Page last updated at 16:53 GMT, Monday, 26 January 2009

Reaction in BBC Gaza appeal row

A Gaza sign
The BBC's decision not to broadcast an appeal has proved controversial

The BBC's decision not to air a charity appeal for aid to Gaza has come in for fierce criticism.

Director general Mark Thompson has said by airing the appeal the BBC would risk reducing public confidence in its impartial coverage of the conflict.

Sky News has similarly declined to show the appeal, also citing incompatibility with its objective coverage of the conflict in Gaza.

Politicians have urged a review of the BBC's decision, and a crowd of 2,000 protested outside the BBC's London HQ.

MARK THOMPSON, BBC DIRECTOR GENERAL

We are passionate about defending the BBC's impartiality and we worry with such an emotive and such a political story - the United Nations this morning describing it as a political crisis with humanitarian consequences.

We do want to cover the humanitarian story, we want to cover it in our news programmes where we can put it in context, we can do it in an even, carefully balanced, objective way.

We worry about being seen to endorse something which could give people the impression that we were backing one side.

ANDY BURNHAM, CULTURE SECRETARY

These are difficult judgements for all broadcasters, but particularly so for the BBC because of the way it is funded.

I am pleased this appeal will now be shown, that other broadcasters have decided to do so.

But as the man who does uphold the independence of broadcasters in this country, I think it is right that broadcasters come to their own judgement.

And the fact that Sky are obviously still considering these issues in the balance does demonstrate that for broadcasters that have an international presence, it is a difficult judgement call for them.

JOHN RYLEY, HEAD OF SKY NEWS

The conflict in Gaza forms part of one of the most challenging and contentious stories for any news organisation to cover.

The absolute impartiality of our output is fundamental to Sky News and its journalism.

That is why, after very careful consideration, we have concluded that broadcasting an appeal for Gaza at this time is incompatible with our role in providing balanced and objective reporting of this continuing situation to our audiences in the UK and around the world.

We don't believe that broadcasting such an appeal on Sky News can be combined with the balance and context that impartial journalism aims to bring to the highly charged and continuing conflict in Gaza.

NICK CLEGG, LIBERAL DEMOCRAT LEADER
It's an insult to the viewing public to suggest they can't distinguish between the humanitarian needs of thousands of children and families in Gaza and the political sensitivities of the Middle East.

It's a distinction which anyone can make and to suggest the BBC should somehow not allow people to show their compassion because of the wider controversies in the Middle East is a case, in this instance, of the BBC totally getting its priorities upside down.

ED VAIZEY, SHADOW CULTURE MINISTER
The BBC very rarely, if ever, broadcasts an appeal from a war zone. It didn't do it after the conflict in Lebanon, it didn't do it after the conflict in Georgia, and it hasn't done it - as far as I'm aware - on the Chechnyan conflict.

It's done it from areas where you could argue there's a civil war - like Congo and Rwanda, and of course it's done it for natural disasters. But the trouble with broadcasting an appeal from a war zone, is that there are two sides to the argument - and that's what I think we're seeing here.

That's why I think the BBC should be allowed to make the argument that it wants to preserve its impartiality on the issue.

DOUGLAS ALEXANDER, INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT SECRETARY

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 in Gaza at the moment, that this is in any way a credible argument.

They still have time to make a different judgement, to recognise the immense human suffering and to address the concern - which I think otherwise may develop - that somehow the suffering of people in Gaza is not taken as seriously as the suffering of people in other conflicts.

HAZEL BLEARS, COMMUNITIES SECRETARY

The BBC's decision should not discourage the public from donating to this important appeal. I sincerely hope the BBC will urgently review its decision.

I think the people in our country are really decent people, they're generous and this is about a humanitarian situation here. It's about ordinary people and their families and the people of Britain being asked to do what they can to help.

DR JOHN SENTAMU, ARCHBISHOP OF YORK

This is not a row about impartiality but rather about humanity.

This situation is akin to that of British military hospitals who treat prisoners of war as a result of their duty under the Geneva convention.

They do so because they identify need rather than cause.

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.

SIR MICHAEL LYONS, BBC TRUST CHAIRMAN

In a letter to BBC director general Mark Thompson:

As you explained when you told the Trust of your decision on Wednesday, this is a difficult and complex matter, in which a fine balance has to be struck.

It is your job as editor-in-chief of the BBC to make such decisions and to be held accountable for them.

Our job as Trustees is to give you the space to make such decisions and to protect your ability to do so. The Trust makes no judgment at this point in time on the editorial issues involved.

It would be wrong for us to do as we may, at some future date, have to hear any appeal should complaints be made about your decision.

I am, however, concerned that the level and tone of some of the political comment your decision has attracted is coming close to constituting undue interference in the editorial independence of the BBC.

DAME SUZI LEATHER, CHARITY COMMISSION CHAIR

The need for charitable humanitarian aid in Gaza is desperate.

For the past 45 years the leading international charities operating under the unique alliance of the DEC have shown themselves well able to deliver aid in areas of crisis around the world in an effective and non-partisan way.

It is critical that the broadcasters, the banks, and other organisations do all they can to publicise and support this humanitarian appeal on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of people in desperate and undeniable need in Gaza today.

I call on the BBC to reconsider their decision.

CAROLINE THOMSON, BBC CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER

We've made it clear that we had two concerns.

One of which we believe now probably has now been met - that the aid is now beginning to get through.

But the other is that while it remains a matter of great controversy which we are having to report very extensively in our news bulletins, we do not think it's appropriate to give our airtime over in this way.

That will remain. Obviously we will keep that under review in case the situation changes.

ANDREW MITCHELL, SHADOW INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT SECRETARY

I completely accept that the BBC has independent editorial judgement to exercise on this matter.

But I suggest that the BBC should think again and think very hard.

In recent terrible humanitarian tragedies and crises such as Burma, Congo and Darfur, the DEC appeal has been absolutely pivotal at harnessing the generosity of the British people through to humanitarian relief in these crises, and we need this appeal very badly now and I hope the BBC will think very hard and make the broadcast.

DR SWEE ANG, MEDICAL AID FOR PALESTINIANS, IN GAZA

The need is enormous. The situation now is really terrible. Like many people in the UK I've been watching the footage of the destruction of Gaza and also the blame game.

It's obscene to play the blame game when people are dying and losing their homes.

MARTIN BELL, FORMER BBC CORRESPONDENT

This is not about taking sides at all. This is a humanitarian issue. There have been similar appeals [after] man-made catastrophes in Darfur, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, broadcast by the BBC without any qualms.

What's different this time? It's Palestinians involved so what we seem to be saying is there's one rule for Africans and another for Palestinians. We need a bit of spine-stiffening. I fear a culture of timidity has crept into [the BBC].

JOHN WHITTINGDALE, MEDIA SELECT COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN

This is about a humanitarian issue, but it's terribly difficult to divorce that from the politics. If the BBC decided there was a danger they might be seen to be taking sides... I fully accept they are right to reach that decision.

I don't see a great lobby defending the actions of the Sudanese against the people of Darfur, whereas there are a lot of people who support the Israeli view that they shouldn't go on being attacked from within Gaza.

Just because a large number of people don't agree with [the decision], it doesn't mean it's necessary that the BBC should change their mind. It's very dangerous when you get ministers - members of the cabinet - telling the BBC to do something and reverse a decision.


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