Page last updated at 05:22 GMT, Saturday, 24 January 2009

Protest over BBC Gaza appeal veto

Broadcasting House
A protest is due to be held outside of Broadcasting House

A protest is to be held outside the BBC's London HQ over its refusal to broadcast a charity appeal for Gaza.

The BBC says it cannot show the appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee because it does not want to compromise its commitment to impartiality.

But health minister Ben Bradshaw, a former BBC journalist, said it was "an inexplicable decision" and that the reasons given were "completely feeble".

Veteran politician Tony Benn will be at the protest at Broadcasting House.

The Disasters Emergency Committee - an umbrella organisation for several major aid charities - wanted to run TV and radio appeals to help raise funds for people in need of food, shelter and medicines as a result of Israel's military action in the Palestinian area.

I'm afraid the BBC has to stand up to the Israeli authorities occasionally

Ben Bradshaw
Health minister

ITV and Sky have also said they will not show the appeal, with an ITV spokesman saying that no consensus could be reached.

The government has already asked the BBC to reconsider its position.

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

But BBC Director-General Mark Thompson wrote back saying the appeal might jeopardise the public's confidence in the BBC's impartiality.

The BBC's chief operating officer, Caroline Thomson, said it had to be "very careful" over the broadcast of such appeals.


"It's important to remember that broadcasting appeals like this is a unique thing we do," she said.

"And we have to be very clear about two things when we do it - firstly, that that money will go to the people it's intended for.

"But secondly, that we can do it within our own editorial principles and without affecting and impinging on the audience's perception of our impartiality.

"And clearly - in conflicts as controversial as this - that is a real issue for us."

Mr Bradshaw said the BBC's reasoning was flawed.

"First, the one about delivery - the British government is giving 25m to Gazan relief, we don't have a problem getting it in. There's no reason why there should be any problem getting the relief in.

"Secondly, this nervousness about being biased. I'm afraid the BBC has to stand up to the Israeli authorities occasionally."

Mr Benn will address the pro-Palestinian rally called by the Stop the War Coalition, and is expected to say the BBC's refusal is a "betrayal" of its obligations.

'Disgraceful decision'

Mr Benn will say: "The decision of the BBC to refuse to broadcast a national humanitarian appeal for Gaza, which has left aid agencies with a potential shortfall of millions of pounds in donations, is a betrayal of the obligation which it owes as a public service.

"To deny the help that the aid agencies and the UN need at this moment in time is incomprehensible and it follows the bias in BBC reporting of this crisis, which has been widely criticised.

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

"I appeal to the chairman of the BBC Trust to intervene to reverse this decision to save the lives of those who are now in acute danger of dying through a lack of food, fuel, water and medical supplies."

Mohammed Sawalha, president of the British Muslim Initiative, said turning down the appeal was a "disgraceful decision".

He added: "The BBC should be ashamed for its coverage of the Israeli aggression which failed to address the catastrophic suffering on the Palestinian side, and now it's concerned about its impartiality.

"Never was the BBC impartial throughout this crisis".

Following Mr Benn's speech, the demonstrators intend to march to Trafalgar Square via Downing Street.

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