Anger at BBC for not airing Gaza fundraiser

The BBC is facing severe criticism over its refusal to broadcast a humanitarian appeal for the victims in Gaza. Thousands of people have taken to the streets, and more than 120 MPs have signed a motion denouncing the move.
bbc demonstration
A demonstration outside BBC headquarters in London. © EPA

BEIRUT, January 27, 2009 (MENASSAT) — The BBC claims that the Gaza emergency appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), an umbrella group which includes the British Red Cross and Oxfam, would put the government-funded channel at risk of "undermining our impartiality."

"It is to protect that impartiality that we have made this difficult decision," BBC director-general Mark Thompson said on Saturday.

The BBC also doubted whether emergency supplies could be delivered efficiently in the densely populated Strip, where over 1,300 Palestinians were killed during the three-week Israeli offensive, Operation Cast Lead.

In previous appeals, the station has provided the Disasters Emergency Committee with free airtime, helping to raise millions of dollars for victims of war and natural disasters in places like Congo and Myanmar.

Monday marked the first time in the 46-year history of the DEC that one of its emergency aid appeals was aired without the support of the BBC.

SKY News, the BBC's main rival, also refused to broadcast the appeal.

Not about the rights and wrongs

The two-minute fundraising appeal was broadcast on the British channels ITV and Channel Four and Five on Monday night before the evening news.

"The children of Gaza are suffering. Many are struggling to survive. Homeless and in need of food and water. Today, this is not about the rights and wrongs of the conflict. These people simply need your help," a narrator said as images of children in Gaza flickered across the screen.

Before the broadcast, the DEC had already raised £600,000 (US$850,000). Donations rose to £1m (US$1.4m) after the appeal aired.

The BBC's decision has met with stark criticism from the public: in the past week, several demonstrations were staged outside the BBC's headquarters in central London.

But British politicians too found fault with the BBC's decison.

More than 120 British MPs have supported a parliamentary motion stating that they are "astonished" by the BBC's decision and referring to the BBC's rationale behind its refusal as "unconvincing and incoherent."

Another motion calls on "Sky and the BBC to reverse their decision and broadcast the campaign, publicising the details of the DEC appeal and the means whereby members of the public may donate to it."

Government ministers also stepped into the fray with Health Minister Ben Bradshaw, a former BBC journalist, saying it was "an inexplicable decision" and that the reasons given were "completely feeble."

BBC staff silenced

The International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander also urged the broadcasters to reconsider this decision in light of what he called "the great human suffering still taking place in Gaza."

Even the Anglican Church joined the debate.

"My feeling is that the BBC should broadcast an appeal," the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said on Saturday.

The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, emphasized the humanitarian aspect of the appeal.

"This is not an appeal by Hamas asking for arms but by the Disasters Emergency Committee asking for relief. By declining their request, the BBC has already taken sides and forsaken impartiality," he said.

The BBC itself has reportedly received over 11,000 complaints for not airing the appeal.

Some of the corporation's own staff has also reacted over the decision, with sources reporting "widespread disgust" within the BBC newsrooms.

BBC staff are reported as saying that they have been told that if they speak out on the issue they will be fired.