Charities defend war child photo

Three charities working with major newspapers to promote their Iraq fundraising appeals have endorsed the decision to use pictures of Ali Ismail Abbas, the 12-year-old Iraqi boy who was badly burned and had to have his arms amputated after a US air strike.

The British Red Cross is working with the Evening Standard on its "Victims of War Appeal", Unicef is benefiting from the Daily Mirror's "Ali Appeal", and Metro is promoting the Limbless Association's appeal. All three campaigns have been accompanied in the press by pictures of Abbas.

But there has been some public unease about the use of the image, and this week The Daily Telegraph criticised the charities for using the mutilated child as a fundraising opportunity.

The charities have hit back, saying that criticism is unfair. "It is wrong to say that we viewed those pictures with anything other than horror," said Cathy Mahoney, head of media at the British Red Cross. "I can't believe that anyone would look on them as an opportunity."

The Limbless Association maintains that it has used the pictures very carefully. "We are very sensitive to the situation because many of us here are amputees ourselves," said Diana Morgan, chief executive of the association. "We have never exploited the image, and I asked for the picture to be removed from our web site."

In each of the three cases, the decision to use the image was made by the newspaper involved. The British Red Cross originally wanted to use its own appeal picture, but the Evening Standard decided on the Abbas photo.

"Working with the media can be like steering into unchartered waters because you are relying on someone else to get your message across," said Mahoney. "But we still feel that our partnership has worked extremely well."

The charities have also been attacked for using the child's image without helping him directly.

"We have made it clear that our appeal would help people like Abbas, but would not be directly for him," said Mahoney.

"Ali was treated at the Al Kindi hospital and Saddam General hospital, both of which we are working in, but we did not focus our attention solely on him."

She added: "We always said that we would never be involved in airlifting him out or opportunistic photos of our staff with him.

Unicef used the image because Abbas is a human face that people can identify with. Spokeswoman Kathryn Irwin said: "Ali is clearly a sad and tragic case. He is one face among millions of voices that we cannot hear. He is a reminder of just how bad things are."

The Limbless Association appeal was set up specifically to help Abbas after a request from a Metro journalist. "There has always been the possibility that Abbas might not survive, so we made it clear to donors that if the worst happened we would help other child victims," said Morgan.

She added that if the picture hadn't been used, Ali probably wouldn't have been air-lifted to Kuwait to receive treatment.

"He is and always has been in a very vulnerable state both medically and emotionally," she said.

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