Ethical Photojournalism or Manufactured Victims, Packaged Nurture?

2011 Crock of *#%^ Agbogbloshie 
Part of me knows the way American Hillbillies were portrayed.  My kin certainly had a chip on their shoulders.  But on the other hand, I do understand that to run a company or a non profit or NGO or government organization, you gotta do some things that you gotta do.

Environmental writer Dave Currey posted a blog this morning which, I think honestly, takes up the same ethical questions about what I call "nurture packaging" or "victim manufacturing".  It's the first time I've read Currey's blog, and I haven't been much deeper into Environmental Investigation Agency (a non-electronics EIA)  that Twitter or Animal Detectives.

But since I've been dishing out a lot of criticism of photojournalism in the #ewastegate hoax, it's time to take pause and recognize a thoughtful, ethical post about how photography drives fundraising, and how ugly the fundraising business is.

Currey sees it.  And in my interviews with StEP, BAN, and R2 staff, they are aware, too.  The business of "solving a problem" or cause-based fundraising is a tricky ethical maneuver.  At a certain point, "ethical professionals" need to send "ethical passionates" out into the field to raise dough.

My retweets of Currey's blog center on the power of photojournalism, respecting the way it leverages exoticism and nurture, but also calling on ethical scrutiny.  The photos sent out by NGO Basel Action Network in 2009 were used to manufacture a "hoax" victim - Africa's "Eden".  Greenpeace also filmed ludicrous claims (by AMA "journalist" cough-cough Mike Anane) that Agbogbloshie was a lush fishing and swimming greenfield before used electronics were imported.

And this is the beauty of Twitter.  It's not about realDonaldTrump or celebrities.  It's the search box, where you find people by searching "Agbogbloshie" or "ethical photojournalism" and build a network with speed-read links.

In my view there are far too many white people talking about Agbogbloshie, and too few Eric Emmanuel Nyalete, Wahab Odoi, Steve Bugi, Kamaldeen Yussefs, Awal Basit, Razak Muhammed, Ahassan Ibn Abdullah, Grace Akese, etc etc.   For whatever reason, this "Michael Anane" has been covered by every journalist as an expert, with no evidence that he's an expert at all.  The "exotic western photojournalists have too much "Anane" in common, retelling the Jim Puckett "Away is a Place" story of Agbogbloshie as a "largest e-waste dump".  The very photo above (Waste News) that BAN #NGO distributed - a guy with a 1970s white Magnavox TV on a barren landscape - disproves the very allegation that 500 sea containers per month are dumped there.  If you are a photojournalist, and you don't see 500 sea containers of material, or even one sea container, and the TVs being burned are 15 years older than the ones you see arriving in a sea container, you have an ethical obligation to say "this story is a hoax", or you have Joe Benson's prison sentence and Mark Daniels foreclosure on your bloody hands.  [ Tom Parry of Daily Mirror repeated the #ewastehoax story just 2 months ago].

Recognize the guy with the 1970s Magnavox? In 2015, BAN (whom Tom Parry cites as an expert) is still using his photo to raise money to save him.  But while showing his "estimated age and wages" in green, BAN doesn't send a red cent to Africa.

And I have film of the African scrappers [bottom] who Anane brought to be photographed by Bellini, McElvaney, Greenpeace, Hugo, and maybe Delavaney to be interviewed.  Why wouldn't a photojournalist want to hear a translation of what the guys in the photos (see Rachid Muhammed in white tank top - the guy Washington Post called "between the ages of 13 and 17 during Earth Week 2015?  He's 22 and has a wife and kids!) have to say about the "Abogbloshie biggest e-waste dump on earth" hundreds of thousands of tons of pollution arriving a a pristine green Eden river on the outskirts of the city story?

I don't want to be the white guy attacking Anane, but jeez, how can you be a journalist and not cover a dozen Ghanaians who are a) experts and b) call him out?

Look at your sources.  Why are they telling you this? Follow the money.  Where it the ethical line between the mundane necessity of fundraising and the manufacturing of a hoax fueled by brown children posed on "western looking" e-waste?

Lepawsky table

For the NGOs, FUNDRAISING is a sensitive topic.  Look at BAN/Puckett's response to Josh Lepawsky's "Trading on Distortion" editorial.  The funky work of manufacturing a "dumping victim" and packaging it to sell to people whose "nurture instincts" cause them to write you checks.  And pout and whine and object when someone asks you how the millions you raise help, in any way, the poster child?

Oh, and who is Dave Currey and EIA, by the way?  They were a major player in the 2009-11 #ewastehoax.   According to their website, they still brag about the GPS trackers that exposed Joe Benson.  Yeah, that Joe Benson.  So while Currey as an Ethical Professional is wise and circumspect about the ethics around fundraising, his organization is still repeating the discredited data that Africa's "ewaste" dumps come from sea containers of junk, rather than decades of (re-) use... and they were the ones who tracked Benson's TV to an African reuse market (not a dump - they had to buy the TV back).

And how could so many journalists and NGOs cite that the Old Fadama city slum is called "Sodom and Gomorrah" without tracing the roots of that term?  No, it was NOT created for any "ewaste dump" purpose.  We saw the term first used in a 2002 report for the Accra Metropolitan Association, which created the term "Sodom and Gomorrah" to describe the slum as a place of non-Christians and criminals (no mention of recycling or "ewaste).  Everyone we interviewed in Ghana said that the propaganda war on Agbogbloshie has to do with land value, and whether a scrap metal yard should be a place in the center of Accra where AMA wants to build a shopping mall.  

Story of Stuff Hat Man.jpg
Ever notice how all the actual exporters are either Africans or people who lived in Africa and maintain relationships there?

So here are my tweets from this morning, with keywords like #ewastehoax and #freejoebenson and "nurture sales" and "victim manufacturing".   I'm a staunch environmentalist.  But hijacking donors away from rain forest preservation, endangered species protection, or actual commerce and aid with Africa's Tech Sector, is a bloody sin, and time will not unrun the damage done by racial profiling and exoticism in photojournalism.

Here's another video of Ghana's Tech Sector (Wahab Odoi and Emmanuel Eric Nyalete) actually interviewing #Agbogbloshie scrappers to discuss actual deals which will reduce the burning.  This led to the idea of the project to recreate a "Retroworks de Mexico" in Ghana, funded by the reuse imports Odoi and Nyalete depend on.  They would buy the wire with insulation still on it (more weight) at the same price as burned wire.

Africans with African solutions.

I'm not against manufacturing or packaging "nurture sales" for the right cause. You gotta. But you gotta be RIGHT to be ethical #ewastehoax

  1. Another introspective environmentalist grown up struggles with ethics of packaging environmental victimhood

  2. The best thing about "manufacturing a victim" is that you keep all the donations
  3. One wrong premise and a movement crumbles. Africans weren't in "Eden" 20 years ago, when they imported used TVs and watched them 15 years

No comments: