I oppose the BBC’s decision on the DEC appeal for Gaza for three main reasons. Here they are in order of importance:
1. The immediate concern. Fellow humans. It is a humanitarian appeal, not a political action. There is a clear difference. As someone who thinks Israel is right to take appropriate military action against Hamas, I think it is important to do whatever we can to ease the suffering of those caught in the middle of a war. We are not all Hamas, and neither are Palestinians.
2. The long-term. A BBC spokesperson in the early days of this controversy mentioned that other charity appeals had been turned down in the past because they were controversial areas. I think Iraq and Afghanistan were both mentioned. I have attempted to find the exact words of this spokesperson since, but cannot find the interview online (I think it was on the Today programme). However, the point that DEC appeals have been turned down for similar reasons is made by Mark Thompson:
When we have turned down DEC appeals in the past on impartiality grounds it has been because of this risk of giving the public the impression that the BBC was taking sides in an ongoing conflict.
If, for example, an appeal to Afghanistan has been turned down because it is deemed controversial by a certain section of the community, who might see it as BBC support for the UK government’s involvement in Afghanistan, then that is equally lamentable. So when George Pitcher (disgusted by Israel), ordained priest and religion editor at the Telegraph, says:
Would the BBC decline to show an appeal for the suffering refugees of Darfur, because it might compromise its impartiality between the Janjaweed militants and the Sudanese Liberation Army? Would it refuse an appeal for the people of Iraq, because it might look like it’s critical of those who caused their plight? Would the BBC prevaricate over an appeal for a monument to Gayle Williams, the aid worker murdered by the Taliban in Kabul, because it might look like it was taking sides in Afghanistan?
Of course not. The fact is that the BBC is just more intimidated by Israel.
He is probably wrong. It may well be the case that far less controversial appeals have been turned down by the BBC. The previous appeals turned down should be made public, and the BBC Trust should question the BBC’s management about how such decisions should be made. Where does the balance lie between the competing risks that supporting such appeals might damage the BBC’s independence and impartiality, and that not running such appeals might damage its reputation and values?
3. The effect. The BBC’s decision has clearly made a non-political humanitarian appeal into a political issue, which is damaging both the BBC, and Israel. It plays into conspiracy theorists hands, who see the baleful influence of “Zionists” in the decision. Even comments made by mainstream politicians have argued pressure from Israel influenced the BBC. In seeking to avoid accusations of impartiality, they have given the opening to people who suggest that the BBC is under the control of external influences. Here’s Tony Benn:
Mr Benn told the Today programme: “I never thought I would live to see (the BBC) refuse to broadcast a humanitarian appeal on the grounds that it was controversial. I know why it is – because (Tzipi) Livni, the Israeli Foreign Minister, has said there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
I do not consider the issue of aid getting into the hands of Hamas a concern. In fact, the danger is the aid coming from Hamas.
Hamas has said that it will begin distributing emergency payments of €4,000 to those who have lost homes, and has already been handing out coupons for food as well as aid, some of it seized from foreign and international donors.