THE backlash against Band Aid's Ebola record is great news, one
development academic said the other day, because it shows that the
British public are developing a more mature attitude to aid. Oh
dear. What it actually shows is that the jaded contrarianism of our
metropolitan media elite has plumbed new depths of cynicism.
Ebola is out of control in countries with failed national health
services. African countries where health is well-funded, like
Nigeria and Uganda, have contained the disease. By contrast, in
Sierra Leone, where the disease is worst, the health service is in
ruins - after Western promises of aid have been broken. Ebola is a
virus in the global body politic as much as in the bloodstream of
its hapless victims. Our ignorant media can't, or won't, see that.
Instead of focusing on the politics of Ebola, they have turned
their sarcasm on Bob Geldof, who has remade "Do They Know It's
Christmas" to raise cash to combat the disease.
The criticism has ranged from the fatuously ignorant to the
wilfully misleading. There were complaints that the lyrics were
factually inaccurate, as if the offering were a doctoral
dissertation rather than a pop song. One paper, lamenting the lack
of cultural sensitivity in the song's imagery, then analysed the
1984 lyrics rather than the 2014 version. Others codded up bogus
slights and rows with singers not invited to sing on the record, or
who declined to participate.
One paper had a page-long tirade about Band Aid and Ethiopia,
even though there is no Ebola there. Another confused the original
Live Aid concert with the Freddie Mercury Tribute at which David
Bowie knelt to say the Lord's Prayer. Yet another repeated the
canard that Band Aid cash had been siphoned off for weapons, an
untruth for which the BBC had to issue an unprecedented
simultaneous four-channel apology.
Where critics did venture on to medical territory, they were
just as ill-informed. One mis-reported the Ebola incubation period.
Another disingenuously muddled the annual death toll for AIDS with
the ease and speed of contagion of Ebola, which is far more
frightening to doctors.
Accuracy went completely out of the window. Arguments about aid
propping up despots, which are as outdated as the Cold War, were
regurgit-ated. So was the line that Band Aid singers were propping
up flagging careers, despite the fact that most of them are
currently at peak popularity.
Something else was being propped up, however. An internet search
on many of the most vehement critics revealed that, until their
attack on Band Aid, they had written nothing about either Ebola or
Africa for months, if ever. It was as if their assaults, filled
with false dichotomies and non-sequiturs, were intended to cover
that fact. Other sneerers, who affect, in morally superior tones,
to care deeply, seem merely to be attempting to create an
intellectually respectable defence for their own inaction. As
Richard Curtis once said, there will always be reasons to say
Bad faith is at the heart of this backlash. But the British
public see through it, which is why Band Aid 30 has outsold all the
rest of the Top Five put together. A more apt Christmas No. 1 would
be hard to imagine.
Paul Vallely is a Senior Fellow at the Brooks World Poverty
Institute at the University of Manchester.