How the Daily Mail lied about aid to a Ghanian village


4:01 pm - July 3rd 2012

by Paul Cotterill    


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Journalist Ian Birrell recently went to Ghana to follow up on a story about an American aid organisation, and British funding for it.

The headline screams: “How your money is being squandered: The African village where EVERY family is getting £7,500 from the British taxpayer”

The story concerns this five year project in Northern Ghana, and a quick perusal of the Business Case shows that the nineteen word headline contains three lies.

1) The project is not in an African village. It covers 30 villages (see map on page 5 of Business Case)

2) The £7,500 per household figure is based, in the subsequent article, on the total 5 year project budget of £17.2 million divided by 2,250 households. But the 2, 250 figure has been dug out of the business case for those households where there will be “substantial poverty reduction”. Page 1 of the Business Case gives the real figure: “Up to 30,000 people will benefit directly from improved services and increased opportunities”.

3) The total value of the project is £17.2 million, of which £11.5 million comes from British Aid. The Business Case makes clear (para. 48) that the rest will come from the Ghanaian government ($4.5 million) and from the local communities through cash or in-kind labour ($3.0 million).

Taking 2) and 3) together, the cost of the five year project to the British aid budget is roughly £1,700 per household, less than a quarter of the figure in the headline.

Now, there is no doubt that this is still an expensive project in usual aid terms, not least because it has built into it “robust” independent monitoring and evaluation costing more than £1 million and higher than usual local management costs, which reflect the emphasis on developing local government and university capacity.

There are very valid doubts about the ‘big push’ (para. 23) approach. The project, after all, is about testing whether this method, in which the kitchen sink of aid is thrown at very poor areas, is more effective than less targeted, less intensive approaches (or indeed than on aid at all).

There are also very valid questions, of the type set out by Matt Collinn at Aid Thoughts and others, being asked about the dodgy use of data to justify the claims about the Millennium Villages’ success in other areas.

But one poor aid project does not mean that aid is poor. To argue such, as Birell does, is the equivalent of saying that surgery should be stopped if one operation goes wrong, or that air travel should cease because one type of aircraft is found to be unsafe.

Questioning aid effectiveness is to be welcomed, if it is done properly and responsibly. For Birrell to get out and about in Ghana to see for himself what’s happening is valid too. He’s a proper journalist, as far as I can tell and the article does give evidence of some journalistic nouse.

What is not valid, though, is for the Daily Mail simply to tell lies.

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About the author
Paul Cotterill is a regular contributor, and blogs more regularly at Though Cowards Flinch, an established leftwing blog and emergent think-tank. He currently has fingers in more pies than he has fingers, including disability caselaw, childcare social enterprise, and cricket.
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Story Filed Under: Africa ,Blog ,Foreign affairs ,Media

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Reader comments


1. MarkAustin

Having scanned through the Daily Mail article, it appears that most of the points made by Paul Cotterill are buried in the article: mostly near the end. The Mail is relying on the headline poisoning the well, so to speak, for readers, and on the well-known fact that many readers don’t read all the article (some only the headline and first few paragraphs), whilst enabling them to say, if there’s a complaint, that all the information was there.

A typical devious and underhanded mail trick.

2. Chaise Guevara

@ 1 Mark

Metro’s recently developed the habit of doing that. I remember a headline along the lines of “Man Dies After Taking Meow Meow!” Halfway down the story they cited the coroner as saying words to the effect of “The deceased had also taken alcohol and cocaine on the night in question. Alcohol and cocaine were the substances relevant in his death.”

Mark @1:

Agree that they’ve buried the facts as you syay. Sunny has edited the bit out of my original, which notes the right to reply accorded to DfID/MPA right at the end of the article, though I suspect this may be more to do with legal cover than anything else (alternatively it may be that Ian Birrell, whom I think is a better journalist than this piece suggests, fought to get it in with his editors. Either way, you’re right that it’s so far buried as to be incosequential.

