Mar 242012

On March 5th, “Kony 2012”, a brilliant, touching and shocking, 30min video was posted on youtube, aimed to raise awareness of the abduction and abuse of child soldiers in Africa. The video was designed so well, it hit the soft spots of over 70 million viewers in less than a week. A masterpiece of marketing that gathered the support of millions including celebrities and politicians. An instant success for Invisible Children – the NGO that decided to focus on an issue that, for decades, has been of little interest in mainstream media.

Only a few days after its release something utterly bizarre and interesting happened. Mainstream media and even many alternatives aggressively attacked the film-maker for alleged inaccuracies and inappropriate profit motifs. However, they all agree that Joseph Kony is a “bad” guy and deserves to be eliminated and that child soldiers are a big and long-term problem in some African countries.

Soon after the enormous rapid success followed an “intuitive” hostile reaction of the media. Jason Russel, co-founder of Invisible Children, who also featured in the video along with his five year old son, suffered something I would simply call a public nervous-breakdown. Suddenly the news pages were full of stories about the his mental health breakdown but also stories that dive deeper into the issue of child soldiers in Africa (now that the topic is popular).

Kony 2012

Kony 2012: Raising awareness of 3 decades of child soldiers and abuse in Africa. Joseph Kony is wanted for "crimes against humanity".

The video aimed to pressure the US government to provide more support to capture the uncontroversial ferocious criminal Joseph Kony. I would have preferred to see a collaborative effort of e.g. the UN – but hey, we are talking about a few hundred troops or so to assist local government forces to capture the bad guy. This is hardly an American “invasion” in Africa.

So far the video has been criticised for the following points:

  • Uganda is not any more affected by Kony’s organisation the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) – although it has been until 2006. Apparently Kony has moved on  to other territories. This was also something the Uganda government was quick to point out trying to save the public image of Uganda
  • Uganda like other African countries have many other and bigger problems than thousands of abused child soldiers forced to murdering their parents among others
  • a too high budget for the making of the movie (they could have used the money in better ways)
  • that he omitted that the current Uganda government came to power using child soldiers
  • a five year old – like the film makers son featured in the video should not know about these issues
  • Invisible Children encourages everyone to raise awareness of the issue on one particular day and provides advertising kits in exchange for money
  • Successful marketing by  appealing to the feelings of viewers is painted as “propaganda” [Note: the same media call political campaigns, pharmaceutical commercials etc. great and necessary advertising or even public relations. ]

I could now post a list of praised celebrities, politicians, CEOs, Hollywood blockbusters, daily news, commercials that would make the above listed shortcomings (in terms of ethics or accuracy of information)  fade in comparison. But I won’t as I think the point I am trying to make is obvious.
Making money with a good cause apparently is unethical and so is good advertising or simplification. The growth dependent and profit eating “beast” – our chosen economic system – is telling us that we must not let good things benefit from the system. At least there is much more benefit (profit) in badmouthing anything progressive.

I praise the  Kony 2012 video for the following points:

  • effectively bringing the topic of child soldiers and other African issues into the mainstream discussion
  • raising awareness of media desperate to ride every possible wave by turning positive developments  into better selling bad news
  • permitting people to realise how making money with a good cause is considered unethical by our economic system with the media acting as gatekeepers. The same media participate and promote throwing millions at so-called celebrities who do nothing else than acting as if they were someone else or bonuses of bankers and politicians who miserably fail doing their jobs.

This phenomenal awareness boosting video, almost as a sideline, effectively revealed the dangerous lack of objective and citizen friendly, meaningful reporting in the media. It is not information but sensationalism that matters in terms of profit. Unfortunately a good cause will never sell as well as a bad one in our current economic environment.

I wish Jason Russell, the brilliant film maker and co-founder of  Invisible Children, a fast recovery and the support he deserves for his fantastic job.


  4 Responses to “Kony 2012 – What is wrong with the media?”

  1. Hi Jason!
    I agree with your point, that raising awareness and sympathy in that group of people you mentioned is a good cause. However nowadays, I’m exposed to thousands of opportunities to donate for plenty of good initiatives. Initially I’m bound to be sceptical and reluctant due to various reasons..
    I’d like to know, how you deal with people trying to convince you to donate for something they regard as being crucial (often passion is included, which makes you feeling even more bad to refuse)?
    Secondly, do you donate? If yes, for what and where and how do you draw the line? If not, what are your reasons?
    Greetings from a german guy you met in Finland in a library:)

    • Hi Joon,

      Good question!
      Personally I like to focus my energies on attacking the sources rather than symptoms. Cancer, depression, war, torture, famine, pollution etc are symptoms of the way people live on this planet. Treating symptoms may make sense in the short term but eventually the source needs to be addressed. I think the source is an outdated economic paradigm. Toby Russel describes it brilliantly:

      When it takes a good proportion of us to create the goods and services we buy and sell to live and enjoy life, the money-circulation system we have is quite good.
      When there is plenty of room for growth, even the much maligned positive interest debt system we have is ok.

      But when we have no room to grow and very low need for human labour, when Consumerism is increasingly seen as a hollow and unsatisfying rat race going nowhere, the money circulation system we have breaks down.

      That’s the easy part.

      Breaking down our millennia-old ideas about value, work, utility and productivity is far harder. And that is the trap we are in.

      Hence, I try to support everything that helps break down the source – the malfunctioning paradigm.

      For example, I support:

      1. the free, uncensored Internet to bypass the filtered corporate media and allow non profit sharing of news and services
      2. abandon electronic voting machines to allow for a non violent regime change
      3. abandon the utterly undemocratic business of marketing politicians
      4. to fight corporate sponsored and owned media. The media need to serve the people not the advertising companies or shareholders.
      5. support believable politicians with a track record of following the constitution without getting stuck in e.g. abortion discussions or other details
      6. recognise advertising and marketing as the soul of unsustainable consumerism and refuse to participate in it – instead fight it.

      Incidently, my favourite activist site is currently under heavy cyber-attack. They are doing am outstanding job fighting for Internet freedom and many other worthwhile causes with the help of millions of Internet users worldwide.

  2. Couldn’t have said it better myself Jason! A very well written piece. Mx

    • Thanks, I really do appreciate all feedback from real humans and non-spammers or netvocates (people paid for trolling and spreading propaganda in blogs). You seem to be a fine example (of a genuine human) – this is encouraging!

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