BBC bans Gaza aid ad

February 4, 2009

"People will die because of the BBC decision. Let me be clear about that. … It is capitulating to Israeli pressure", Stop the War Coalition (StWC) president and retired Labour politician Tony Benn told BBC on January 24.

BBC has become the target of mass resentment after refusing to broadcast a Gaza charity appeal.

SKY also refused to broadcast the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) program. ITV has since reversed its decision and has broadcast the appeal.

DEC is made up of 13 mainstream aid agencies, including British Red Cross, Oxfam, Christian Aid, Save the Children, CAFOD, Islamic Relief and ActionAid.

Similar DEC-initiated programs have been aired raising millions of dollars for humanitarian aid to people in the Congo and Burma.

Aid money is desperately needed in Gaza. As United Nations Relief and Works Agency spokesperson Chris Gunness told BBC Radio 4: "We are massively underfunded, and I think the figures [involved] illustrate the sheer scale of the need involved here."

The decision not to screen the appeal has sparked anger across British society. A motion in the House of Commons criticising the BBC and SKY for their decision had, by January 26, been backed by 112 MPs. It is also believed the BBC has received more than 10,000 protest letters.

Several actors have refused to appear on the BBC following the decision.

One hundred and fifty people joined a four-hour occupation of BBC offices in Glasgow on January 25, and other rallies have been held at the BBC London offices, according to the British Socialist Worker.

Archbishop of York John Sentamu was reported by as saying: "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."

The BBC and SKY have defended their decision on the basis of impartiality.

BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons went as far as saying that the comments from some politicians on the issue come close to "undue interference" in the BBC's editorial independence.

John Ryley, SKY News head, explained, "The absolute impartiality of our output is fundamental to Sky News and its journalism … 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."

StWC is organising a "mass return" of TV licenses to the BBC for people who were angered by the corporation's continuing refusal to broadcast the appeal.

"A number of Stop the War's supporters have already informed us that they have written to the BBC saying they have cancelled their direct debit for their TV license", a statement says.

"Reports say that the vast majority of BBC staff are outraged by the blocking of the Gaza appeal. There is now virtually unanimous agreement across the full spectrum of opinion in Britain that the BBC management must reverse its disgraceful decision."

The case exposes the shocking lie of journalistic "impartiality". Over the last month we have seen a shift in the media's coverage of Palestine. Israeli and US spokespeople are being exposed and atrocities are being reported in a way that is yet to happen to the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This has come as a direct result of public pressure.

Ultimately, the decision by BBC and SKY shows that they have failed to keep up with public opinion and draw the conclusions that many of their viewers have already reached.

It is this failure that has and will continue to lead many to join the fight for a new kind of media that says "never again" to a media that, in the interests of "impartiality" fails to take a stand and defend the disadvantaged.

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