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A rally called by the Stop the War coalition takes place in Trafalgar Square in central
London on Jan. 24, 2009.

BBC Takes Heat for Refusing to Air Gaza Humanitarian Appeal

January 26, 2009 02:03 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The BBC and Sky satellite channel are being criticized for refusing to show a film that requests aid for those affected by violence in Gaza.

BBC Covets Impartiality

The Disasters Emergency Committee, a group of several U.K. humanitarian charities including the Red Cross, Save the Children and Oxfam, produced a film appeal to help victims of the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza region. The other three major private television networks in the U.K., ITV, Channel 4 and Five, all agreed to air the film during their evening news slot on Jan. 26.

The BBC, the public network that airs from multiple radio and television stations, refused on grounds that it would compromise its impartiality of coverage of the Hamas-Israel conflict, and was soon joined by the satellite network Sky.

But more than 11,000 complaints have so far been sent to the BBC—about a thousand by phone and some 10,000 by e-mail—provoking a protest outside the BBC headquarters in Scotland and a motion by 60 members of parliament in the House of Commons on Jan. 26. Labour MP Richard Burden, who is a member of the Commons International Development Committee, tabled the motion.

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Opinion & Analysis: Impartiality and a humanitarian crisis

“More than 400 children have died, thousands are homeless and nothing short of a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding in Gaza,” Richard Burden told U.K. daily newspaper The Sun. “The important thing is to get aid in to Gaza. This is recognised by almost everyone—including the Government. The BBC appears to be the only one who has a problem seeing this.”

DEC executive Brendan Gormley insisted that the funds were “for all those affected by the recent conflict,” including people in southern Israel,” writes the Guardian.

In a Jan. 25 statement, the BBC countered, “Whilst our records show that DEC stated in principle the aid could be applied to a wider area, they clearly indicated that the situation with Israel was unlikely to need the help of the appeal and in practice the request was solely for Gaza."

Culture secretary Andy Burnham said it was “right that broadcasters made their own decisions, adding that the BBC faced a difficult choice because of the way it is funded,” The Guardian wrote.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England, sided with the DEC on the matter, as did longstanding Channel 4 journalist Jon Snow. “It is a ludicrous decision,” Snow told The Guardian. “That is what public service broadcasting is for. I think it was a decision founded on complete ignorance and I am absolutely amazed they have stuck to it."

Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s spokesman told the Times of London that Brown “personally supported the appeal—although both he and Douglas Alexander, the International Development Secretary, said that the decision on whether to show it remained with the BBC.”

Background: Other DEC appeals and the BBC’s recent troubles

The BBC has previously aired DEC appeals, including one for the Democratic Republic of Congo, a region of large-scale humanitarian crisis that is often top request for humanitarian aid by the United Nations. In 2008, Gaza was listed third behind the Sudan and Congo in UN appeals, a statistic that was reported by the BBC.

FindingDulcinea reported that U.K. charities were calling the 2008 Gaza humanitarian situation the “worst crisis since the 1967 Six-Day War.”

The BBC took heat in 2008 for awarding bonuses to executives that had been the decision-makers on some very controversial issues for the public broadcasting network. FindingDulcinea reported that troubling editing of footage of Queen Elizabeth and fake phone-ins to television and radio programs were among the charges the BBC faced in 2007. Nevertheless, the BBC’s “director of vision” Jana Bennett, received a £103,000 ($203,000) raise and several other directors received substantial bonuses and raises.

At the time, members of parliament called the BBC “deeply out of touch,” echoing the current debate over the DEC film.

Reference: Disasters Emergency Committee

The DEC Web site has information about its past work, media from previous appeals, and information on the Gaza appeal, including a press release.

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