Jul 23 2014

“Stronger than corruption, mistakes and lies”: being political and right wing in France (guest blog)

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“You know for a right-leaning person, you are surprisingly nice”.

If I had been given one euro for every single time I heard this sentence, today I would probably be a billionaire. I am French. I am nineteen. I am right-leaning. And this simple fact has caused me many problems, created me many enemies amongst my peers, and sometimes lost me friends.

[This article by Polis Summer School student Flavie Philipon]

Although France is a nation that is the home to various political beliefs, it remains the land of the 1789 revolution that suppressed the monarchy, that gave power to the people, thus a country where the Socialist Party – which is currently in power – embodies the most popular values.

A Reason To Believe

French politics: not the whole picture?

French politics: not the whole picture?

And when it comes to my generation, the relationship it has with politics is a rather complicated one. In fact, most people who are my age do not care about politics. There are many obvious reasons for that. It could be because they do not understand it, because they have no interest whatsoever in it. But mostly it is because they do not find any party with which they can relate to, any political figure to identify themselves with.

This last argument embraces the majority of young people and it is an understandable phenomenon. Why? Because it is not ‘breaking news’ that the entire political class does not know how to communicate with the younger generations. They don’t know how to talk to them, so they are not able to convince them or to raise any interest.

Why Socialism?

But for those of us who commit to politics, the cultural, historical tendency of socialism remains the strongest. In fact, even people who do not care particularly about politics will claim themselves left-leaning. How do we explain or analyse this preference?

I already mentioned the first argument for it and it is the one of the historical French background. The Socialist Party remains labeled as the defender of the poor and oppressed. It is idealised as the Party which fights for equality, justice and which, no matter what, will put the power in the people’s hands. Even though such ideas are not representative of the Party as it is today, it still is a popular, cultural trend to claim yourself left-leaning.

The second reason as I see it why it is considered inappropriate to be both young and right-leaning, is closely linked to the fact that ‘money’ is associated with the main right-leaning Party, the UMP.

Firstly, one should explain that the very concept of money in France is an issue. French people do not like money, they don’t recognize wealth as an achievement or at least they will never admit it to be one. They are terrified and repulsed by what they call “external signs” of wealth. For instance, if you own a particularly expensive car, wear luxury brands, live in a beautiful house, you will be criticized. Is it envy, jealousy, or just contempt? Who knows. It is part of the nation’s reality.

Predictable Responses

The problem is that people automatically assume that “right-leaning” and “money” are synonyms. When I tell people about my political convictions, the responses are awfully predictable and similar.

“Of course you vote UMP, you are rich”

“No wonder you are right-leaning, you come from a wealthy family”

“You are selfish”

“You have no social conscience, you do not care about equality”

“You want to defend your personal interests and nothing else”

“You only want to preserve the system that made you privileged”.

The absurd list of clichés and prejudices is a very long one. It has come to a point where I do not listen to it anymore.

Firstly, I guess I must be tired of the fact people feel the need to constantly remind me how bad of a person they think I am. Secondly, I perfectly know that their so-called arguments do not come even close to the reality of my political comitment.

Committing to politics is a personal, intense and essential procedure. And none of it has something to do with money.

Commit To Politics

What is often stated about right-leaning people, is that they do not love their country. They do not want to take part in the general effort, some prefer to leave France in order to avoid taxes. The reason why I first wanted to act, to integrate the political debate is the following: I am tremendously in love with my country. I think committing to politics is a great way to serve your country and if you know you have the ability to serve it well, you should do it.

I am terribly proud of France and I am convinced that it gave and still gives me many essential things: culture, identity, curiosity… I am grateful for it all: opportunities, healthcare, rights, duties… and I am aware that every chance you have to give back to your country is one that should be taken.

L'etat c'est moi?

“I hate rich people”

About my convictions, I am right-leaning because I do not want to live in a world where people hate ambition. When current French President François Hollande declared in a TV interview “I hate rich people”, I do not want to agree with him because it appears inappropriate. I believe if you work hard and earn money, you should be free to enjoy it.

