One year after the news media made Americans aware of the famine, there is both cause for concern and reason for hope.

In October 1983, free-lance journalist David Kline went to Africa to shoot film on assignment for CBS News. According to a report in Columbia Journalism Review, Kline returned with footage of “emaciated adults and some children near death, one so thin that its heart could be seen beating through the chest wall.”

Kline was told, however, that the footage was not strong enough. He got similar responses from NBC and PBS (Public Broadcasting System). Columbia Journalism Review reported that Kline paraphrased the television networks’ reaction as follows: “You’re offering me a story about kids starving in Africa? Please. That’s not a story—it’s like saying the sun rises in the east.”

By the summer of 1984, an estimated 7,000 Ethiopians were starving to death each month. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) started giving the matter some attention. A year ago this month, British viewers witnessed on camera the death of a three-year-old child. The film was sent to NBC in New York, and news anchorman Tom Brokaw wanted it shown immediately.

According to Columbia Journalism Review, on October 23 of last year telephone calls flooded the U.S headquarters of Save the Children Fund, which Brokaw had mentioned in his report on the famine. One of the biggest and most tragic stories of the decade finally was being told, and with it would come perhaps the most widespread humanitarian effort in history.

Relief experts had been warning of impending disaster in Africa for nearly three years before the mass media paid attention to the famine. Nevertheless, leaders of the African ...

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