Mark @1:

Agree that they’ve buried the facts as you say. Sunny has edited the bit out of my original, which notes the right to reply accorded to DfID/MPA right at the end of the article, though I suspect this may be more to do with legal cover than anything else (alternatively it may be that Ian Birrell, whom I think is a better journalist than this piece suggests, fought to get it in with his editors. Either way, you’re right that it’s so far buried as to be incosequential.

The headline is grossly incompetent, but the journalist appears to be doing his best to write a fair, albeit critical article. Not that much worse than Sunny’s misleading headlines.
Where you *should* be attacking it is the misleading comparison between capital investment and pre-investment family income. What it should compare is the *rise* in income post-investment with the amount of the investment. When I was young the state invested a larger multiple of an 18-year-old’s pre-university income (subject to clawback from middle-class parents) to pay for his/her university education to generate future earning power. Secondly, if £7,500 were true, it would only be 0.01p per head

Fits the Daily Mail agenda perfectly.
btw: “Peruse” means to study in great detail.

7. douglas clark

I find it a tad odd that the headline here was not, simply, ‘The Daily Mail is a bit useless.

Again.’

The problem we have with the Daily Mail is that there are still lunatics that buy it.

I have looked at their web site and it sells itself purely on trash talk about celebrities and cleavages and shit.

That is their marketplace, a downmarket slum with added BritNat patriotism. Have they really changed much since the 1930s ? I suspect not.

It sells, in increasingly reduced circumstances, but it sells. Chasing a falling demographic that is, itself, nearly dead, is not, what anyone would describe as a good marketing strategy. Perhaps if they stuck to the cleavages and gave up on the politics altogether then they would be a recognisable brand.

IIRC, it was called Titbits.

@8 – I have looked at their web site and it sells itself purely on trash talk about celebrities and cleavages and shit.

You forgot about pictures of Suri cruise, and all the “fury” about kiddie pole dancing, along with fifteen photos. It should call itself the daily nonce.

@8: ‘Peruse’ can also mean ‘go through section by section’, which is what I did.

“2) The £7,500 per household figure is based, in the subsequent article, on the total 5 year project budget of £17.2 million divided by 2,250 households. But the 2, 250 figure has been dug out of the business case for those households where there will be “substantial poverty reduction”. Page 1 of the Business Case gives the real figure: “Up to 30,000 people will benefit directly from improved services and increased opportunities”.

3) The total value of the project is £17.2 million, of which £11.5 million comes from British Aid. The Business Case makes clear (para. 48) that the rest will come from the Ghanaian government ($4.5 million) and from the local communities through cash or in-kind labour ($3.0 million).

Taking 2) and 3) together, the cost of the five year project to the British aid budget is roughly £1,700 per household, less than a quarter of the figure in the headline.”

Can you run that maths past me again?

A household is one thing. The number of people is another. For a household (usually) consists of a number of people. 2,250 households and 30,000 people makes a household size of 13 and a bit people. Sounds a little high but certainly not impossible in multi-generational households in a country with a relatively high fertility rate in the recent past.

I get either, for the UK contribution, £5k odd per each of the 2,250 households or about £400 per individual.

Given that you’ve not told us what household size is I cannot see how you get to £1,700.

11. Dissident

Douglas

You did the acronym wrong in your post!!
here it is corrected for you…

BritNat Patriotism.

Bigoted NumtyPillocks works equally well of course…


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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  10. Jack Barker

    How the Daily Mail lied about aid to a Ghanian village | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/FHPgK44C via @libcon

  11. Paul Cotterill

    My piece on Mail lying about aid turned yp ar "@ibcon http://t.co/2uim35c7 The typo in the title is @sunny_hundal's, as is the editing.

  12. Marilyn Sanders

    How the Daily Mail lied about aid to a Ghanian village | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/j9E0Q7W8 via @libcon

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