Page last updated at 21:26 GMT, Monday, 26 January 2009

MPs call on BBC to air Gaza film

Pro-Palestinian protestors demonstrate outside the BBC in central London

A Commons motion criticising the BBC and Sky for refusing to broadcast a plea for humanitarian aid funding for Gaza has been backed by 112 MPs.

The Disasters Emergency Committee's Gaza Crisis Appeal was screened on Monday by ITV, Channel 4 and Five.

The BBC's explanation that airing the film would threaten its impartiality was described by Labour MP Richard Burden's motion as "unconvincing".

Meanwhile, protests over the issue have taken place at BBC Broadcasting House.

Around 20 campaigners from the Stop the War Coalition walked into the lobby of the central London building with a large banner proclaiming Hands off Gaza.

They were removed by police before continuing a noisy protest outside, during which some of them set fire to their television licences.

A Palestinian woman and her child
Viewers and listeners can see the difference between a humanitarian appeal and politics
Richard Burden MP

Mr Burden tabled the Early Day Motion - used by MPs to demonstrate parliamentary support for particular causes - after Sky announced it was joining the BBC in refusing to show the appeal.

John Ryley, head of Sky News, said that broadcasting the film would be "incompatible" with its objective role.

"Our commitment as journalists is to cover all sides of that story with uncompromising objectivity," he added.

This echoed BBC director general Mark Thompson's concern that the corporation should not give the impression it was "backing one side" over the other.

But Mr Burden said such arguments had been shown to be "more unconvincing and contradictory as time has gone on", claiming the BBC had broadcast appeals from other war zones.

"The fact that well over 100 MPs from different parties have signed this Commons motion shows the breadth of concern about the position which the BBC and Sky are taking," he said.

"Viewers and listeners can see the difference between a humanitarian appeal and politics - even if the BBC and Sky management cannot."

PREVIOUS DEC REFUSALS
East Africa 2006: Famine appeal rejected by BBC because of difficulties of access
Lebanon 2006: BBC refused to air appeal for Israel-Hezbollah conflict victims on grounds of impartiality
Burma 2008: Appeal was only broadcast once BBC was satisfied aid would reach victims

Mr Burden's motion will be published on Tuesday morning, adding to the intense pressure the BBC faces over its decision not to air the appeal.

The corporation has come under fire from archbishops, government ministers, charity leaders and 11,000 viewers.

The Disasters Emergency Committee, which represents more than a dozen aid agencies, is appealing for money to buy food, medicine and blankets following the Israeli assault on Gaza.

A string of politicians, including International Secretary Douglas Alexander, Communities Secretary Hazel Blears and opposition spokesmen, have urged the corporation to reconsider its position.

Their comments drew criticism from BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons who said some were "coming close to constituting undue interference in the editorial independence of the BBC".

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

His view was backed by John Whittingdale MP, chairman of the Commons culture select committee, while Foreign Secretary David Miliband also said the decision had to rest with broadcasters.

Shadow culture minister Ed Vaizey said the BBC was right to be cautious, adding: "The BBC very rarely, if ever, broadcasts an appeal from a war zone."

The Church of England had waded into the row, with the Archbishop of York appealing for the BBC to consider humanity, not impartiality, and show the film.

The UN Relief and Works Agency, the largest humanitarian organisation working in Gaza, said there was a "huge and overwhelming need" for aid.

It described the situation as a "political crisis with grave humanitarian consequences" and estimated the cost of "rehabilitation and repair" at $345m (257m), with two-thirds currently unfunded.

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