"Development pornography" - using photos to get people to give money to charity

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“Development pornography” - using photos to get people to give money to charity.


John Hilary writes about how bad it is to use photos of starving children to get money for charity.

In June 1981, New Internationalist published a very important article by Danish aid worker Jorgen Lissner. It started a big attack on NGOs using photos of starving black children in their materials to get money. The article said this is ‘social pornography’. It does not respect individual children. It shows them to the West as helpless things with no link to a social or historical context. And it said we need to end the racism in the way it makes people see the Majority World. Lissner also said that the using pictures like this is not acceptable when trying to get money for children’s charities at home. So why can aid agencies do this with pictures of children from other parts of the world?

The article had a big effect. By the end of the 80s, the General Assembly of European NGOs had ruled that all aid agencies must stop using pictures like this when showing the Majority World. They changed the code of conduct in 2007 to make sure that all future communications by international development NGOs must show human dignity, respect and truthfulness. Other countries, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand/Aotearoa, have followed this too.


An Action Against Hunger advert.

But recently, we have seen photos of the starving black child again in the fundraising communications of far too many aid agencies. NGOs that should know better, but they have returned to what they did before and use photos of disasters from the 1970s because they are so desperate to raise more money. We thought we won this fight many years ago, but we need to fight it again.

Last year Save the Children was formally accused of using disrespectful photos of children on TV adverts. One advert showed many very very thin children. Many people said it was not ethical. But Partos (association of Dutch international development NGOs), who were deciding the case, did nothing. They said that it was a good idea for NGOs to follow the European code of conduct, but they do not have to follow it.

Jorgen Lissner said many years ago that international NGOs have a choice. They can continue to show only the negative side of the Majority World and continue the cycles of aid and despair. Or they can actively work with the movements around the world that are rising up to fight against the powers that control them and keep them poor. Whatever they do, they cannot continue showing photos of helpless children waiting for people from the West to save them. These photos have no place in the 21st century, and we must fight against them wherever we see them.

John Hilary is from War on Want. He wrote: The Poverty of Capitalism: Economic Meltdown and the Struggle for What Comes Next (Pluto Press).

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/features/2014/12/01/development-pornography/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).