Paul Vallely: Geldof deserves better than this jaded cynicism

Newspapers criticising Live8 are not noted for featuring articles by Africans
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The Independent Online

Not before time. One of the things which has most depressed me over the past months has been the jaded world-weary tone with which much of the media has dealt with the subject of Africa. No point in all this simplistic campaigning stuff about aid, debt and trade - the tape loop goes - because all the money we send to Africa is wasted because of war and corruption.

I am not complaining here simply about people who have a different view to me. Over the past year, in which I have been working with Geldof on Tony Blair's Commission for Africa, I have engaged in discussions on Africa across that continent and in half a dozen G8 countries. Robust disagreements are what drove that debate forward.

The same is true with the row over whether Live8 should have featured more black artists. There was a cogent case, on the one side, for paying respect to Africa by including its performers, just as there was, on the other, for selecting only stars likely to maximise the size of the global audience. It is interesting to note, though, that many of those papers criticising Geldof's "top stars only" policy are not noted for featuring many articles by African writers - or else thinking that those of African origin now living comfortably in the Western diaspora (and not prepared to return home) are representative of the views of those who continue to struggle to live on the continent.

There are a variety of irksome techniques deployed. There is the cheap debating point: "Africa needs more than a concert", as if there was anyone who thought a concert was enough.

There is sloppy thinking: as with all the moaning about people swigging champagne in corporate hospitality in Hyde Park on Saturday; the concert was free, it was the usual money-spinning paraphernalia of the music industry (corporate premiums, TV rights, DVD deals) which covered the expenses.

There is straightforward ignorance: "Why was money wasted on helicopters to fly in stars, and even Geldof's daughters," when a fact-check would have revealed that the aircraft's services were donated free.

There is the unsubstantiated assertion: as in the charge that Madonna cynically exploited Berhan Woldu, the survivor of the 1984 famine, by incorporating the Ethiopian into her act. In fact Berhan asked to appear alongside Madonna as she was the only person on the bill whose name had penetrated into her remote African village.

There are shallow judgements, as with the accusation that Geldof has got too cosy with Tony Blair - when the fact is that the politician has delivered a lot of what the rock campaigner asked for. One of Geldof's strengths is that he is not locked into the confrontational dynamic which fuels so many activists.

Then there is criticism based on outdated information. Take the idea that "there is compelling evidence that some aid money simply ends up in the Western bank accounts of corrupt African leaders". Certainly that was the case in the Cold War, when aid was doled out to any dictator who happened to be on our side. And corrupt African leaders are still able to syphon off money from their countries' oil or mineral incomes. But British aid is now structured in ways that make filching virtually impossible.

Most irritating of all, however, is simply the cavalier use of unchecked facts. The way Madonna led Berhan Woldu on and off the stage showed no respect, one critic moaned, regardless of the fact that the singer had led the African neither off the stage nor on to it.

Money raised by Live Aid in 1985 had been co-opted by the Ethiopian dictator Col Mengistu, was another criticism, despite comprehensive Band Aid accounts which contradict this. Geldof had told Live8 performers not to criticise Blair and Bush is another widely repeated complaint, despite the fact that this was merely a columnist's conjecture - and that Geldof immediately issued a press release saying that it was the inherent duty of any rock star to say whatever they liked about anybody at any time.

The good news is that such jaded journalism doesn't really matter, because Britain's top two politicians know enough about Africa not to be influenced. The people who need to be convinced are Messrs Bush, Schröder and Berlusconi. And in America, Germany and Italy the media response to Live8 has been overwhelmingly positive. We shall know on Friday whether it has worked.

p.vallely@independent.co.uk

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