Speak The Truth

All the more, I want people who represent me to speak the truth or at least to be honest about what they expect from life. I want them to admit what they need, what they dream about and not to be ashamed about it.

I do not want them to reject success but to celebrate it. In France, I do believe to be right-leaning gives you the freedom to be uninhibited about it. So yes, I want to be genuine about that, because what is more important than authenticity?

I am not trying to convince anyone. I am not writing a political pamphlet. I am not telling people who they should vote for. I want to tell people that political commitment goes way beyond clichés, that it embodies way more than how much you earn or where you are from. It is not a light commitment, is is a commitment to life.

Defend Values

My message would be: if you commit to politics, and I believe you should, do it wisely. If you decide to enter a political family or you chose to defend specific values, you should be aware of what you are getting yourself into. I can think of two friends who each changed political parties in the past year because they were ashamed of the parties’ action, or because they did not feel concerned by the parties’ values anymore.

The first political meeting I attended was one of Nicolas Sarkozy during the Presidential Run of 2007. I was twelve and I fell in love with politics for what it is, an overwhelming commitment, what some philosophers call “man’s mission”. So you might not agree with my political beliefs, but I am happy to say that I remained loyal to the vision of the world I wanted to defend during all those years. Of course you cannot always be happy with all the members of the party, with their decisions and behaviour. You will be disappointed, upset. You will have doubts. You will be angry. But in the end, you should remember that you share the same ideals. And that it is stronger than corruption, mistakes and lies.

This article by Polis Summer School student Flavie Philipon @FlaviePhilipon

Posted by: Posted on by Charlie Beckett Tagged with: , , , ,

Jul 22 2014

“Time to discuss”: a former US intelligence analyst says that Snowden and Manning were right (guest blog) #PolisSummer

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This article by Polis Summer School student and former Marine Corps signals intelligence (SIGINT) analyst Derek Matthews.

The intelligence community is bound by a code of silence and not the unspoken kind. Every individual goes through a thorough background check. When I was in boot camp, an FBI agent was flown to my hometown to interview my friends and family to see if I harbored any anti-government sentiments. After I cleared my investigation I was brought into a room with no windows and I had to leave my phone outside.

They played a video that explained that I would be entrusted with secrets that maintained the nation’s security, secrets I would most likely have to carry to my grave. I signed documents that explained I could be sent to military prison if I disclosed classified information to anyone without a clearance, or discussed classified material with anyone outside of a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF), even if they also had a clearance.

The process instilled in us a sense of importance; we would be working with the world’s most prominent spy organization. An organization so secret the US government wouldn’t acknowledge its existence for the first few years, earning it the nickname “No Such Agency”.

As members of the military we are entrusted with the security of the nation. As members of the intelligence community we know that the security we provide comes at the expense of transparency regarding intelligence capabilities and operations as well as the privacy of millions of Americans and the privacy of the civilians that live in the countries we operate in.

Oversight Failure 

Congressional oversight committees supposedly manage the tradeoff between security and privacy. They are tasked with ensuring our intelligence platforms remain security focused, and the secrets we keep are kept for the sake of serving the nation’s security needs. But what happens when that oversight mechanism fails? Where does one go to hold our government and military accountable for misconduct?

Well, there are whistleblower laws in America enacted in 1989 to ensure that employees have a procedure to release information regarding misconduct. The problem with that law is that it doesn’t work. Of the 203 whistleblower cases presented to the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit between 1994 and 2010, only 3 cases were allowed to be heard. Supreme Courts in America have been slowly diminishing the power of the whistleblower act to protect whistleblowers that expose government misconduct. Even if you play by the rules, telling truth to power can be a dangerous proposition.

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This was the reality for Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. The whistleblowers of our generation who leaked the most comprehensive set of documents about government misconduct in intelligence collection and war misconduct the world has ever seen. Manning leaked over 700,000 documents, mainly on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that showed wrongful murder, US complicity in torture, rape, and murder, and showed the government hid the official civilian death toll of the war, which amounted to more than 15,000 civilian deaths which were previously unaccounted for.

