BBC refuses to broadcast Gaza appeal

UK ministers slam national broadcaster's decision not to air ad; accuse it of being cowed by Israeli gov't.

By JONNY PAUL, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT, LONDON
January 24, 2009 12:51
2 minute read.
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The BBC has refused to back down amid criticism of its decision on Friday not to broadcast an appeal to raise funds for Gaza. The BBC refused to screen an appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), an umbrella organization of 13 aid charities, including Christian Aid and the British Red Cross, saying it did not want to compromise its commitment to neutrality. Mark Thompson, the BBC's director-general, said on Friday that the appeal might jeopardize the public's confidence in the BBC's impartiality. "The decision was made because of question marks about the delivery of aid in a volatile situation and also to avoid any risk of compromising public confidence in the BBC's impartiality in the context of a news story," the BBC said in a statement. International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander urged the broadcaster to reconsider in light of "the great human suffering still taking place in Gaza." Former Labor Party MP and president of the Stop the War organization Tony Benn said, "To deny the help that the aid agencies and the UN need at this moment in time is incomprehensible and it follows the bias in BBC reporting of this crisis, which has been widely criticized." In response, the BBC's chief operating officer, Caroline Thomson, said: "It's important to remember that broadcasting appeals like this is a unique thing we do and we have to be very clear about two things. "Firstly, that the money will go to the people it's intended for and secondly, that we can do it within our own editorial principles and without affecting and impinging on the audience's perception of our impartiality, and clearly - in conflicts as controversial as this - that is a real issue for us." On Saturday, two rival stations, Channel Four and ITN, decided to run the appeal. "After careful consideration, and in consultation with other networks, a common consensus has been reached by the majority of broadcasters and as a result ITV will broadcast the appeal," an ITV spokesman said. Channel Four released a statement saying: "We accept the DEC's guidance on the urgent need for humanitarian aid and believe this need should take precedence over any considerations as to the causes of the suffering that necessitates it." Last week, Benn called for Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor to be expelled. Speaking at a protest against Israel in Trafalgar Square, Benn accused Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza and said Israeli airlines should be banned from British airports. Chanting "BBC shame on you," around 200 protesters stood outside the BBC's Broadcast House in central London on Saturday afternoon. Speaking at the protest, Benn said: "We cannot ignore suffering in the interests of what the BBC call impartiality. We can't allow others to die when we have an opportunity to save their lives."

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