necessary for 115 international organisations to be there. Instead, a smaller number of international agencies should articulate how they work with local organisations to deliver for crisis-affected people.

 

How to get it done

Consolidating the international NGO sector will require incentives that outweigh the existing motivations of competing for visibility, profile, influence and funds. Donors can play a role here.

Institutional donors like DFID and USAID have already shown repeatedly that they are willing to fund initiatives that enhance collaboration, as examples like their Humanitarian Grand Challenge illustrate. Now, they need to go one step further. I call upon donors – both governmental and private – to establish a ‘Consolidation Initiative’ for international agencies willing to join together permanently. This would require some one-off costs, but would make long-term sense against the ongoing cost of coordination.

Beyond funding, governments and influential stakeholders should commit to opening their doors for conversation with NGOs that show a willingness to consolidate. Access to government representatives is valuable for NGOs as they seek to influence on behalf of the people they serve. Committing to increasing such access would provide a further incentive for consolidation.

Ultimately, though, it is up to NGOs to make the running on this issue. I call on my fellow NGO peers and those in the international aid and development community to join me in exploring how consolidation might be achieved, gathering evidence for the best approaches to take, and committing to generating efficiencies that will deepen the impact of our work at this critically important time.

Consolidation would go beyond the perpetual incentivisation of cooperation. It would produce a structural change that would improve how the NGO sector functions permanently. It would boost trust in NGOs by showing sincerity around improving efficiency rather than competing for exposure. It would elevate the role of local and national NGOs, as the main source of diversity and delivery in the system. Most importantly, it would improve the assistance provided by NGOs for people affected by poverty and crisis. With the ongoing question of how to engage with the world, the consolidation of international NGOs could be a core part of the answer.

 

A version of this blog originally appeared in Third Sector and has since been updated.

You can follow Simon on Twitter @sioconnell1

How ready are journalists to cover the big humanitarian stories?

An opinion piece by Kate Wright, co-author of The State of Humanitarian Journalism

Should Save the Children play a key role in setting up a new worldwide register of suspected sex offenders, whilst being investigated by the charities Commission for its own failure to deal with allegations of sexual misconduct? Are feminist whistle-blowers being marginalised from debates about how sexual harassment, abuse and exploitation are tackled? Will the steps suggested at DFID’s recent Safeguarding Summit actually work?

Whilst these internal rows grind on, the suffering of others grows much, much worse. The UN has warned that in Yemen the worst famine in a hundred years is imminent, if Saudi’s blockade does not cease. But Yemen is not an isolated case: 80% of the world’s humanitarian needs are already driven by conflict.

Meanwhile, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report saying that we have only a few years to ward off catastrophic levels of global warming. If we don’t cut carbon emissions drastically, there will be far more droughts, hurricanes and floods. These will hit the poorest hardest: feeding a vicious cycle of fragility, competition over resources, and conflict. Little has improved, it seems, since the first World Humanitarian Summit was held two years ago.

If we are to respond to these issues effectively, we need to have information about what’s going on. Policy-makers and other audiences need to understand the causes of the issues, and the range of solutions on offer. So the question is: how ready are journalists to cover what is coming?

 

Only a few news outlets regularly report on humanitarian issues

In our industry report, The State of Humanitarian Journalism, we explain some of the key results of a global, four year research project. The main finding is that only a very small number of news outlets produce regular, original reporting of humanitarian issues. With the exception of The Washington Post, commercial news outlets do not report on humanitarian issues outside of ‘emergencies’. Instead, the funding for humanitarian reporting is largely concentrated in the hands of two sets of powerful actors: states and private foundations.

State-funded international broadcasters, including BBC World Service, Al Jazeera English, CGTN and Voice of America, aren’t as limited by financial concerns as commercial news organisations. But what they can report may be constrained by overt censorship, diplomatic sensitivities or fierce arguments between states, as happened during the blockade of Qatar. Even when states do not directly interfere in the day-to-day running of these news outlets, their strategic priorities tend to shape the geographic spread of reporters, if not actual editorial content.

The other major group of funders are private foundations, which support small, specialist news outlets, like IRIN and the humanitarian news vertical at Thomson Reuters Foundation, as well as blogs like Humanosphere. These foundations have been established by businesses and entrepreneurs, the most prominent of which is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. But such forms of funding are unsustainable as we foundations usually provide ‘start-up’ funding, rather than regular running costs. They also tend to invest in humanitarian reporting as a short-term means of delivering other kinds of socio-economic ‘impact’, rather than a worthwhile goal in and of itself. For these reasons, Humanosphere closed in June 2017, and News Deeply had to make deep cuts to its services in September 2018.

 

Some good news – research shows that audiences are interested

There are two bits of cheering news. The first is that humanitarian reporting is much more varied than many had previously thought. News outlets differ significantly from one another, and there are still important ‘gaps’ which those interested in this work could move forward to fill, including gender reporting and investigative journalism. The second is that Western audiences are far more interested in humanitarian news than editors have hitherto believed. In the Aid Attitudes Tracker survey spanning audiences in 4 countries, ‘humanitarian disasters’ was actually found to be the most popular category of international news—not the least.

