Comic relief, Children in need, Sport relief, Sport aid, the telethons of the 90s. What have they got in common? Apart from being mostly a bit shit? Well what they’ve got in common is that they involve a bunch of celebrities taking over the telly for a night to badger people much poorer people than them into giving over their hard-earned cash in order to help people out who are much worse off than all of them.
Sounds awful doesn’t it! I mean who wants to sit there captive while someone richer than them sermonises and patronises them into feeling guilty enough to hand over money. It feels like some obscure torture they’d invent in Guantanamo or be subject to some Derren Brown type report on con artism. Viewers should be turning off in their droves. But they don’t do they? The nation tunes in to collectively juxtapose comedy with tragedy and pledge money. For one night we ignore the fact that if these multi-millionaires spent as much effort putting their own cash into these projects as they do into extracting it from the general public then the world would be a better place all round. Anyway. Despite my digression the net effect is good. Charities get much-needed funding and awareness gets raised a few centimetres thanks to the repeated footage of people suffering like some sort of exercise in despair porn.
What’s this got to do with the news though? Well it seems that Terry Wogan and Lenny Henry aren’t the only ones with a dream! The harbingers of all that is news seem to think that they ought to do their bit as well. So when the silly season of summer arrives and the press see their column inches of newsworthy shit drying up like a wet dog in a forest fire what do they do? They launch a campaign stoopids! As if telling us what is happening, what they think of it, what they think you should think of it and what to buy for dinner isn’t enough, they also want to tell us about all the worthy shit they do and get us to join in.
But press campaigning is different from the traditional telethon you get shoved down your throat by the world of celebrity. It has a darker, more political edge where whatever cause they decide to adopt is driven as much by their own agenda than any sense of genuine charity. Despite this they present it as a supreme exercise in grandstanding to prove that, all the evils of the media aside, they’re “really” the good guys, fighting a battle for the people on the front line day in day out! Finally, they can go on for weeks. Months. Forever. As long as it’s expedient for them to keep it up.
The big campaign that keeps on popping up is the Sun’s “Help for Heroes” thang. Even though this was actually a charity started independently of the Sun it’s become synonymous with the brawling red-top since the Sun adopted it as it’s own personal crusade. Now I have two problems with Help for Heroes. One is the name. I mean. Heroes? Why does everyone assume that having a job that is mainly about killing people is heroic? Is it heroic to drop cluster bombs on villages these days? I mean I’m sure there are plenty of heroic types in the armed forces, but there are plenty of psychopaths too. Calling them all heroes is simply a means of glorifying conflict. Which the Sun loves doing in spades. Second is this: There are a fuckload of charities out there that support veterans. Every year most people wear a poppy to support that shizzle. Campaigning for a separate charity is simply a means of hijacking a good cause for publicity. Which the Sun love doing in spades.
But the Sun is far from being alone. The national press and the regional press love doing this. It’s brilliant for them. They look good. They can push their agenda. They get their name attached to a cause and they always have something to print during slow news periods. No super-injunctions for a week. Fuck it – lets put how much money we’ve raised on the front page. A lull in foreign conflict – Brilliant look, we got Cheryl Cole to eat a banana to raise money for us!
Even worse is the way they then tenuously link anything to their cause. Last week the evening standard in London launched a literacy campaign cos the kids in London can’t read or write n’ting (when your local rag is the ES, a paper that they PAY people to hand out for FREE why would you want to take up reading). Never mind that low literacy levels were something the Tamworth Herald tried to address in a campaign a few months ago. The ES has that Londocentric arrogance that makes it behave like a national. So every day the Standard’s been running pages and pages of editorial on how kids in London can’t read. It’s like gold dust. Any story can be linked to this “cause”. Poverty? It’s cos our kids can’t read. Crime? The fucking KIDS can’t READ. Celebrity stuff? OUR KIDS ARE ILLITERATE! Worse still the standard is blowing away real stories so that it can position its “cause” on the front page. War crimes in Libya? No – lets put an article on the front page about google giving us some money! Political meltdown? What about a nice piece blowing our own trumpet about how we’re the only people in the world to talk about literacy in London. Someone sending in a picture of a meteorite striking the earth and wiping out half the population? Let’s run with a stock photo of a girl reading a book.
The thing is I wouldn’t mind if these causes were doing significant amounts of good. After all – comic relief raises tens of millions of pounds for good causes. Even a mealy mouth like me agrees that there is a gain for the world there. But at the last count (a few days ago) the ES had raised sixty grand for its “cause”. I mean? sixty grand? They’d get more money auctioning DOGS!
But still where’s the harm eh? Well the above are actually half decent causes. Whatever the motivation and egotistical self-congratulatory backslapping they entail. Whatever journalistic laziness they encourage by supplying a news agenda that has less to do with the news and more to do with showing off, they actually might result in something good. Disabled veterans might get some help. Some kids might learn to read! But these campaigns can be a force for bad as much as good. The news of the word’s memorable demand for “Sarah’s Law” naming and shaming sex offenders sparked a mob of meatheads attacking peadiatricans because the job title sounded like paedophile.
Just as the press likes to think it can “give” when it adopts a “cause” it can equally take away.