Monday, January 26, 2009


Sky has joined the BBC in deciding not to broadcast a charity appeal for Gaza, despite mounting political and public pressure for them to do so.

BBC boss Mark Thompson has again defended the decision, saying it would jeopardise the BBC's impartiality.

Sky News said running the Disasters Emergency Committee advert was "incompatible" with its objective role.

About 60 MPs say they will back a parliamentary motion urging the BBC and Sky to run the appeal.

Sky News had been considering the DEC film, and only reached its decision on Monday, hours before the appeal is due to go out on ITV, Channels 4 and Five.

John Ryley, head of Sky News, said: "The conflict in Gaza forms part of one of the most challenging and contentious stories for any news organisation to cover.

"Our commitment as journalists is to cover all sides of that story with uncompromising objectivity."

Criticism over the BBC's decision not to air the appeal has come from archbishops, government ministers, charity leaders and 11,000 viewers.

The DEC, which represents more than a dozen aid agencies, is asking for money to buy food, medicine and blankets following the Israeli assault on Gaza.

A Palestinian woman and her child
Come on Auntie Beeb. Wake up and get on with it
Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York

Pressure has been mounting on the publicly-funded BBC to air the appeal, but the director general reaffirmed his stance on Monday morning.

Mr Thompson said the BBC could not give the impression it was "backing one side" over the other.

He said the DEC had acknowledged from the outset there might be problems airing the appeal on the grounds of impartiality, and it was not the first time the BBC had decided against running an advert on their behalf.

He denied his "arm had been twisted" by pro-Israeli lobbyists and said the BBC would continue to cover the humanitarian dimension of a "complicated and deeply contentious story".

Labour MP Richard Burden, who is putting forward the early day motion, said he was "equally angry" at Sky News and the BBC, who were not being asked to broadcast a "political appeal".

"This is a humanitarian appeal from some of the most respected aid charities in the UK," he told the BBC. "It is about saving lives. "If they (the BBC) want to maintain impartiality, then they should act without fear or favour and treat that child in Gaza just the same as a child in Congo, Darfur or the earthquake in Pakistan."

Culture Secretary Andy Burnham has said the BBC is right to make its own judgement over the appeal.

East Africa 2006: Famine appeal rejected by BBC because of difficulties of access
Lebanon 2006: BBC refused to air appeal for Israel-Hezbollah conflict victims on grounds of impartiality
Burma 2008: Appeal was only broadcast once BBC was satisfied aid would reach victims

A string of politicians, including International Secretary Douglas Alexander, Communities Secretary Hazel Blears and opposition spokesmen, have urged the corporation to reconsider its position.

Their comments drew criticism from BBC Trust chairman Michael Lyons who said some were "coming close to constituting undue interference in the editorial independence of the BBC".

The corporation's former director general, Greg Dyke, said it was in a "no win" situation. He agreed with Mr Thompson's decision, saying the BBC had to uphold its "credibility as a news organisation".

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has accused the BBC of getting its priorities "upside down".

The Church of England also waded into the row, with the Archbishop of York appealing for the BBC to consider humanity, not impartiality, and show the film.

Disasters Emergency Committee Gaza humanitarian appeal:
Launched by UK charities on 22 January to raise money for Gaza aid relief and reconstruction
Participants: Action Aid, British Red Cross, Cafod, Care International, Christian Aid, Concern Worldwide, Help the Aged, Islamic Relief, Merlin, Oxfam, Save the Children Tearfund, World Vision
Information on 0370 60 60 900 or at DEC website

In a direct appeal to the BBC, Dr John Sentamu said: "Come on Auntie Beeb. Wake up and get on with it."

Labour MP Gerald Kaufman claimed the BBC was worrying about what he called the "nasty pressure" from some pro-Israeli lobbyists.

"Probably the (BBC's) attitude has been: 'Oh this is just too much trouble'," he said.

"And it's too much trouble because of the pressure of the Israelis. This... very active and not very pleasant Israeli diplomatic representation in Britain."

The UN Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa), the largest humanitarian actor in Gaza, said there was a "huge and overwhelming need" for aid.

Unrwa spokesman Chris Gunness told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the situation in Gaza was a "political crisis with grave humanitarian consequences".

He said the estimated cost of "rehabilitation and repair" was $345m (£257m), with $230m (£167m) unfunded.

"We are massively underfunded, and I think the figures involve illustrate the sheer scale of the need involved here," he said.

Meanwhile, the activist group Stop the War Coalition have called for a protest against the decision not to broadcast the appeal outside BBC Broadcasting House in central London .



Anonymous Benjamin said...

Mark Thompson subjected himself to a two fingers up humiliation on BBC Breakfast this morning when the journalists showed him exactly what they thought by beaming the appeal up behind him whilst he was explaining exactly why the BBC would never show it. You can see it here:

12:38 am  

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