In November 1984 supergroup ‘Band Aid’ released their charity single ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’ and sold 3.69 million copies worldwide. Proceeds were to be donated in support of famine relief following Michael Buerk’s report from Ethiopia. The Thatcher government was highly criticised for obtaining the record’s value added tax; only later under much public scrutiny and pressure from producer Sir Bob Geldof, thegovernment released the VAT to be later donated to charity. In further support of the record, BBC Radio 1 pledged to play the song once every hour, raising awareness and ensuring its place as Christmas number 1 in 1984. This is not however to say that the song or its intentions were universally received. Singer Morrissey called the charity single “the most self-righteous platform ever in the history of music”. Despite such a reception, the success of the song led to another campaign, the Live Aid concert. According to the Daily Mail, “the 16-hour rock concert on July 13, 1985 raised around £65million and was watched by a global audience estimated at 1.5 billion”.
Some twenty years on, speculation has risen concerning the allocation of the money that had been raised. A member from the Band Aid Trust has declared that “grants totalling $7,207,723 were provided to REST between 1985 and 1991”. BBC Editor Martin Plaut has suggested that up to 95% of money allocated to REST – the Relief Society for Tigray – was “spent on military and political campaigns.” REST was confirmed by a BBC correspondent in the 1990s to be “the humanitarian wing of the rebel movement … of that there is no doubt”.
The BBC World Service News report sparked outrage from Sir Geldof and the Band Aid Trust, who have accused the report of being an example of “disgracefully poor reporting”. Charged with factual inaccuracies and unsubstantiated claims, the majority of Plaut’s report was removed following official complaints by the Band Aid Trust. But reports from various other newspapers contained first hand accounts of the alleged abuses.
John James was Band Aid Field Director in Ethiopia from 1985 to 1991 and was awarded an MBE for his charity work. He says: ‘I would be surprised if it were any less than 10-20 per cent of funds were diverted to the rebels’.
Charity organisations involved with Band Aid at the time have voiced concerns of losing donors and funding as a result of the controversy. The focus of media reporting in 2010 seems to have shifted from the altruistic fundraising abilities of the British public to the credibility of reporting. Whether the credibility of individual reporters remains in tact or not, one thing remains: the need for the truth.