Edward Snowden revealed the extent of the massive government spying programs conducted by the FVEYs (pronounced “Five eyes” which include the USA, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand). These governments collectively have access to unfathomable amounts of data. We still don’t know the full extent of their collection capabilities, but they have spied on foreign diplomats, the UN, Latin American politicians, everyday Germans, not to mention the original missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So despite the threat of imprisonment and possibly the death penalty, these two individuals disregarded their contractual obligation to secrecy and potentially risked endangering human lives to introduce this information to the public discourse. They made tremendous personal sacrifices that can be seen today by the 35-prison sentence to Chelsea Manning, and the threat of prosecution looming over Edward Snowden as he seeks protection in Russia. What did they have to gain?

Nothing. They demonstrated a tremendous amount of faith in the idea that the journalists they leaked the information to would fulfill their responsibility to the public. They also placed faith in all of us. I guess you could say they’re relying on the wisdom of the crowds to make the choices the Intelligence oversight committees and military generals didn’t make.

Courageous Acts?

I’m sure there is probably a significant segment of the population that believes these two individuals should rot in jail for treason and that’s a fair argument. I just think the most relevant of the documents they released were absolutely in the spirit of whistleblowing with no legal way of blowing the whistle. I think the disclosure of the more pertinent documents were courageous acts that should commended, even if I think the sheer amount of data made available to the public was clearly excessive.

I believe the journalists have done their part, other than the failure of the New York Times and Washington Post to originally pick up on the Manning leaks. The new disruptive news media outlet Wikileaks was able to fill that void. Although Julian Assange has paid the cost for fulfilling what could be described as a journalistic responsibility as he withers away in an Ecuadorian embassy here in London where he has been trapped for the last two years (albeit a trap that might be partly of his own making).

Where’s The Debate?

Glenn Greenwald is certainly doing all that he can do to bring the Snowden revelations to the public light despite the detention at Heathrow Airport of David Miranda, the journalist for holding 58,000 leaked documents. The journalists have provided us with the information we need to have an informed debate.

So where is the debate? Americans appear too busy suing the President over the national healthcare system. In the United Kingdom the Parliament was able to pass an “emergency” intelligence bill in a single week without debate. The intelligence bill allows data collection on wait for it… their own citizens. To be sure, there are serious security threats when the newly formed Islamic State in the Middle East is posting videos of British foreign fighters on social media recruiting new members, but that’s why Britain could use a debate. At what point does security win out over privacy? And to what extent do these massive surveillance capabilities increase our security? Time to discuss.

This article by Polis Summer School student and former Marine Corps signals intelligence (SIGINT) analyst Derek Matthews @dsmatth

Posted by: Posted on by Charlie Beckett

Jul 22 2014

Between personal and public interests: a look back at the impact of Snowden and WikiLeaks (guest blog)

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This article by Polis Summer School student Luciana Amaral.

Phone tracking systems, computer hacking, surveillance state and social network spying. It looks like the plot of a science fiction movie, but according to Eric King, Privacy International’s Head of Research, at the LSE Polis Summer School, this has somehow become the reality in many countries around the world.

The lack of privacy issue has come back to headlines after American former National Security Agency system analyst Edward Snowden delivered documents that revealed a worldwide surveillance apparatus to journalist Glenn Greenwald, at that time at British newspaper The Guardian, and filmmaker Laura Poitras.

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The files and messages handed over showed that surveillance programs tracked down millions of personal phone and internet records without anyone’s knowledge or consent. They were lead by the United States with contributions from the ‘Five Eyes’ partners (Australia, United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand). Besides them, companies such as Google, Verizon and Yahoo were (unwilling) accomplices.

The security services argued that these were vital for counterterrorism and to protect citizens. Yet, sometimes, the security purposes of such actions were doubtful, for example, the operations that had as a target Petrobras, Brazil’s largest oil company.

