Hunger in Africa was consistently nominated as a Censored subject during the early 1980s. When we asked journalists why they didn’t cover the tragedy unfolding there, they would reply;, “It’s not news,” or Everyone already knows about starving Africans,” or “Nothing can be done about it anyway.”

Early in 1984, an ABC-TV News correspondent in Rome came upon information that led him to believe that millions of Africans were being threatened by drought and famine. He requested permission from the home office in New York to take his crew to Africa to get the story. The answer was no.

There’s an ironic twist to this story. We subsequently discovered that the same ABC producer who refused to let the TV crew go to Africa (Rick Kaplan who later admitted it was “a money call“) killed a two-part “Nightline” series on Project Censored two years later that explored whether the news media ever overlook, undercover or censor important stories.

ABC was not the only, nor even the first, television network to reject the tragic story of starving children in Ethiopia. In October 1983, David Kline, a freelance journalist and news producer in San Francisco, shot film on assignment for CBS. The footage showed emaciated adults and some children near death. Kline was told the footage was not strong enough. After being rejected by CBS, Kline offered the story to NBC and PBS; they both turned him down.

Television networks weren’t the only media to reject Kline’s story about millions of people facing death. Magazines such as Life, Playboy, The New Yorker, Esquire, Harper’s, and Mother Jones all rejected it. Only the Christian Science Monitor ran Kline’s piece.

Later, a BBC television crew traveling through Ethiopia captured the stark reality of children staring to death. People throughout the world saw the coverage and responded. Overnight, it sparked a worldwide reaction that reportedly saved the lives of seven million Ethiopians.

(Excerpted from CENSORED 1993: The News That Didn’t Make The News — And Why, Shelburne Press, Chapel Hill, NC, 1993)



The Associated Press reported on October 23, 2009, that Ethiopia needed “emergency food aid for 6.2 million people, an appeal that comes 25 years after a devastating famine compounded by communist policies killed 1 million and prompted one of the largest charity campaigns in history.

“The crisis stems from a prolonged drought that has hit much of the Horn of Africa, including Kenya and Somalia. …

In 1984, Ethiopia’s famine drew international attention as news reports showed emaciated children and adults with limbs a thin as sticks. The crisis launched one of the biggest global charity campaigns in history, including the concert Live Aid.

Will the coverage this time be sufficient to help save millions of Ethiopians again?

Those who cannot remember the past

are condemned to repeat it!

-George Santayana