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The Unknown Famine

Television and the politics of British humanitarianism


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.