Well-meaning celebs do more harm than good

Well-meaning celebrities “hijacking” causes such as debt relief in Africa are undemocratic and could do more harm than good, according to a report by Norfolk experts.

Well-meaning celebrities “hijacking” causes such as debt relief in Africa are undemocratic and could do more harm than good, according to a report by Norfolk experts.

Musicians such as Sir Bob Geldof and U2's Bono are increasingly accepted as world authorities on complex causes and accorded respect as international statesmen.

As a result, they can have a significant influence over the economic and political relationships between the developed and developing world, according to a new UEA report.

Launched tomorrow in London, the research has been conducted by Prof John Street and his team at the School of Political, Social and International Studies.

Based on interviews with development agency insiders, political activists and key figures within the music industry, the research explores the ways in which events like the Live 8 concerts get organised and their celebrity leaders legitimised.

It also reveals that some Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) activists fear that they may lose control of their own agenda.

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Prof Street said: “While welcoming the increased visibility given by this kind of pop star endorsement, some NGOs worry that their causes have been 'hijacked'.

“Despite the apparently democratic mass participation in events such as Live 8 organised by Sir Bob Geldof in 2005 to pressure the G8 leaders to change their policy on third world debt, there is also an undemocratic side to such occasions,” he said.

“The trouble with charismatic and powerful pop star-campaigners, however well-meaning, well-informed and effective, is that they are unelected and unaccountable, and this can matter when musicians such as Bob Geldof and Bono are co-opted into the political process and end up shaping policy.

“Though many people watched the Live 8 concerts, and many people contributed money to Live Aid, only an elite was actively engaged. The mass of people were passive witnesses. It may have given the appearance of democracy, but the reality was more complicated.”

“Following the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Bob Geldof claimed 'a great justice has been done',” said Prof Street.

“However, there were later complaints that he had let the G8 nations off the hook - allowing them to claim the agreement was more substantial than it actually was and allowing them to be seen as the only eight people who could make a difference.”

Striking a chord: music, musicians and public action by Prof John Street, Dr Heather Savigny and Dr Seth Hague is part of the Economic and Social Research Council's Non-Governmental Public Action programme.

Using Live 8/Make Poverty History as one illustration, the study found that pop stars were given legitimacy by a combination of the media, the government, NGOs and the record industry.