“Not enough people are talking about the floods in South Asia”

Time after time editors are given the horrible task of prioritising a story they consider to be most important. Questions they might check off the list could include: how many have died, or have been injured? We want numbers – BIG numbers. Where in the world has the crisis taken place? Is it somewhere in the West? The Global South? And how many more are likely to be affected? In other words, editors want to write the story that will sell the most. And this has certainly played out true throughout the ordeal of Hurricane Irma (and Harvey and Jose) occurring simultaneously with the floods in South Asia. But which humanitarian crisis has received more coverage, or need I ask? For a brief answer to this question, watch the short video below:

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A week or more ago I came across Jonathan Freedland’s opinion piece in the Guardian, which verbalised exactly my thoughts on the media coverage of both crises. Indeed, he set out the scene of quizzing the reader to think about what the biggest humanitarian crises in the world currently is. Naturally, one might answer Texas. A short while later, one might hopefully think about the floods in South Asia” affecting people in India, Bangladesh, Nepal.

Several interesting things arise here. Firstly, if the death toll in South Asia is far greater than that of Texas, Florida and the Caribbean combined, why is it still receiving far less media coverage? In that case, we refer back to our editor’s checklist and cross out ‘numbers’ and tick ‘location’ because a crisis in the West is clearly far more news-worthy than one even further away from us, right? Location and regionality play an awfully large part in the presentation and delivery of our news.

Secondly, why am I inclined to say ‘Naturally, one might answer Texas.’? Seems to me like I’m also feeding into this media hierarchy as it has been so engrained within our media culture. With newspapers including the Metro and The I posting all over their front pages about Irma, not to mention online formats too, I was somewhat pleased to have read an extended piece about the people affected by the floods in South Asia in the New York Times.

 

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Hurricane Irma front page on The I.

 

 

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Story about South Asia flood survivors in the NYT, 9 September

 

The third most interesting part comes next. Freedland’s piece also goes on to highlight a third more prominent crisis: Yemen. And this is what further peaked my interest. Personally I had not even considered Yemen as the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis, considering the newest ones which had come to light, which again demonstrates my ignorance too.

In one of my modules this year, Humanitarian Communication, we touched upon the nature of reporting natural (or unnatural) disasters, so to speak. A key reading was a chapter from the book ‘Global Crisis Reporting: Journalism in the Global Age’ entitled ‘(Un)natural disasters: The calculus of death and the ritualization of catastrophe’ (Cottle, 2009), which focuses upon the social relations and power structures behind the way in which natural disasters are reported, including news agendas, which was referred to at the start of this piece. The chapter references Hurricane Katrina and Stanley as having “caused the fewest deaths and yet received far more media coverage than any other disaster.” Ring any bells?

“Of the six humanitarian disasters analysed, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Stanley caused the fewest deaths and yet received far more media coverage than any other disaster.” (Cottle, 2009)

Geopolitics within the media coverage of natural disasters is a tender and dangerous aspect within the web of power struggles and social relations of human suffering, as Cottle and Freedland have both clearly articulated. Perhaps we need to be less ignorant and read more thoroughly about the world around, I know that’s certainly my goal.

 

Recommended reading:

Cottle, S. 2009. (Un)natural disasters: The calculus of death and the ritualization of catastrophe. Global Crisis Reporting: Journalism in the Global Age. Open University Press.

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To street fundraise or not to street fundraise?

To street fundraise or not to street fundraise?

With September just around the corner and summer’s warm, comforting gaze slowly slipping away, I want to talk briefly about my short and sweet experience of trying my hands at street fundraising.

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A pair of street-fundraisers, or ‘chuggers’? | BBC

As an individual who is interested in working in International Development, and possibly within the charity sector I felt that these factors combined could fuel my interest in trying street fundraising, a profession which, in hindsight, has more difficulties than meets the eye.

While standing in the middle of the grey, paved streets of rainy Southampton (and it was a particularly rainy day, too), which contrasted with the beautifully cobbled high street of Canterbury, one particular message kept looping in my mind. The voice of William Askell in the TedTalk he delivered, with the title: Want to make a difference? Don’t Work for a Charity seemed to overcome me.

