Sky also nixes Gaza aid broadcast

BBC remains firm on rejection.

By JONNY PAUL, JPOST CORRESPONDENT IN LONDON
January 27, 2009 06:13
4 minute read.
Sky also nixes Gaza aid broadcast

sky news 88. (photo credit: )

 
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Sky News announced on Monday that it will not broadcast a charity appeal for Gaza, while the BBC remained steadfast in its refusal to reconsider its decision to not screen the appeal. Three other networks aired the aid appeal on Monday night. 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 network 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 seen 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 refusal to screen the appeal produced by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), an umbrella organization of 13 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 appeal signed by some 60 MPs was tabled in Parliament on Monday and a few dozen protesters stormed the BBC's offices in Glasgow 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 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 the BBC was free to use its own judgment. "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. Sky News also cited the need for impartiality in explaining its refusal to screen the ad. "The absolute impartiality of our output is fundamental to Sky News and its journalism," network head John Ryley 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 was broadcast Monday night on ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. ITV screened it after its 6 p.m. news program. Introducing the advert, the broadcaster warned that "viewers might find some of the images distressing." The three-minute video showed images of the destruction in Gaza and pictures of the wounded. It talked about the suffering of Gaza's children, many traumatized, it said, following the deaths of family members. "Entire streets have been decimated and many are returning to the rubble that used to be their homes," it said. "The children of Gaza are suffering, many are struggling to survive and many are homeless without water." It said that hospitals are overwhelmed, around 300,000 people are without water and, according to the UN, 40 percent are without electricity. The broadcast was "not about the rights and wrongs about the conflict but simply an appeal for help," it emphasized. 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, British playwright Caryl Churchill has written a play to raise funds for Gaza. 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 Theater in west London. "It came out of feeling strongly about what's happening in Gaza ˆ it's a way of helping the people there," Churchill told the Guardian newspaper on Saturday. Titled Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza, the play will be performed for free followed by a monetary appeal for a charity called Medical Aid for Palestinians. "Israel has done lots of terrible things in the past, but what happened in Gaza seemed particularly extreme," said Churchill, who is a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign group. 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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