Unacceptable imagery

The 1980s saw much debate over representations of the majority world, as degrading images of starving African children proliferated in TV reports and aid agencies’ fundraising materials, grossly distorting public perceptions of the global South. The debate led to the adoption of a code of conduct by the General Assembly of European NGOs in April 1989, which instructed NGOs to refrain from using “apocalyptic or pathetic images”, “images which foster a sense of Northern superiority” (the ‘colonial gaze’) and “images which fuel prejudice”. In June 2007, the General Assembly of Concord approved a new code of conduct originally developed by Dóchas, the Irish NGO platform. The new code reaffirmed that all NGO communications of the majority world must be based on the values of human dignity, respect and truthfulness.

Despite this, we are now seeing a resurgence of the worst forms of imagery in certain aid agencies’ communications. This page has been set up to highlight the use of such images, in the hope that we can eradicate them once and for all. On some, you can click on the image to go through to the original video or web page – and please use the comments section below to link to others.


Action Against Hunger










Further reading

Jorgen Lissner’s seminal Merchants of Misery, New Internationalist, June 1981

Shahidul Alam, The visual representation of developing countries by developmental agencies and the Western media, Policy & Practice, autumn 2007

Binyavanga Wainaina, How to Write about AfricaGranta, Winter 2005

Kate Manzo, Imaging Humanitarianism: NGO Identity and the Iconography of Childhood, Antipode, Vol 40, No 4 (2008) pp632-657

plus other pieces on the Imaging Famine website

and the excellent book by Nandita Dogra, Representations of Global Poverty: Aid, Development and International NGOs


7 Responses to Unacceptable imagery

  1. Hazel says:

    Avaaz : should know better

  2. Thanks for linking to one of our articles (Jorgen Lissner, Merchants of Misery). Unfortunately the above link to Chevalier College doesn’t seem to be working but we are in the process of uploading some of our archive to our website and you can now find it here http://nin.tl/Vriy9Q Thanks!

  3. John Hilary says:

    Thanks for that, Amy. Much prefer to have the real thing! I’ll update the link now.

  4. Concern says:

    Have you seen Concern’s current campaign? https://www.concern.net/donate/appeals/starving-children-east-africa

    Complete with the headline “Feed Starving Children” and a TV advert captioned “Our TV campaign tells the story of children who are dying from hunger. Watch the advert below.”


  5. Jo Garnett says:

    Wouldn’t it be more effective to show images of the rich, overfed and over-indulgent together with those that are abusing their positions of power thereby maintaining the horrific status quo that results in these images of poverty, malnutrition and death? Wouldn’t we thereby be constantly reminded of the power structures that are the cause of all this suffering and possibly challenged to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT??

  6. Charlene Makk says:

    I have always wondered why they never showed more positives images of what they wantto doto a community based on what they did in another. How can you let a child take water from the river and let them drink it just for an adverts sake.

    I would like to see more positive imagery. Mamahope did an advert recently which i think more organisations should start aiming towards. Viewt the link to Mamahope.org advert here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56BFL7z-hGA

  7. twitter.com says:

    Very nice blog post. I absolutely appreciate this
    site. Keep writing!

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