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Street fundraising in all weathers | Chronicle Live

In his talk, William delivers the message about how individuals who strive to make a difference in the world, be that through ending poverty and inequality, do not necessarily have to be working for a charity to make that difference. The skills, which each individual develops should be understood and respected appropriately, and if your skills don’t match with that of a particular charity’s aims and objectives, then perhaps your skills could be utilised elsewhere. For example, having a scientific or technological way of thinking may not necessarily benefit development directly, but Askell’s example of how Bill Gates, who dominates the technological and IT industry and generates exceedingly large amounts of income, has contributed greatly to development through funding research projects and development journalism (and much, much more) captures how one does not have to follow the most obvious path in order to make a difference. To put it simply, by channelling the skills that you have specialised in can provide an amalgamation of possibilities to change the world albeit little bits at a time, in ways you may not even imagine. You can watch the full talk here:

Upon my own self-reflection, I soon began to realise that street fundraising was one of those avenues of life that may not work for me, or at least at not this point in my life. Stopping people who were “too busy” to talk, or “couldn’t afford it” (despite having a Chanel bag swung audaciously around their wrist) or those who simply were “not interested” did not seem particularly natural for me. For one thing, the lack of interest in helping others less fortunate than yourself is concerning to me. And the reasons are generally pitiful, but this antipathy is not uncommon.

The most unnatural of all was asking for their bank details on the street. Indeed, if roles were reversed, I would not feel comfortable with providing private information with someone I had only just met a moment ago, which was probably what made it even more difficult for me. To be clear, this is not to do charities a disservice of the way in which they source their funding, but simply a self-reflection of when I applied myself within this field.

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Example of a ‘great’ street fundraiser | Oxfam

There’s a certain sense of gutsiness and the ability to not care what people think when they are rejecting you which only touches the foundations of being a ‘good’ street fundraiser, and plenty of people in this field are doing an amazing job. So figuring out early on that there are certain ways about me that I would need to change in order to be even a ‘good’ street fundraiser has not deterred me from working in International Development. If anything, it has shown me to specialise in my strengths – be that through writing and other media-related endeavours, namely podcasting and video-making, in order to raise awareness of global issues. In this way, if there’s anything I’ve taken away from it, it’s to ensure that the work should be right for you, as you are right for the work.

Student Media: A ‘race’ to the bottom

Student Media: A ‘race’ to the bottom

Reading an article in the Metro today about diversity in the BBC, following their published list of their highest earners, it reminded me of this post I wrote earlier on in the year about diversity in student media. Clearly there are still inequalities, be it in student media or in the big old industry!

See Metro article: Metro article: https://www.metro.news/diversity-in-the-bbc-the-11-who-made-it-to-the-top/680354/

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We are almost two decades into the 21st century and still we find that minority groups continue to be marginalised within mainstream media, often being misrepresented or unrepresented altogether. Which is worse?  Surely what is covered within the media is worth discussing (usually), but what about the stories of the voices which are left unexposed? Should they not bear an equal weight of importance, too? Why chose not to cover the struggles faced by black women and girls within Sub-Saharan Africa, but have expansive airtime of an anti-immigration, anti-global aid assistance and misogynistic (for good measure) president? These are complex questions which require much thought and discussion into the ways in which this normative ignorance within media reportage can possibly be improved.

17273547_10210733646792495_1512973016_o Hazel Healey from New Internationalist talks about community share

On Saturday 4 March, the ‘War of Words: Progressive Media Conference’ took place at my very own university…

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Gender Trouble

Gender Trouble

Hairy calves standing boldly under a leather skirt; a flat chest under a fish-net vest; a woman dressed in a suit. Is this masculine enough? Too feminine? Heterosexual? Homosexual? Whether there are any such explanations which can actually answer such heavy questions, this is the work of Anna Sampson, photographer, whose photographs challenge the notions of gender identity.

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Outside Doomed Gallery, Ridley Road Market

Hidden away and almost out of sight near the bottom of Ridley Road Market – closest station, Dalston Kingsland – it’s all too easy to innocently walk past (much like I did) Doomed Gallery, where Sampson, London-based photographer, is showcasing her photographs.