In an open letter to the Brazilian population in December 2013, published in the country’s most important newspaper, Folha de São Paulo and on Greenwald’s Brazilian partner David Miranda Facebook page, Snowden said:

”There is a huge difference between legal programs, legitimate spying (…) and these programs of dragnet mass surveillance that put entire populations under an all-seeing eye and save copies forever (…) These programs were never about terrorism: they’re about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power”.


In a way, it cannot be said that nobody had been prepared for this. If we look back, not very long ago, in 2010, numerous classified governmental intelligence files were revealed on the internet by website WikiLeaks, edited by Australian hacker Julian Assange. Today, Snowden and Assange fear for their own security and freedom and seek asylum

Points of view

But in the end, are Snowden and Assange traitors or heroes? Is the public interest to the content of those files bigger than national security interest? Is personal data exclusively private or should it be investigated to prevent further unwilled happenings? Would you accept to have your information reviewed constantly for a greater good?

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An anonymous Pentagon official supposedly told news and entertainment website Buzzfeed that he wanted to kill Snowden and Americans generally have a much less favourable image of the former NSA analyst. On the other hand he is worshiped by many in places like Canada and Germany. Meanwhile, professionals at newspapers The Guardian and The Washington Post who worked on Snowden’s story gained the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

Ultimately, though, one might have thought that the fact of been surveyed so extensively would have more prominence in people’s lives and would generate a bigger public debate. Not much has changed, one might argue. In Eric King’s point of view, this is because the topic involves complicated ethical, technological and lawful issues. Yet, by the end of the day, it is actually up to each one of us decide whether it’s all worth it or not and act accordingly.

This article by Polis Summer School student Luciana Amaral.


Posted by: Posted on by Charlie Beckett Tagged with: , , , ,

Jul 21 2014

Copy Approval – a clash of journalism and citizen ethics between Sweden and Britain?

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”The story took a year to work out. It was never told before, less so published. The subject was sensitive and the people interviewed were vulnerable, so I had to compromise a little.”

What compromising did Sarah Morrison, then a journalist at The Independent have to do? What ethical short-cut did this morally-motivated reporter (who now works for Global Witness, a human rights NGO) have to take to secure the first every feature length story ever told in British mainstream media about intersex women?

Actually, very little, from my point of view.

(This article by Swedish journalist and Polis Summer School student Rakel Lennartsson @RakelEvaMaria )

From my perspective, as a Swedish journalist with experience from both local and national mainstream newspaper as well as the trade press, I was impressed with Sarah Morrison’s high sense of integrity when she came to speak to the LSE Polis Summer School.

Even though this was not a story about political or high-powered people. In fact it was told by people who had never been interviewed and it was about a highly sensitive subject. In such circumstances, the first thing I would do would be to tell the interviewees that nothing will be published before she or he had seen the copy first. I would want to make them feel secure, and secure my story.

Sarah Morrison's Independent article - photos by Abbie Traylor Smith - click on the imagefor full online article

Sarah Morrison’s Independent article – photos by Abbie Traylor Smith – click on the imagefor full online article

Afterwards , I brought up the question in class, and Charlie Beckett answered, without any signs of hesitation, that British journalists very rarely give subjects ‘copy approval’. This seemed very different to my Swedish experience. To reassure myself that I was not a unique example of degenerated ethics, I conducted an ad hoc mini survey amongst my journalist friends. I contacted about 50 Swedish journalists to ask them about their policy on letting their interviewees see the text before publishing. I got a quite unanimous answer. But, before unveiling the ‘Swedish secret’ – what did Sarah Morrison do to get the very moving and sensible article through?

She chose to lift all the personal stories out of the core text and wrote small personal portraits instead in first person, as if each of the woman addressed herself directly to the reader. These were read by Sarah to each of the subjects. But she didn’t show any printed text before it actually got published. She also told us that she and the photographer, award-winning Abbie Traylor-Smith,  had agreed to portray the intersex women as they had suggested: the result was a positive, affirmative picture in a relatively glamourous setting. Both the reporter and photographer adjusted their creativity to the situation, to be able to stick to the higher principle of editorial integrity.

