Michael Buerk wades into Comic Relief 'white saviour' row: 'Comic Relief infantilises Africans'

Katie Archer

Michael Buerk has waded into the Comic Relief “white saviour” row, saying that he believes celebrities posing on charity missions “infantilises” Africans.

In February, David Lammy MP had got into a spat with Strictly Come Dancing winner Stacey Dooley when she posted social media snaps of her holding an African child during a Comic Relief trip, telling her “The world does not need any more white saviours.”

Read more: How the David Lammy and Stacey Dooley race row escalated

Now, journalist Buerk has said that he agrees with the politician after a weekend which saw the charity’s latest campaign fall £8 million short of its last fundraiser.

Buerk told Good Morning Britain: “I think David Lammy has got a point.

“It makes you feel slightly uncomfortable – Comic Relief does a fantastic job, and does it normally pretty sensitively, raises an enormous amount of money, but more importantly raises consciousness about those particular issues and should be applauded for that.

“But you know, there is something rather uncomfortable about celebrities jetting in and posing…it kind of infantilises Africans in a way that I find rather uncomfortable.”

However, the former South Africa correspondent whose 1980s reporting on the Ethiopian famine inspired Band Aid added: “But having said that, I spent a decade as a kind of business class misery tourist, going from war to famine and all the rest of it, making a living out of it, so who am I to complain.”

Read more: Comic Relief defends Stacey Dooley

Host Piers Morgan asked Buerk about Lammy’s suggestion that concentrating on poverty in Africa took attention away from progress being made in the area.

Buerk said: “That’s a really difficult argument – it’s an easy argument to make, but it’s so complex, there are still countries that are in the most desperate of straits and what we do to help them is I think important, and we don’t think enough about it, we think in cliche terms all the time.

“They’re improving loads and loads of people’s lives, but on the other hand, we tend to now categorise Africans as victims who are incapable of helping themselves, whereas actually if you go and live in Africa, you find that they have robust ways of dealing with things and there are really positive things to say.”

Read more: David Lammy denies he snubbed Comic Relief

But Buerk didn’t seem to agree with presenter Susanna Reid’s suggestion that the “white saviour” row had contributed to £8 million less being raised than during the previous Comic Reief.

He said: “Do you think that was a direct result of this controversy, or the fact that people get a kind of compassion fatigue about these things?”