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Various photographs taken from Sampson’s series of photographs

Sampson graduated from Chelsea College of Arts in BA Fine Art, where her central work was on her series of portraits called ‘Gender Trouble’. Taken from the event page on ArtRabbit, the exhibition is described as: “Shot over the past two years, her images posit a suggestion that true feminism requires real equality – and that there should be no hierarchy between the sexes. By merging and blurring gender clichés and stereotypes, Anna seeks to free gender from its bipolar shackles, supporting Judith Butler’s argument by demonstrating that gender, like sexuality, is fluid and non-binary.”

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Spectator’s admire Sampson’s work

Getting her friends to dress up in alternative clothing, such as men in fish-net stockings, and women in a full shirt and trousers, her work is supposedly meant to challenge the confines of gender. Clothes do not necessarily have to define an individual’s gender, surely? If a woman chooses to wear a pair of trousers, or a man wear a skirt, this doesn’t mean that she is any less feminine, nor is he any less masculine. This is a key message, which seeps through her photographs: gender is simply a social construct.

Coincided with this is a photograph of two men kissing, and the intimacy captured between a woman and another woman; Sampson’s photographs also challenge the dimensions of sexuality. Inspired by the work of Judith Butler, philosopher and gender-theorist, Sampson’s exhibition illustrates the theory that gender does not directly correlate with sexuality. By this, I am suggesting that a male, who has a more feminine demeanour does not necessarily have to be homosexual because he appears “less of man” to be heterosexual, in the same way that a more ‘masculine’ woman, who may be more “butch” and less interested in clothes shopping, or getting their nails done has to be deemed a lesbian. As aforementioned, these are simply socially constructed. As Judith Butler famously theorised, these dimensions are fluid.

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Inside the Doomed Gallery exhibition space

The exhibition space is small and minimalist, yet intimate, which I felt was somewhat symbolic of the nature of the work. The enclosed environment makes the message all the more hard-hitting and inescapable, which I think is only necessary in this day and age, whereby individuals should have the freedom to express themselves in any way they feel fit, regardless of gender, sexuality, or any other socially-defining entity, which is why you should experience it for yourself.

“Shot over the past two years, her images posit a suggestion that true feminism requires real equality – and that there should be no hierarchy between the sexes. By merging and blurring gender clichés and stereotypes, Anna seeks to free gender from its bipolar shackles, supporting Judith Butler’s argument by demonstrating that gender, like sexuality, is fluid and non-binary.”

What makes this exhibition all the more enticing is the fact that it is only on for four days. I visited it last night, with its opening day on Thursday. Which means that tomorrow is the last day that you can attend, so do if you can!

Personally I find studying Gender to be incredibly interesting, in many contexts, particularly in Development. This summer, I have an internship with a new organisation called SecurityWomen, which advocates for a 50:50 gender balance in the security sector – that is, to have more women working in the armed forces, military, police and decision-making roles. And the research I am doing into this is simply eye-opening. For example, in conversations with the director of SecurityWomen, it became known to me that there is a correlation whereby countries which have women in these roles tend to have less conflict. Hence why, rather than advocating for more violence, this can contribute towards keeping peace and peace-building. While this is not the crux of this post, I will surely be talking about this in a later one!

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Small and unassuming, yet intimate and inescapable

To explore Sampson’s work in more depth, read this interview from online magazine Kaltblut, which explains her views on challenging gender stereotypes, and answers questions such as why she mostly shoots in black and white.

While only short and almost unassuming, the subject of the photographs is far from it, with a deeper meaning behind. In my view, it is not simply a cultural norm to be able to live the way you want to, or dress in the way you believe expresses you best, despite it flouting certain gender norms, but a personal freedom – a human right. So do try and attend the exhibition tomorrow if possible, since it’s the last showing. It’s important, it’s relevant, it’s true. And it’s far from being trouble-free.

The gallery is open from 12pm-8pm tomorrow, and is completely FREE to attend. Here is the link to the exhibition page to find out more:

https://www.artrabbit.com/events/gender-trouble

 

Film-making for development and ethnographic films

Film-making for development and ethnographic films

Starting on Monday 3rd April, I will be partaking in a short course in film-making for development. This is just a little update which I wanted to share with you, as I am more than excited to be taking part.

