The mixed media message of Red Nose Day
Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day is a UK institution.
It’s a day like no other when the whole nation gets together to do something funny for money and change countless lives in the process. It all culminates in a night of cracking TV on the BBC with some of the biggest names in comedy and entertainment.
While there is a verbal caveat that some of the money raised will also support projects in the UK, the highlights are always the tear-jerking accounts of the nation’s best-loved celebrities’ experiences, casting off their wealth and egos to ‘slum it’ – literally.
Very little is done to paint a balanced picture: one of self-determination, progress and dignity. Even less effort is spent in showing just how complex development interventions are; that £1 or £100 won’t end poverty; that NGOs are just part of a wider mechanism for change and not the agents of change themselves.
Instead, the media sells melodrama – at the expense of Africans. And because telling the whole truth doesn’t make for compelling viewing, Comic Relief and the BBC have to paint a bleaker picture every year of the causes of poverty and the helplessness of the poor. Otherwise donor fatigue would set in and the public would stop giving and, just as importantly, stop tuning in.
What Red Nose Day does well is to infuse a sense of fun into fundraising. Doing something funny for money is a great idea because giving out of guilt works only sometimes and challenging the nation to cross the Sahara on a bob-sleigh would certainly prove less popular.
But the media has a responsibility to show that the poor are also capable of laughter, that living in a slum doesn’t preclude one’s ability to enjoy and appreciate life. In painting a one-dimensional picture, Red Nose Day will raise lots of money but it will do nothing to raise genuine empathy.
Here is media that works: