Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Live 8? What Live 8?

The rock band U2, with their lead-singing poverty activist, Bono, play in Poland this Tuesday, still glowing from the success of the Live8 concerts at the weekend. Organizers say that a worldwide TV audience of 2 billion people watched some, if not all, of the events on Saturday. But how many Poles tuned in to watch?

Before I answer that, let’s go back in time to the first Live Aid concert in the mid-eighties. I remember the BBC news reports of the horrid scenes of starvation coming from Ethiopia. We’d never seen anything like it. I’d bought two copies of the Bob Geldof inspired Band Aid single that kicked the whole thing off – Do they know it’s Christmas? How naive we were back then. Of course a mainly Muslim country, as Ethiopia was in those days, didn’t know, or didn’t care if it was Christmas, or not. And the ones that did probably had slightly more pressing problems on their hands.

But the idea was to raise as much money as we could, and a huge worldwide television audience did just that.

But the whole world wasn’t involved. Live Aid in 1985 just didn’t happen in Poland. State television didn’t take the pictures of the concerts from London and Philadelphia. Cut off as Poland was by the Iron Curtain, Poles were denied the pleasure of tuning in to one of those, infrequent, worldwide collective experiences – although one woman I was talking to this weekend does remember something being broadcast on state radio about it.

But today, 16 years after the Iron Curtain fell, Poles are now in a position to play their part in a worldwide event like Live8, right?

Still disconnected
Well, once more, Polish public television was not involved. The private station, TVN, however - which is available in 85% of households in Poland - covered the concert for two hours in the afternoon, and two more hours at the end of the events in the evening. In between, the cable only channel, TVN 7, broadcast the concerts in the UK, America, Berlin and Paris. And no adverts interrupted the coverage – which is a quite remarkable for a private TV channel in Poland, where advertising and product placement saturate most broadcasts.

It’s as easy to be cynical about Making Poverty History, as it is to be naive about it. Poverty in Africa is going to take a generation at least to go away. And the Making Poverty History campaign is actually a misnomer: its aims are to halve the amount of people in the world living on a dollar a day by 2030 – which, if achieved, would hardly make poverty history. And of course, if poverty is going to be made history in Africa, then it will be because of something that Africans have done for themselves, and not because of any philanthropy by rich, western nations.

But at least things like Live8 are a start, say the organizers. And, this time, maybe the West can start doing things that will help, instead of doing things that will hinder – which is the West’s usual way.

But even the most cynical would be hard pressed not to be have been moved by some of the broadcasts on Saturday – and I’m not talking about the miraculous reforming of Pink Floyd for one night only – a group that seem to like taking each other to court more than they do playing together.

But the bit people will remember was when one of the most well known photographs from the mid-eighties famine was shown on the screen behind the stage in London. It was a photo of a little Ethiopian girl, her face a mask of hunger. And then, Bob Geldorf comes on stage with the same girl – only now transformed into a beautiful, 23 year old, healthy Ethiopian woman. All four of us who were watching were squinting through the tears in our eyes.

Tuned out
But to get back to my original question at the start of this slot: how many Poles were sitting in their living rooms watching these amazing scenes and reaching for their handkerchiefs?

Well, for the two broadcasts shown on national television in the afternoon and late evening, only around 12% of the total TV audience tuned in. And if you compare viewing figure at the same time, on the same channel on the Friday and the Sunday, the television audience for Live8 didn’t go up – as it did in most countries – but actually went down by three percent. And on the cable only TVN 7, the total audience only amounted to one percent.

In Poland, Live8 was an audience loser. Live8 was a Polish TV turn off.

Live8 this time was not collecting money; it was collecting names as part of a petition that will be presented to the G8 leaders in Scotland this week. But if you go to the web site, at www.whiteband.org, which coordinates the whole thing, you will see that no Polish organization has affiliated with the Live8 campaign at all. In fact, out of the central and eastern European countries that joined the EU last year, only Estonia, Slovakia and the Czech republic have been involved in the name collecting process at all.

What’s more, Poland doesn’t have a Sunday press, but in the Monday newspapers you would expect to see blanket coverage of the concerts, wouldn’t you? Well, in the broadsheet, Rzeczpospolita there was a three paragraph article on the front page, and half a page review in the culture section on page 10. In the tabloid Super Ekspres they had an article about U2’s concert on Tuesday in Chorzow, in the south of Poland, which mentioned that between 50 and 70,000 people had bought tickets for the concert; and that U2 were the most popular band in Poland. But they failed to even mention the Live8 concert at all. Not a single word.

On the Friday night before Live8, the German film director Wim Wenders met Bono and gave him back a book the U2 singer had lent him. It was the superb book about Africa, The shadow of the sun by Polish journalist, Ryszard Kapuscinski. And that book – written in 1998 – basically amounts to the sole Polish contribution to Live8.

So when Bono bounds on stage Tuesday night here, and is greeted by a roar from the crowd, the singer may be forgiven for thinking they are cheering on his efforts to Make Poverty History. But they won’t be. The whole world wasn’t watching on Saturday. At least, not this part of the world, anyway.

Read on:Read on:
Live 8 concert attracts 9.6m audience to BBC Brand Republic 05.07.05
Live 8 draws large crowds, except in Japan, Wikinews, 03.07.05
See a review of Ryszard Kapuscinski’s The Shadow of the Sun

This is a version of an article that originally appeared on the Radio Polonia web site


Daldianus said...

2 billion, or even 3 billion as I've heard, is utterly speculative. And completely rubbish in my eyes. Does half the planet even have a TV?

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