LONDON (AP) — British government ministers and opposition politicians criticized the BBC on Saturday for refusing to show a charity fundraising appeal for Palestinians in the war-hit Gaza strip.
The national broadcaster said it had rejected the ad because showing it might harm the BBC’s reputation for impartiality and because it could not be sure humanitarian aid would reach the needy in the chaotic territory.
Britain’s main private broadcasters also initially turned down the ad, but on Saturday ITV and Channel 4 changed their minds and said they would show it. Another major broadcaster, Sky, said it had yet to decide. Qatar-based Al-Jazeera said it would show the commercial on its English network, which is available on satellite TV in Britain.
The BBC has given free air time to previous appeals by the Disasters Emergency Committee, an umbrella for groups including the Red Cross, Oxfam and Save the Children. The appeals have raised millions of pounds (dollars) for victims of war and natural disaster in Congo, Myanmar and elsewhere.
BBC director-general Mark Thompson said the Gaza crisis was different because it was “an ongoing and highly controversial news story.” He said the BBC had decided “that to broadcast a freestanding appeal, no matter how carefully couched, ran the risk of calling into question the public’s confidence in the BBC’s impartiality in its coverage of the story as a whole.”
International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander said the BBC had made the wrong decision. He called on it to reconsider, “to recognize 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.”
Health minister Ben Bradshaw called the BBC’s decision inexplicable and accused the publicly funded broadcaster of being cowed by the Israeli government.
“I am afraid the BBC has to stand up to the Israeli authorities occasionally,” Bradshaw said.
Both main opposition parties, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, called on broadcasters to show the ad.
“We believe that they should allow the broadcast to proceed so that the British public, who have proved themselves so generous during recent emergencies in the Congo and Burma, can make their own judgment on the validity of the appeal,” said Andrew Mitchell, the Conservatives’ international development spokesman.
Several hundred demonstrators gathered outside a BBC building in central London Saturday to protest Israel’s military action against the Palestinian territory. Almost 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the three-week attack that began Dec. 27.