Britain shames BBC over Gaza

Morning Star Online

(Sunday 25 January 2009)

UNITED: Thousands of protesters demonstrating against Israeli terror and the BBC ban on Saturday in Trafalgar Square. pic: INDYMEDIA.ORG.UK

DONATE now – that was the message on Sunday from charities left reeling by a BBC ban on an urgent TV appeal for Gaza.

The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) estimated that the BBC decision could rob up to £10 million in aid from civilians living in medieval conditions following a three-week Israeli bombardment.

But donations were already pouring in as British people showed their contempt for the Beeb’s blatant censorship.

Blistering criticism rained down on the broadcaster from all sides at the weekend after corporation bosses claimed that broadcasting an appeal to raise cash for desperately needed food and medicine “could be interpreted as taking a political stance.”

Chief executive Mark Thompson asserted that BBC “impartiality” could be “compromised” if the appeal went ahead. And the chairman of the corporation’s trustees Michael Lyons claimed that any government criticism of the ban would itself “come close to constituting undue interference in the editorial independence of the BBC.”

But anti-war activists, who staged a mass protest at the Beeb’s London HQ on Saturday, attacked these excuses as “unconvincing and incoherent.”

And rivals ITV, Channel 4 and Five increased the pressure on the state broadcaster on Sunday by pledging to show the DEC broadcast on Monday evening.

Labour MP Richard Burden, who launched an early day motion criticising BBC bosses signed by over 50 MPs, said that “the need to get aid to the people of Gaza is recognised by almost everyone – including the government.

“The BBC seems to be the only one who has a problem seeing this,” he said.

Former minister Tony Benn took his criticism into the TV studios over the weekend, telling a BBC News presenter live on air that “this ban is a betrayal of the BBC obligation to be a public service.”

Dismissing the presenter’s suggestion that aid cash could end up with Hamas, Mr Benn retorted: “Hamas is Palestine’s elected government!”

“People will die because of the BBC,” Mr Benn stormed, before defying corporation executives by telling viewers how to contact the DEC to donate to the appeal.

Government ministers and senior Church of England figures added their condemnation of the ban, with International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander pointing out that “the 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 in Gaza, that this is in any way a credible argument,” he said.

And Britain’s first Muslim minister Shahid Malik warned that the decision would be seen as “one which inflicts still further misery on the beleaguered and suffering people of Gaza.”

Stop the War Coalition activist Chris Nineham dismissed corporation bosses’ claim of trying maintain “impartiality” by highlighting how the ban “proves the BBC is not neutral when it comes to coverage of the Palestinian struggle.”

A spokesman for the DEC, which represents charities including the Red Cross, Islamic Relief and Save The Children, revealed that “£5 to £10 million could be lost” as a result of the BBC ban.

He explained: “We are sure that the three criteria agreed with the BBC for our appeals – that the scale of the disaster is huge, that the aid agencies have the ability to get assistance to those who need it and that there is sufficient public awareness – have been met.

“But the DEC regrets that senior BBC managers do not share this view.”

See also:
Star comment: Blood on the BBC’s hands

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