DfID launches rebuttal unit to counter negative coverage of British aid

The Department for International Development (DfID) has launched a rebuttal unit to counter negative media coverage about Britain's aid spend in response to ministers' demands for more proactive media relations.

Shelter provided by UK aid for people displaced by Daesh in Iraq. Dalal, Iraq, July 2015 (pic credit: DfID)
Shelter provided by UK aid for people displaced by Daesh in Iraq. Dalal, Iraq, July 2015 (pic credit: DfID)
The counter-offensive to negative reporting of British aid has begun with a new Dfid blog, which describes itself as presenting "the facts behind media stories" about its work and posting government statements in full.

The blog sets out to "explain the truth" behind "misleading and inaccurate" headlines. 

DfID's renewed focus on countering bad press comes amid calls from aid ministers for more promotion of the work of the government department.

DfID minister Lord Bates, speaking in Parliament last month, remarked that "it behoves" supporters of Britain's commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on overseas aid "to do everything we can to highlight the benefits that the UK is bringing around the world to those areas most in need."

He claimed the "generosity of British taxpayers" is helping millions of people and "genuinely saving lives".

Lord Bates added: "That is the point that we need to make loudly and clearly to the British public and the media."

DfID officials admit that presenting the department's work is not always straightforward and that it is under intense scrutiny from the media. 

In a bid to demonstrate the achievements of aid spending, part of its strategy is to be proactive in communicating positive stories.

Showing the human stories behind the headline figures, and how overseas aid is part of a broader government and international context, are among the tactics used.

Others include working with a varied mix of media outlets, taking journalists on trips to witness DfID's work overseas, and using social media to communicate with the public directly.

Former ITV News deputy editor Tim Singleton, who started his new role as DfId's director of comms in January, told PRWeek: "We're in no doubt about the tough media environment we're operating in. It means we need to show - quickly - the results of our work.
"It's right that our work is scrutinised and it's right that we should be held to account. We also have a responsibility to show the British people what their money is being spent on. That is why we will continue to show the results of our work and tell the stories of the people who benefit from UK aid in all our communications."

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