I am a member of the reality TV generation. Big Brother made the UK go crazy when I was 10 and there have been god-knows how many terrible versions of that since then. I don’t like any of these programs, I should note, but nobody my age could possibly deny knowledge of them and their various formats. I don’t even really remember when MTV played music on it. Pretty depressing right?


When I read this post about a ‘humanitarian reality TV show’ featuring refugees (actually, internally displaced people but who wants any facts ruining ‘reality’ tv?) I couldn’t believe it was real. It sounds like a dark joke in some terrifying dystopian comedy. I looked for a listing of the show but couldn’t find any. I hoped it was an internet invention, like alots or bonsai kittens. It’s quite hard to check because the sites are in Italian and, being an ignorant Englishman, I only speak my mother tongue. Luckily, I had a kindly Italian friend on call to check it out.

It is most definitely a real thing. Here are her notes on what she could find out about the format:

  • program, created in collaboration with UNHCR and Intersos
  • 8 VIPs put into 4 pairs
  • live for 15 days in close contact and collaborate with volunteers from missionaries in Mali, South Sudan and Congo
  • all adventures/stories told in the studio
  • objective is to share experience, raise awareness of the issue

Where to begin! The original post on African Voices articulates well the myriad of issues surrounding making a spectacle out of some of the most vulnerable human beings on earth. 15 days seems an appropriate amount of time for a humanitarian effort, particularly one spread across three enormous and incredibly different countries. The VIPs are a couple of actresses, a journalist, a prince:

“…the kind of people you see on TV all the time, talk shows and things, TV presenters. Whether it’s a dancing show, cooking show, politics talk show, or humanitarian reality show, TV presenters in Italy never change”

Which is reassuring to those people who might, I don’t know, think that UNHCR has lost its damn mind. Television isn’t responsible for making informed, nuanced television about poverty or about Africa – The Newsroom and its exalted writer Aaron Sorkin showed us that only recently. We know TV executives to be cretinous and lazy but, goddamnit, the UNHCR should know better.

Of course, because we know that television is full of uninformed, gawking lunatics doesn’t mean we should forgive them for dreaming up this dizzying new low of bad taste.  We need to tell them off, undoubtedly, or this crap will keep happening. Sign this petition to shout back. Tweet UNHCR about it, call them, email them, write them a letter, protest outside their offices, construct a crude macro image to mock them – do something!

For some reason, people in charge of television seem to think that we want this stuff. Inevitably, as a member of the reality TV generation I assume that a) this is about me, the viewer and b) I can somehow affect the outcome of this situation. Maybe this last decade or so of terrible television has been useful after all – as a generation, we expect to be able to alter television. This is the kind of activism we have been training our whole lives for.

UNHCR Italy is on twitter. It should be quick easy enough to fill up there timeline with the thoughts of sane human beings. Use #stopthemission, it might get them to at least clarify what they are thinking.


Advocate, Causes

We Need To Do Something About Television


3 thoughts on “We Need To Do Something About Television

  1. Pingback: Top Five Posts Of The Year | Development Intern

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