 

Read Full Report

Dear journalists, we want to be more honest with you. For starters, don’t call us charities

An opinion piece By Simon O’Connell, Executive Director, Mercy Corps.

Yumbe is about as far north and west in Uganda as it is possible to go. A dozen years ago I worked in this part of Africa, and I went back there recently. Much has changed. Four years of civil war in neighbouring South Sudan has created two million refugees, half of whom have crossed into Uganda. They are trying to rebuild their lives among Ugandan communities that are themselves struggling against poverty.

But where you might expect to see strife, we are seeing how the combination of South Sudanese and Ugandans is sparking enterprise and beginning to drive growth. Spending and investment by refugees is supporting more businesses, and the increased economic activity is bringing opportunities to a part of Uganda that was previously remote and cut off from significant markets.

To facilitate this, organisations like mine, Mercy Corps, are promoting land sharing between refugees and host communities, subsidising seed purchases from local agro-dealers, improving agro-dealers’ ability to access quality seeds from national companies, and working to attract produce trading companies to the area. We are working with the private sector, local government and other aid organisations to support not just individual people, but the market systems on which they rely and can build for the future.

Elsewhere around the world, we have run reinsurance programmes, set up dozens of micro-finance initiatives, established the first tech start-up incubator and accelerator in Gaza, and formed a public private partnership to provide a water system for over a million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. By working through markets, the scale of impact is enormous.

 

Don’t call us a charity

But we have a problem: traditionally, our work has been labelled ‘charity’, a word that means ‘an organisation set up to provide help and raise money for those in need’ or ‘the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need’. It is a word that has also become synonymous with emergency relief and ‘handouts’.

In Yumbe and elsewhere, though, Mercy Corps and others are engaged in intricate social and economic activity to help deliver lasting change. To describe this work as ‘charity’ doesn’t really cut it. But, we largely have ourselves to blame. Our ability to communicate what we do has been found wanting. When it comes to aid, we think that the public and politicians have little appetite for complexity or potential failures. So we portray ourselves as simple ‘charities’ – raising money to give to the needy – not the complicated agents of social change that we actually aspire to be.

This has consequences for the relationship between aid agencies and the media – a relationship that has increasingly resembled a battlefield. Few things set journalists going like the scent of inconsistency and hypocrisy – and by presenting ourselves as we have, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have made themselves a target. In turn, we have responded to media attacks by becoming increasingly wary and defensive.

There are other consequences, too. The Edelman Trust Barometer – a survey of more than 33,000 respondents – earlier this year found that NGOs are viewed negatively or neutrally in 21 of the 28 countries surveyed. In the UK, trust in NGOs stood at only 46%. Negative stories about aid continue to eat away at how our sector is perceived.

This should come as no surprise. If we present ourselves as ‘charities’, it is little wonder the media criticise us and people mistrust us when they see us doing things they don’t expect. If we want to regain trust we need to communicate better what we do, and what the work of modern NGOs actually involves. But we can’t do that without the media. It is through the media that the world is represented and our role in helping to shape it. We in the NGO sector need to find a way to work with the media without metaphorically coming to blows.

In a decline in trust, NGOs and the media have some common ground. The Edelman Trust Barometer also found that media are trusted less than both businesses and government, the first time that has happened in the survey’s 18-year history. This is mostly driven by the growth of ‘fake news’ and the public’s acknowledgement that they find it difficult to tell fact from fiction. Within this general crisis of trust, the media are suffering too.

 

A new relationship between the media and NGOs

So, is it time to take a different view of the relationship between NGOs and the media? Instead of frequently behaving as if we are on opposite sides, we could instead view ourselves as mutually supportive – both important parts of a functioning democratic society. A strong and independent press is an essential counterbalance to government and the private sector. So is a range of non-governmental organisations, backed up by a commitment to freedom of speech. Between us, NGOs and the media are vital for building social capital, trust and shared values that help hold society together.

If we could see the relationship between aid agencies and the media in that way, some real changes might be possible. Organisations like mine should do more to avoid presenting ourselves simplistically as ‘charities’, but instead take responsibility for representing the complexity of the challenges we seek to solve and the diversity of our work. No-one knows better than we do that the aid sector is not perfect. We should commit to increased transparency in explaining the realities of what we do.

In turn, more media organisations should stop viewing aid agencies simply as a target for exposing hypocrisy and scandal. That does not mean the media should stop looking critically at what aid agencies are doing but, with the straw man of ‘simple charity’ removed, they should commit to exploring the realities of aid work objectively.

If we can realise this shift in thinking not only would it benefit communities here in the UK and abroad. It would also go some way to addressing our common problem – by restoring trust in all of us.

An edited version of this piece first appeared on Thomson Reuters News

Follow Simon on Twitter at @sioconnell1

Find out more about Mercy Corps’ work promoting land sharing between refugees and host communities (PDF)