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In Sweden, I would argue, it would almost be the other way around. Sometimes, when I know the person is going to read my copy before it goes further in the editing machinery, I feel more free to tell the story with a particular point of view. I feel there is less risk that I self-censor myself that way. It seems that I am not a unique case.  Swedish journalists seem to practice quite a different policy from their British colleagues when it comes to copy approval. This is how my Swedish colleagues answered the question: “What is your policy when it comes to letting peoople you have interviewed see the text before publishing?”

Within a day I heard from 13 of my colleges in Sweden. They are aged from around 30 to 67 and work in different positions, from editor to freelance-reporter, and in different media. None of them were surprised by my question. If they saw it as a problem this was only from a practical point of view. So, the Swedish standard seems to be one of untroubled openness with the people interviewed. It plays out on different scales, of course, from mainly sending direct quotes on demand to sending the whole article – sometimes even with headlines. With politicians and other media-trained people, the practice will be restraint. With people who are unused to being interviewed, the practice will be more generous.

This might be shocking to British journalists. But, before judging us, listen to some of the conditions and arguments that Swedish journalist give.

Why It’s Good To Give Reader Approval

Firstly, even though most of us are ok with sending most of the text, none of us would be fine with anybody trying to intervene in our journalistic work. “I listened to their viewpoints but I didn’t change anything”, says one former editor in chief. “I see it as a part of my work”, says one reporter that mainly writes in-depth features and long interviews. “I feel that it often gets better if they see the text before publishing”, she adds.

So, how can something that is, in principle, never changed anyhow get so much better? I think there are two answers to that question. The first is that words matter and sometimes the changing of one single adjective in one quotation will change a lot for the person who said it who did not realise how it would look in print. Sometimes there are also hard facts that need to be corrected. Some of the journalists I asked pointed out that this extra fact-check was a good thing.

But there is also, I think, a secondary but perhaps not less important answer that has to do with trust. If people know they can read the text before publishing then we are more likely to get people to agree to be interviewed. This helps prevent the constant criticism towards journalists that we do not check our facts. In a time-poor media climate this is a way to lay responsibility back on the audience – they do the fact checking that we haven’t time to do. Besides, I think that this has to do with the long term perspective. If we get it wrong the first time we publish anything on anybody, how likely will this person be to consent to an interview again?

Up to you now, British colleagues: How do you handle the above outlined problems with fact errors and distrust in journalists? How shocked are you with the Swedish consensual model?

I wonder if this issue doesn’t say a lot about the differences between the political and press cultures in U.K. and Sweden. In Britain it is more polarised and controversial, whereas the Swedish is more consensual. It seems to reflect back on the very core of journalistic ethics, for better and for worse.


This article by Swedish journalist and Polis Summer School student Rakel Lennartsson @RakelEvaMaria 


Posted by: Posted on by Charlie Beckett Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Jul 20 2014

“Gunman at Yale” So worth tweeting! How ‘citizen journalists’ can turn a drama into a crisis on social media

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Last year, on the first day of Thanksgiving break, I was sleeping in my dorm room at Yale when I got waken up by a phone call from school: there was allegedly a gunman on campus. That was only three months after I went to the United States, and I couldn’t believe what I used to see on TV was actually happening around me.

This article by Polis Summer School student Jingyu Yuan.

Several minutes after the campus-wide call, two close friends of mine came to hide in my room and we double checked that we locked the door. About ten minutes later, I saw an NBC truck parking right outside my dorm room, which arrived roughly at the same time as the SWAT team. This was when we realized the seriousness of this matter. Continue reading

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Jul 17 2014

The beautification of photojournalism

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This article by Polis Summer School student Aylin Elci.

As the cliche goes, “a photo is worth a thousand words”, but what are consequences of using “pretty”, “highly aesthetic” or “artistic” photos to convey the reality of war?

