Fearing brach of impartiality, BBC refuses to show Gaza appeal
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has refused to air a television fund-raising Gaza appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC). It stated such action was taken to "avoid compromising public confidence in its impartiality". "The DEC is an umbrella organisation representing a number of aid agencies, including Action Aid, Save the Children, the British Red Cross, Islamic Relief and Oxfam." "Douglas Alexander, Britain's international development secretary, has written to Mark Thompson, the BBC's director general, as well as the heads of ITV and Sky, the other two British broadcasters who normally air the appeals, urging them to reconsider airing the appeal. "
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has defended its decision not to participate in a television fund-raising appeal for Gaza, saying it did want to avoid compromising public confidence in its impartiality. Normally all broadcasters show Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) appeals without charge, but in a statement on Friday, the BBC said: "Along with other broadcasters, the BBC has decided not to broadcast the DEC's public appeal to raise funds for Gaza. "The BBC's 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 an ongoing news story."DEC 'unhappy': The DEC is an umbrella organisation representing a number of aid agencies, including Action Aid, Save the Children, the British Red Cross, Islamic Relief and Oxfam. The organisation said its members will be providing immediate humanitarian aid, such as medicine, food and blankets, and will be involved in reconstruction in Gaza. Speaking to Al Jazeera, Brendan Gormley, the chief executive of the DEC, said he was unhappy about losing the ability to broadcast the DEC's appeal into people's homes.
He said: "I'm upset because the tradition over the years has been that we collaborate [with the media], and you know yourself the power of the media." He said their appeal was a "a simple and cost effective way" for people to show that they care. "All I can say is if there are journalistic problems with agreeing then that's their call," he said. Gormley said the DEC had three criteria that needed to be met before it launched an appeal, namely that there was an overwhelming unmet need, that they could do something in a timely and effective way, and that there is public concern. Gormley said he felt all three had been met and that any money raised by the DEC would go to people on the ground."A huge amount needs to be done in opening up access. We need a little bit more cash to alleviate suffering. I'm just sorry that we haven't been able to find an agreement," he said. Government appeal: Douglas Alexander, Britain's international development secretary, has written to Mark Thompson, the BBC's director general, as well as the heads of ITV and Sky, the other two British broadcasters who normally air the appeals, urging them to reconsider airing the appeal.
In his letter, Alexander said: "As you know, the support of broadcasters is highly effective and extremely valued by the group of charities and non-governmental organisations who provide humanitarian relief under the DEC umbrella."The situation is developing on the ground and I understand that Oxfam, Save the Children and others have been able to get some aid into Gaza today."But it is clear that the humanitarian situation will be dire for some time to come, with around 100,000 people having left their homes and more than 50,000 people in UN emergency shelters."While I recognise that this is a decision rightly taken by broadcasters, I hope that in light of the great human suffering still taking place in Gaza, you will reconsider your decision in relation to the DEC appeal."
ITV, Channel 4 and Five are to show a charity appeal for Gaza amid a row over the BBC's decision not to run the film. Ministers urged the BBC to recognise "immense human suffering" and show the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal. At least 200 people protested in London at the BBC's decision. The corporation fears compromising its impartiality in covering the Israeli offensive in Gaza. The BBC and other channels previously agreed not to show the appeal. Five now said the issue "transcends politics". Protesters gathered outside the BBC's Broadcasting House in central London on Saturday, and chants of "BBC, shame on you" were heard as a petition was handed in to the corporation. Veteran politician Tony Benn, a speaker at the protest, said: "We can't 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." Mr Benn added: "Before the sun sets in London tonight the BBC will give way." 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 Tel: 0370 60 60 900 or go to DEC website The BBC, ITV and Sky earlier agreed not to air the appeal. An ITV spokesman had said that no consensus could be reached among broadcasters, before announcing on Saturday that it would run the appeal. A Channel 4 statement said: "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." Sky said it was still considering the DEC's request. Channels are due to screen the appeal for the first time on Monday. Welcoming ITV's decision to air the appeal, International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander said: "The DEC appeal is crucial to help alleviate the suffering of people injured, displaced and hungry in Gaza. "I hope that other broadcasters will also reconsider broadcasting the appeal." The Disasters Emergency Committee - an umbrella organisation for several major aid charities - wants to raise funds for people in need of food, shelter and medicines as a result of Israel's military action in the Gaza Strip. Previous DEC appeals shown on multiple TV and radio channels have raised millions of pounds for victims of wars and natural disasters. But BBC director general Mark Thompson said: "After consultation with senior news editors, we concluded that to broadcast a free-standing appeal, no matter how carefully couched, ran the risk of calling into question the public's confidence in the BBC's impartiality in its coverage of the story as a whole." He added: "We will continue to broadcast news about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and, if appropriate, to cover the work of the UK NGOs (non-governmental organisations) on the ground." The BBC's chief operating officer, Caroline Thomson, said: "We've made it clear that we had two concerns, one of which we believe probably has now been met - that the aid is beginning to get through. BBC defends Gaza decision "But the other is that while it remains a matter of great, great controversy, which we are having to report on very extensively in our news bulletins, we do not think it's appropriate to give our airtime over in this way." She added that the BBC's decision would be kept under review. Mr Alexander told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think the British public ... can distinguish between support for humanitarian aid and perceived partiality in a conflict. "I really struggle to see in the face of the immense human suffering of people in Gaza... that this is in any way a credible argument. "They [the BBC] still have time to make a different judgement to recognise the immense human suffering." Shadow international development secretary Andrew Mitchell said it was "clearly a decision for the BBC and other broadcasters " whether they showed the appeal. But the Conservatives believed it should be played to allow the public to make up their own minds about the appeal, he said. Liberal Democrat media spokesman Don Foster said the BBC's "disgraceful" decision must be reversed. "It is unbelievable that the BBC claims to know better than either the government or the 12 major charities that form the DEC about whether aid can get through," he added. 'Undue interference' In a letter to the BBC director general on Saturday, BBC Trust chairman Michael Lyons expressed concern that the "level and tone" of some of the political comment was "coming close to constituting undue interference in the editorial independence of the BBC". He assured Mr Thompson that the Trust would "do everything in our power to ensure that you are given the space to make the editorial decisions you feel, after due consideration, are right in the circumstances". Geoffrey Dennis, chief executive of the global humanitarian group Care International, said it was not a time for politics. "As far as being impartial is concerned, that's our job... we know exactly what we are doing on the ground, there are a lot of people in real danger at the moment," he said."