Page last updated at 10:19 GMT, Sunday, 25 January 2009

BBC resisting pressure over Gaza

A Palestinian man
The DEC appeal is due to be broadcast for the first time on Monday

The BBC is continuing to resist pressure over its decision not to air an appeal for aid to Gaza, as the Archbishop of York joined its critics.

Rival channels ITV, Channel 4 and Five have now agreed to show the DEC appeal.

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

But Dr John Sentamu said it was "not a row about impartiality but rather about humanity".

In a statement, he said: "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."

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
Information on 0370 60 60 900 or at DEC website

BBC Trust chairman Michael Lyons has voiced concerns over political interference in the BBC's editorial independence, after a number of politicians publicly criticised the move.

The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) appeal will be screened for the first time on Monday.

In a blog message on the BBC website explaining the decision, Mark Thompson said: "Inevitably an appeal would use pictures which are the same or similar to those we would be using in our news programmes but would do so with the objective of encouraging public donations.

"The danger for the BBC is that this could be interpreted as taking a political stance on an ongoing story."

Rally arrests

He stressed the corporation would "continue to cover the human side of the conflict in Gaza extensively across our news services where we can place all of the issues in context in an objective and balanced way".

He also cited another reason for the decision as "concern about whether aid raised by the appeal could actually be delivered on the ground".

We can't ignore suffering in the interests of what the BBC call impartiality
Tony Benn

Andrew Hind, chief executive of the Charity Commission, which regulates UK-registered charities, said all the leading agencies in the DEC have said they can deliver.

"That is not an issue for them," he said. "Oxfam, Save the Children, Islamic Relief are 100% confident they can convert aid and donations from the public into meaningful help to all those people in desperate need."

He urged the BBC to reconsider and said the work of the agencies would be hampered if they did not receive "maximum public support".

Earlier on Saturday, police said at least 2,000 protesters gathered outside the BBC's Broadcasting House in central London before handing in a petition to the corporation.

There were seven arrests at the rally.

Earlier, ITV and Sky had been in agreement with the BBC that they would not air the appeal. But ITV later reversed its decision.

Sky says it is still considering the Disasters Emergency Committee's request.

The DEC - 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.

'Humanitarian needs'

International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander said the British public could "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," he added.

BBC's chief operating officer Caroline Thomson defends the veto

Shadow international development secretary Andrew Mitchell said it was "clearly a decision for the BBC and other broadcasters " whether they showed the appeal.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said it was an "insult" to the viewing public to suggest they could not distinguish between humanitarian needs and political sensitivities.

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr show, he said: "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 of the BBC totally getting its priorities upside down."

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 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".

BBC political correspondent Gary O'Donoghue said the corporation was facing "quite a lot of pressure", but its position had been shored up "a little bit" by the Trust's move.

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