Ethics in communications
In the “cooperation”/”development” sector, raising awareness about social justice is something very necessary. Mostly, all Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are trying to do advocacy tasks in order to defend their causes and make people think and take part in the change. As far as we know, everybody has his or her own ideas, but it does not mean that our ideas or actions are better than the other ones. There is always a space to improve and be welcomed to new changes. For that reason, a good exercise would be to reflect beyond our behavior and our attitude to the world.
Coming back to the advocacy work that the NGOs are doing in order to raise awareness among citizens, it is interesting to ask two general questions: In which places are the advocacy needed? And, how and which kind of message we want to convey?
Figure 1: Which image do you prefer?. (2018). Radi-Aid Research. SAIH.
In order to have a general idea about the answers, we are going to pay attention to one particular organization. SAIH is a solidarity organization of students and academics in Norway. It cooperates with more than 40 local organizations with a focus on education projects. In addition to long-term development projects, they are doing advocacy work in Norway and internationally, in order to improve the conditions for education and development globally. Furthermore, SAIH works to promote the right to academic freedom. Everyone should have the right to raise his or her voice against injustice; nobody should be threatened to silence.
So, advocacy work is needed in both places, either in developed or developing countries. Moreover, the message that we want to show has to be aligned with communication ethics. The images we prefer, the message that we would like to convey or the words that we choose, will determine the quality of our campaign. To see it with examples, we are going to explore one particular project. SAIH was involved in a 5 years advocacy project called Radi-Aid from 2013 to 2017. Radi-Aid was an annual awareness campaign emerging from the satirical campaign and music video Radi-Aid: Africa for Norway.
SAIH Norway. (2012). Africa For Norway – New charity single out now!.
The campaign was focused on arranging the Radi-Aid Awards, celebrating the best and the worst of development fundraising videos. The main goal was to challenge the perceptions around issues of poverty and development, to change the way fundraising campaigns communicate, and to break down dominating stereotypical representations. The Rusty Radiators Awards were given to charity campaigns, which had been counterproductive to their own goals hiding the actual causes of poverty. Lots of campaigns were guided by half-truths about the target, showing people in need as passive recipients of help, without the ability or desire to make their country a better place to live. Besides, stereotypes and oversimplifications lead to poor debates and poor policies.
2017 was the last year of the Radi-Aid Awards and one year more, the international jury members knew how to select clear examples of good and bad communications. The first prize of the Rusty Awards was given to Comic Relief charity video, which showed the famous British singer Ed Sheeran in Liberia.
Charity Relief. (2017). Part of the video: Ed Sheeran Meets a Little Boy who Lives on Streets.
The video shows Ed Sheeran traveling to Liberia, and meeting one young boy who is sleeping in a boat in the beach. He is touched by their plight and he decides to act offering to put him in a hotel until a more permanent home can be found. The jury of Raid-Aid Awards rated the video as ‘’the most offensive and stereotypical fundraising video of the year”. Moreover, there is a scene where the ‘’white savior singer’’ is asking about the traumatic story that the child who had been through. In this case, the video tries to represent the life of one boy in Liberia only from the image of him sleeping in a boat, which is in the first place, totally unfair. Also, there is no explanation about the situation of the child as neither as the causes of this situation. So, these kinds of advertisements continue making bigger the difference between developed and developing countries.
On the other hand, the Golden Radiator Awards are dedicated to these charity campaigns, which show powerful messages, communicated in a creative and engaging way. The goal of those campaigns is also to raise money but in a respectful way, without using stereotypes. Last first award was given to War Child Holland, an organisation which supports conflict-affected children with vital protection, education, and psychosocial support.
War Child Holland. (2017). Batman.
As we can see, the video shows the fantasy of the child playing with Batman, representing both of them, superheroes. Moreover, without making people vulnerable or weak, the video shows a family fleeing their homes because of the war and looking for a better life. Awareness-raising is something crucial, either in our countries or outside of them, but definitely, it cannot beat any price. There is always time to improve and in fundraising campaigns, too. To avoid the single story, to present the target group with an active role in providing solutions, to avoid exploiting the suffering of people, to take some use of humor and positivity are some of the tips to raise a successful campaign.
In conclusion, advocacy tasks in NGOs are one of the most important things. A part of making people conscious about social justice, fundraising campaigns are essential to raising money in order to carry out different projects. So, to respect the ethics in communications and treat people how they deserve, it would be mandatory.
Norwegian students’ and Academics International Assistance Fund (SAIH). Retrieved from
Radi-Aid. ‘’Africa for Norway’’. Retrieved from
School of International Development. (2018). Radi-Aid research: a study of visual communication in six African countries. ‘’Which image do you prefer’’.