Reflecting the real world?: How British TV portrayed developing countries in 2005

Smith, Joe; Edge, Lucy and Morris, Vanessa (2006). Reflecting the real world?: How British TV portrayed developing countries in 2005. London, UK: International Broadcasting Trust.



TV audiences are fed up with how the developing world is portrayed on the small screen, according to a new VSO report published today. Reflecting the real world? How British TV portrayed developing countries in 2005 reveals that television viewers have an overwhelmingly negative view of the developing world and that they hold TV responsible. The report shows that viewers have a real appetite for richer representations of the world outside the UK and calls on broadcasters to invest more money, creativity and talent in bringing the world to UK audiences.

The report is based on interviews with TV viewers and leading broadcasters. It shows that despite the high level of developing world coverage on TV over the last year, there has been no sign of a positive shift in public attitude. TV viewers associated the developing world with famine, disaster and corruption and people's initial image was very often of starving babies with flies around their eyes.

The research highlights that news coverage and charity campaigns have also contributed to a feeling that the developing world is a hopeless cause. News reporting of the Asian Tsunami and the Pakistan earthquake brought people's attention to poorer countries but reinforced a doom-laden view of them. Even the Make Poverty History campaign and the Live 8 concerts, which enthused millions of people, appear to have inadvertently contrived to confirm a stereotype of Africa as a continent on its knees and added to a sense that nothing has changed over the last 20 years.

The research uncovered a very strong sentiment that TV coverage of developing countries is too negative. Viewers expressed a desire to see the positive side of life in the developing world and hear about any progress being made. Crucially, they wanted TV programmes that were positive and transforming, challenged their perceptions, and contained human interest stories, real-life issues and characters they can relate to. Their ideas for new developing world programming tended to reflect their favourite genres and included Jamie's African School Dinners, Life Swap, African Grand Designs, Spooks or 24 in Africa and Africa's Next Top Model.

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