“I don’t like it. It is very disturbing and very [very] disgusting,” Melisa Isaacs

“How can you publish such a thing where a child is exposed to flies in his mouth. Everybody has rights, not only certain people” Merton CN

These are some of the comments made by learners from Park Senior Primary School. They were looking at pictures used by some media showing children in vulnerable circumstances.

Where there is suffering in the world, we need to know and it is media’s role to inform us.

In the past few weeks Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) has noted that different media have done excellent reports on the following issues;
• the impact of floods in Pakistan: “Floods continue on path of devastation” (The Times 30/08/2010, p.10)
• the growing crisis of food shortage in Africa: “Food shortage looms in lands of abundance”Sowetan (08/09/2010, p.10)
• the impact of climate change in Africa: “Climate change to hit Africa” (Sowetan 01/09/2010 p10)
• the politics of Aid in disaster-ridden Pakistan: “Unhealthy politicisation of aid to Pakistan” (Mail and Guardian 03/09/2010 p.27) and “Aid is a political too in flood disaster” (The Sunday Independent  05/09/2010, p.7)

All these articles were rich in information and analysis about the various problems currently facing parts of Africa and Pakistan.

“What I see or identify is that the picture has nothing to do with the article.” Thumisho Noto

It is regrettable though, that all of these stories used photographs of vulnerable children to elicit sympathy. The children in the photographs were not the subject of the stories, in fact the stories themselves were not about children at all.

Using photographs in this way perpetuates stereotypes that children are the face of crisis as well as objects or subjects of pity. It is disempowering for the children who are in the pictures, and it fails to acknowledge their rights. Showing children with swollen stomachs and flies in their faces is a violation of their right to dignity.

As much as it is important to read and understand complex issues facing parts of the developing world , such as food crises, climate change and aid, using pitiful pictures alongside these articles doesn’t do justice to the matters being discussed. The images perpetuate harmful stereotypes of Africa and other developing countries and undermine the thought-provoking analysis of the articles.