The two latest films in the Why Poverty series currently being screened on the BBC (and in 70 other countries) demonstrate both the potential and the pitfalls of broadcast journalism. Starting with the positive, Monday’s film ‘Stealing Africa’ exposed the continuing scandal of multinational corporations failing to pay their tax dues, with a particular focus on the operations of mining giant Glencore in Zambia. Good in showing how multinationals generally put the screws on host governments to keep taxes to a minimum (and then avoid paying them anyway), the film makers could have given more time to Zambia’s recent moves to raise mining royalties after years of being instructed to keep them low by the IMF. All in all, though, a decent programme on a most topical theme.
By contrast, Sunday night’s offering ‘Give Us the Money’ was a let-down. Billed as a critical examination of the impact of celebrity campaigning on poverty, especially that of Geldof and Bono, the film failed to follow through on any of the probing questions already raised in documentaries such as Starsuckers. The stories of Live Aid, Jubilee 2000 and Live 8 were retold at length, and the pop stars, politicians and philanthropists (all white, all male) were given acres of space in which to present their cases, but there was no serious investigation of their impact. For a programme which opened with the promising question ‘How do you change the world?’, there was also no mention of the mass movements of people around the planet who are doing just that, with or without celebrity endorsement. Soundbites from individuals such as Dambisa Moyo and Merera Gudina did nothing to puncture the film’s overall message: the fight against global poverty is a job for rich white men.