In 1972, Pulitzer-prize-awardee-to-be Nick Ut immortalized a nine-year-old Vietnamese girl running away from a cloud of napalm in a world-renowned photo. At that time, press coverage of war had little or no military restrictions and to the despair of some – the American government – war was reported unreservedly.

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Continue reading

Posted by: Posted on by Charlie Beckett Tagged with: , , ,

Jul 16 2014

War reporting from afar: covering the covert drone war

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This post is by Polis Summer School Student Carmen Zheng

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Source: the Bureau of Investigative Journalism

Prior to the 1990-91 Gulf War, a journalist coined the term The Powell Doctrine, named after then Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell. Vowing to utilize every resource and tool available against the enemy to minimize United States casualties, The Powell Doctrine has been successful in being the driving force behind the U.S. military’s usage of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s), also known as drones. The controversy over UAV’s is that drone strikes result in excessive collateral damage, sometimes killing more innocent civilians than military combatants at once. Continue reading

Posted by: Posted on by Christine Boykiw Tagged with: , , , ,

Jul 11 2014

Stopping everyday sexism

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everydaysexismThis article by Polis Summer School student David Winter.

While studying in London I have witnessed multiple instances of ‘everyday sexism’. The first was the use of the ‘c’ word, in passing, by an American male while out for drinks. This was overheard by a female in the group, who asked him not to use that word. Sadly, soon after he did, repeatedly. Needless to say, the female was disheartened by his choice. Later that night I overheard one of his friends say that she should not have been upset by his using this word and that he did not like her because of it. Continue reading

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Jul 10 2014

The secret to good political reporting: patience

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Report by Polis Summer School student Rayhan Uddin

Walking the corridors of Parliament, brushing shoulders with politicians and hacks, coffees and lunches with highly influential people, receiving inside information from anonymous sources to earn yourself the political scoop of the day. It’s the stuff of aspiring journalists’ dreams. However, as Isabel Hardman explained in her lecture to the LSE Polis Summer School , being a successful lobby journalist doesn’t happen overnight. The trade requires great patience: both in the journey to becoming a political hack, and having made it.

Isabel Hardman, Assistant Editor, The Spectator

Isabel Hardman, Assistant Editor, The Spectator

Learning to report

Hardman began her journalism career at Inside Housing, a niche weekly magazine that specialises in the UK social housing sector. Though not the most glamorous of jobs, she said the experience was invaluable in teaching her the necessary skills to report well. Hardman learnt how to interpret and make stories out of technical data and government documents, a skill which is very useful to her now at the Spectator. Indeed when asked about breaking into journalism, Hardman suggested that it’s best to search for jobs and internships in trade magazines or local publications, instead of diving straight into the large national newspapers (where interns or novices may simply get lost in the scale of things and end up making the coffee). Continue reading

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Jul 8 2014

Caring in Crisis – Why development and humanitarian NGOs need to change how they relate to the public

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Dr Shani Orgad, LSE, presenting the study findings at  the ‘Caring in Crisis’ colloquium

Dr Shani Orgad, LSE, presenting the study findings at the ‘Caring in Crisis’ colloquium

This post was written by Dr Shani Orgad from the Department of Media and Communications at LSE and Dr Bruna Seu, Department of Psychosocial Studies, Birkbeck. 

Ian Birrell, a staunch critic of the humanitarian aid sector, has attacked ‘cash-swollen charities’ for focusing ‘on hitting on an outdated aid target, instead of on results’. Unfortunately, the UK public seems often to share similar sentiments of disillusionment and distrust towards humanitarian and development NGOs.

Our three-year Leverhulme Trust-funded study ‘Mediated Humanitarian Knowledge: Audiences’ Reactions and Moral Actions’ investigated the UK public’s understandings and reactions to humanitarian and international development issues and to their communications. We specifically explored how members of the UK public make sense of the images and narratives that NGOs generate and how ideologies, emotions and biographical experiences shape those responses. We also looked at how NGOs plan and think about their communications. Continue reading

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