London, Asharq Al-Awsat- The British Broadcasting Corporation, “BBC”, officials found themselves during the past two days at the centre of a media storm because of its decision not to broadcast an appeal from British relief societies to collect contributions for Gaza.
A “BBC” spokesman stressed that its stand continued to be the refusal to broadcast the advertisement despite the appeals from prominent British figures like Douglas Alexander, the international development secretary, and Shahid Malik, the minister of state for justice. The spokesman said in response to Asharq Al-Awsat queries “our stand has not changed” and referred to the message explaining the decision from “BBC” Director General Mark Thompson which was published on its website. Thompson said in his message that the reason for his decision “was the concern that the aid will reach those needing it on the ground” and added that “the second main reason is the need to place all issues within an objective and balanced framework.” He added that a broadcast of the appeal “will risk reduce the public’s confidence in the BBC’s impartiality in its wider coverage of the news.”
But Thompson’s explanation did not persuade those opposing this decision. The “BBC” spokesman said the corporation received as of yesterday afternoon 10,000 complaints about its decision by e-mail and 1,000 complaints by telephone. Minister Malik said in a statement that the “BBC” decision “is really tragic”, adding “that in a wrong attempt to appear impartial, the BBC looks totally the opposite.”
More than 50 British deputies are expected to present to parliament a motion to demand from the “BBC” to broadcast the appeal for Gaza. Labour Deputy Richard Burden collected 51 signatures by last night for the petition on the Gaza campaign, saying the reasons behind the “BBC’s” decision “are not convincing.” He added in a statement that “this is not about taking (political) sides in the conflict. It is about providing help to people in desperate need” and “everyone recognizes this, even the government. The BBC is the only one that has a problem understanding this.”
On her part, Shahista Aziz, the spokeswoman for the “Disasters Emergency Committee”, known as the “DEC”, said “it is the BBC’s decision but we rely on the British people’s generosity to give the necessary help on the ground.” She added in a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat: “The organizations we represent operate in the field in Gaza but the funds have started to diminish and we therefore decided to launch this appeal.” She added that “we do not want to interfere in the “BBC” decisions and the media coverage of its decision has helped spread awareness about our appeal.” Aziz asserted that the “BBC’s” competitor channels like the British “ITV” and Channels 4 and 5, all of them private ones, decided to screen the appeal despite their initial refusal following the “BBC” decision. The appeals will be aired tonight after British newspapers started to publish the national campaign before two days.
It is recalled that the “BBC” decision not to broadcast the appeal breaches an agreement between the British media and “DEC” (which was established in 1963) to broadcast and publish free advertisements to collect contributions for a disaster the DEC believes needs extraordinary support. In the past, the “BBC” broadcast appeals for contributions for Congo and Burma. The “DEC” announced last Thursday its appeal to the British people to contribute so as to “alleviate the desperate suffering of those harmed by the conflict in Gaza.” Brendan Gormley, the British committee’s executive director, said “the extent of the damage in the Gaza territories prompted the British relief agencies into taking action.” He explained in a statement: “We are not proposing to reconstruct Gaza. This is not our role. But with supporting the people, we can help with the short-term needs.” He stressed that the agencies do not interfere politically in the situation in Gaza.
Archbishop of York John Sentamu, the second highest ranking member in the Anglican Church, was among those demanding from the “BBC” to back down on its decision and said: “It is not an appeal for weapons from Hamas but an appeal from the DEC for help.” By rejecting this demand, the “BBC” does actually side with one of the two sides and abandons its impartiality.
The appeal from DEC, which includes the largest British charities like Oxfam and Red Cross, aims to alleviate what International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander called “massive suffering” in the Gaza Strip and demanded from the “BBC” to help enlighten the British people about the need for contributions. The British “Observer” newspaper criticized the “BBC” in an editorial yesterday under the headline “The BBC Is Wrong.”