Sky News won't air Gaza charity appeal

Amidst criticism, BBC remains firm in decision not to broadcast appeal so as not to harm "impartiality."

By JONNY PAUL, THE JERUSALEM POST, LONDON
January 26, 2009 11:40
3 minute read.
Sky News won't air Gaza charity appeal

Gaza kids play 248.88. (photo credit: AP)

 
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Sky News announced on Monday that it will not broadcast the charity appeal for Gaza and the BBC is refusing to succumb to pressure to reconsider its decision to not screen the appeal. Speaking on the BBC's Breakfast program on Monday morning, Mark Thompson, director-general of the BBC, said the question of impartiality made it impossible for the BBC to broadcast the appeal. "We are passionate about defending the BBC impartiality and we worry, with it being such a political and emotive story, about being seem to endorse something that could give people the impression we were backing one side," he said. The BBC has been under intense pressure to reverse its decision to screen the appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), an umbrella organization of 13 aid charities. Around 11,000 viewers have lodged complaints with the broadcaster and parliamentarians, charities and religious leaders have voiced concern. A parliamentary motion urging the BBC to screen the advert signed by around 60 MPs was tabled in Parliament on Monday and around 40 protestors stormed the BBC's headquarters in Glasgow, Scotland on Sunday night. On Sunday, the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, joined the voices of protest. "This is not a row about impartiality but rather about humanity," he said. "This is not an appeal by Hamas asking for arms but by the DEC asking for relief, by declining their request the BBC has already taken sides and forsaken impartiality," the Archbishop added. A number of government ministers, including International Secretary Douglas Alexander and Communities Secretary Hazel Blears, have also urged the broadcaster to reconsider its position. "The BBC's decision should not discourage the public from donating to this important appeal," Blears said. "I sincerely hope the BBC will urgently review its decision. I think the people in our country are really decent people, they're generous and this is about a humanitarian situation here. It's about ordinary people and their families and the people of Britain being asked to do what they can to help." However Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham, said that it is right for the BBC to make its own judgment over whether to air the appeal. "As the man who does uphold the independence of broadcasters in this country, I think it is right that broadcasters come to their own judgment," he said. On Monday Sky News joined the BBC deciding not broadcast the appeal. "The absolute impartiality of our output is fundamental to Sky News and its journalism," John Ryley, head of Sky News said." That's why, after very careful consideration, we have concluded that broadcasting an appeal for Gaza at this time is incompatible with our role in providing balanced and objective reporting of this continuing situation to our audiences in the UK and around the world." He said the one cannot fail to be touched by the human suffering on both sides of the conflict but added that the nature of an appeal sets out to provoke a specific response from the viewer. "We don't believe that broadcasting such an appeal on Sky News can be combined with the balance and context that impartial journalism aims to bring to the highly-charged and continuing conflict in Gaza," Ryley added. The DEC appeal will be broadcast on Monday night on ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. Chief executive of the DEC Gaza appeal, Brendan Gormley, said that the need to respond was immediate. "This is a humanitarian crisis. Thousands of people have been affected by the conflict, many of them made homeless and without food and water and local hospitals are struggling to cope," he said. "British aid agencies are already on the ground providing medical support and distributing food, blankets and clean water but we urgently need public donations to continue to be able to respond," Gormley added. Meanwhile a British playwright has written a play to raise funds for Gaza. Written by Caryl Churchill the play, which is described as "a 10 minute history of Israel, ending with the bombing of Gaza", will be performed at the Royal Court Theatre in west London. "It came out of feeling strongly about what's happening in Gaza - it's a way of helping the people there," she told the Guardian newspaper on Saturday. Entitled 'Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza', the play will be free with a collection afterwards for the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians. "Israel has done lots of terrible things in the past, but what happened in Gaza seemed particularly extreme," Churchill, who is a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign group, said. In a letter opposing the BBC's decision, published in The Guardian on Saturday, Churchill said: "Perhaps their [the BBC's] problem would be solved if a tiny proportion of the money were spent on the tiny proportion of Israeli wounded."

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