The course is held by Postcode Films, which consists of a small team of experienced film-makers, editors, directors and producers. Although taking place at UEA, from which they have worked with a number of students for a number of years, the brief is to produce and edit a short film located somewhere within Norwich, about a particular person doing a particular action.

From my understanding, the course will equip participants with skills in film-making, from using audio and visual equipment, producing a treatment and location recce, an overview of the ethics and moral codes behind film-making, and editing, all of which can be applied within a development context later – if you wish, and of course, I do.

As I may have mentioned earlier in this blog, my interests lie with journalism and documentary films within a development context, hence why I am super excited to be taking part. I do, however, still need to refine an idea – I know, I know, I have left it a little late, however, what I am aiming to concentrate most on with this project, is the ability to tell a compelling story through the eyes of the protagonist, through a ‘bottom-up’ style, so to speak. Therefore, creating the right narrative is highly important.

Alongside generating and researching ideas, you can prepare for the course in another key way, which I have probably found to be the most helpful part of the process so far: watching other short documentary films produced by the directors from Postcode Films, and other students who have previously taken part in the course in previous years.

Having watched The Way of the BellsCrabs Gather Here and Seeds of Happiness, it has occurred to me just how important it is to have a strong protagonist who can tell their story confidently and well. It is clear that the students also paid particular attention to the audio used in their short documentary films, so as to enhance their film and accentuate their visuals. The editing, too, appears professional and well-thought through, which does demonstrate the standards that Postcode Films are looking for. So no pressure, hey?

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Source: Aeon

I also came across another short docu/ethnographic film called ‘Unravel’ which illustrates the journey undertaken by the clothes which we, in the West, recycle.

The film has factual representations of workers sorting through and ‘slacking’ the clothes, and placing them back into vessels to re-weave them, all of which takes place in several towns in India. Most importantly, the film includes personality. The female workers who are given a voice (albeit we are not provided with any names) bring their work to life by commenting on the lifestyles of those in the West – an exotic place which the majority of them wish to explore, yet have never left the borders of India. They are entertained by the sizes of the jeans they find and the fact that most of the pieces they handle appear to be new and hardly even worn, much to their intrigue.

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Female garment workers expressing their curiosities of Western behaviours. Source: YouTube

I did find this particular image of the West to be equally as interesting, particularly given the fact that they are talking through word of mouth and rather ‘eticly’ – commenting on the behaviours of a social group from without, i.e. the perspective of the outsider (Skinner, 1938, in Morris et al., 1999). They claim that ‘rich’ Westeners are running out of water, yet water is just as expensive as the clothes they buy, wear and recycle, and so come to the conclusion that their money never seems to run out. This is far from the truth for many. Yet, from an anthropological stance, it is rather fascinating to witness this insight from a so-called ‘outsider’; the conclusions that one comes to about people within other culture groups, which they haven’t met in person, appears to be somewhat part of human logic and reasoning, and a process of understanding cultural differences.

You can watch the whole film here, which can take you directly to YouTube.

For more of the films made by UEA students in partnership with Postcode Films, check out the film library.

Lastly, I am also due to be taking part on two other film-making masterclasses in the next coming months, one for documentary film-making and the other for journalism for film. They are hosted by Roundhouse Studios, within their Young Creatives programme. I have never attended a class up until present, but have always tried to keep updated with the projects they are offering, some of which include apprenticeships for young people who do not have a desire to attend university, but would rather pursue their creative endeavours through an alternative route. This is why I perceive the Roundhouse to be a valuable resource for ‘Young Creatives’. Check out the masterclasses and other sessions provided within the programme here.

So I will try to provide updates as soon as I can on what we have been getting up to in the film-making course, but for now, do enjoy watching these documentary films I have mentioned above, and if there are other titles that have interested you, do let me know!

 

Reference:

Ames, D., Leung, K., Lickel, B. and Morris, M.W, (1999). VIEWS FROM INSIDE AND OUTSIDE: INTEGRATING EMIC AND ETIC INSIGHTS ABOUT CULTURE AND JUSTICE JUDGEMENT in Academy old Management Review 1999, Vol. 24. No. 1781-796. Accessed 29 March 2017.