'Impartiality in Africa coverage hard to achieve'

"Pathé News filmed the Duke of Windsor in South Wales in the 1920s, when the heir apparent responded to mass unemployment with the wise yet provocative observation: "Something must be done."

In 1984, Michael Buerk for the BBC stood in Ethiopia, by the wall that separated those who would live from those who would die.

Today, we are confronted by a blur of young, black faces, crawling with flies, too common to be distinctive.

The ubiquity of Third World crises has spawned the notion of "donor fatigue" and news editors ask of their correspondents: "Where's the edge? What's different?"

The idea of going to Kenya to report on a campaign for a long-term approach to emergencies, albeit amid the destitute, starving and the thirsty in the Northwest — while tourists enjoyed the holiday resorts in the East — was not an easy sell.

But ITV News is going and will report on a people living on the edge.

We'll witness livestock replenishment, where 80 per cent of animals have died in recent droughts, destroying food, milk and wealth at a stroke.

We will see water supply work — boreholes, wells and storage networks — where drought condemns thousands to the brink of death.

And we will analyse the emergence of co-operatives, restoring economic power to the downtrodden, rural nomads in a way reminiscent of the movement in Victorian England that empowered urban artisans and rural workers a century and a half ago.

These are just three examples of the strategy the charity CARE International, of which I am a patron, wants adopted.

The sticking-plaster approach of millions of dollars, lobbed at a crisis as its images and emotional challenge hit our screens, has an effect. But it is not having a durable effect. This strategy might.

Buerk redefined "RI" (reporter involvement) — the zenith of "show and tell" TV. But he fired a new debate, about which John Simpson and Jon Snow have both written eloquently in their autobiographies.

Reporters are finding it increasingly hard to stand and look on. The crucial limitation of impartiality is hard to hold to when confronted with another dying child, dispossessed family or abandoned mother whose man has been forced to become a 21st century "hunter-gatherer".

Geldof and Bono take well-earned praise for Band Aid, Live 8, debt relief and a growing, global consciousness. But Buerk lit the fuse.

Today's reporters wrestle with finding ways of describing plans for the long-term cure. It will be a much tougher call. But it is a vital call for journalists and for the starving."

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