Ed Sheeran up for offensive fundraising award, but charities defend videos

by Ruairi Casey | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 4 December 2017 15:24 GMT

Singer Ed Sheeran performs on NBC's 'Today' show in New York City, U.S., July 6, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

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"We need more nuanced information about development and poverty, not oversimplified half-truths"

By Ruairi Casey

LONDON, Dec 4 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A charity appeal starring singer Ed Sheeran has been branded exploitative "poverty tourism" as campaigners drew up a shortlist of the year's worst fundraising appeals, but charities say the videos have helped to raise tens of millions of dollars.

Appeals by British actors Tom Hardy and Eddie Redmayne for the UK's Disasters Emergencies Committee (DEC) joined Sheeran as contenders for Radi-Aid's Rusty Radiator Award for what judges deemed offensive depictions of suffering.

"We need more nuanced information about development and poverty, not oversimplified half-truths," said Beathe Øgård, President of the Norwegian Students' and Academics' International Assistance Fund, which runs the awards.

"(A good video) avoids exploiting the suffering of people and portrays people with dignity – with potential, talents and strengths."

The DEC, which raises money for 13 major British charities, has defended its videos, which it said helped to raise 70 million pounds ($95 million) for East Africa and 26 million pounds ($35 million) for Yemen.

"They're not adverts, they're appeals," the DEC's Nicola Peckett told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, pointing out that its videos are quick responses to specific humanitarian crises.

Using celebrities familiar to the public is a "tried and tested" model for fundraising and the DEC partners with news organisations like Britain's Sky News and ITV to produce the videos in around 72 hours, she said.

"We will discuss it with our broadcast partners when we review our appeals," she added.

Judges described Hardy's video for the DEC's Yemen campaign, which includes footage of emaciated children followed by an appeal for donations by the actor, as "very graphic and stereotypical".

They said Redmayne's appeal for East Africa "offers no political context (and is) close to poverty porn."

Sheeran's video for British charity Comic Relief about street children in Liberia was too focused on the singer, said Rad-Aid, and his offer to temporarily house several homeless children in a hotel was "irresponsible" and short-sighted.

"This (nomination) will serve as a constant reminder of the need to stay as relevant as possible ... and to give a voice to the people affected by the issues we care about," said Liz Warner, CEO of Comic Relief, in a statement.

Comic Relief's fundraising Red Nose Day in March raised over 80 million pounds ($108 million) and celebrity videos like Sheeran's helped it reach an wider audience, the charity said.

Radi-Aid also runs a Golden Radiator Award, which recognises fundraising videos that show deeper context and depict their subjects as more than passive recipients of aid.

Voting closed on Monday and winners will be announced on Thursday.

(Reporting by Ruairi Casey @Ruairi_Casey, Editing by Ros Russell.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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