On a Mission to Put Children First: Integrity in Charity Media

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Lawson, Michele
poverty , youth , charity , Canada , Ontario , victim stories , consent , ethical representation , marginalized individual , marginalized community , registered charities , youth shelter
Accusations of child exploitation have been levelled at the charitable sector due to its use of so-called poverty porn marketing tactics since the watershed “Live Aid” concert for Ethiopia famine relief in 1985. These problematic advertisements have been broadcast across channels presenting over-simplified presentations of children experiencing poverty to privileged audiences who have an opportunity to flex their saviour muscles by making an armchair donation and considering their role and responsibility for social justice to be complete. Yet, despite the ongoing outcry, the lucrative practice persists across the sector, from global humanitarian non-governmental organizations to locally mandated registered charities. I focus herein on the latest marketing campaigns of charitable agencies located in Ontario, Canada, that serve abandoned children in two different contexts: urban centres that have youth shelters (focusing on Covenant House Toronto as the largest), and the primarily rural District Municipality of Muskoka that does not. To cover the full child welfare spectrum in the province, the Children’s Aid Societies of Ontario are also examined for evidence of poverty porn tactics. In addition to the textual analysis of the agency media itself, the contexts of media production are also scrutinized. What is revealed is an inherent conflict of interest in the charitable sector that compromises social missions by prioritizing a competing need for fiscal stability. Through this process, I conclude that the practice of using the images of children in charitable marketing campaigns should be abolished as it negatively impacts the very children such charities purport to help, while enabling an inadequate child-welfare system. This, at least until or unless a non-exploitive media model replaces the poverty porn approach that currently holds sway. 
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