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The Unknown Famine

Television and the politics of British humanitarianism

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Andrew Jones

This chapter focuses on how television coverage of major disasters in the global South shaped the historical and political trajectory of humanitarian aid in Britain, through a case study of British television coverage of the deadly famine in Ethiopia in 1973. ITV’s The Unknown Famine shaped the trajectory of British humanitarianism in three important ways: it provided an empathic demonstration of the power of televised images of human suffering to mobilise the public; it was an important signpost for wider critiques of media representation and disaster fundraising imagery emerging within the aid community; and it contributed towards significant changes in the British government’s approach to disaster relief policy.