BBC defends decision on Gaza aid plea

The World

LISA MULLINS: The fallout from the conflict in Gaza has now landed on the doorstep of the BBC. The BBC is one of our production partners for this program. Britain’s public broadcaster is fending off criticism about its refusal to air on its TV stations an appeal for aid to Palestinians. A coalition of groups including Oxfam and the Red Cross produced the fundraising appeal, and it’s airing on some commercial stations tonight. The World’s Laura Lynch reports.

LAURA LYNCH: The BBC’s decision has led to protests outside its offices. Criticism is coming from many corners including government ministers, opposition politicians, an archbishop in the Church of England, and thousands of members of the public. But the man in charge of the BBC, Mark Thompson, isn’t backing down. The humanitarian appeal will not air.

MARK THOMPSON: Everyone is struck by the human consequences of what happened and we will, I promise you, continue to report that as fully and as compassionately as we can. But we’re going to do it in a way where we can hold it up to scrutiny. It’s our job as journalists.

LYNCH: The director-general says it’s that scrutiny that ensures the BBC’s reputation for impartiality is intact. He fears airing a call for aid could harm that reputation, even if the listeners and viewers are sophisticated enough to know what is BBC programming and what isn’t. It wasn’t an easy sell.

THOMPSON: I believe that many members of the public certainly could understand the distinction. However, the fact that the BBC had decided to broadcast such an appeal might nonetheless make them believe that the BBC was sympathetic to or was taking some…

LYNCH: The pressure is building. Even though later today, another outlet, Sky News, said it is also refusing to run the appeal. More than 50 members of Parliament, including Labor MP Richard Burden, are now trying to pass a motion urging both broadcasters to back down.

RICHARD BURDEN: I just do not see why they are saying that if they’re prepared to broadcast appeals from aid charities in relation to Congo or Darfur, where you’ve got children traumatized by war, why suddenly it should be unacceptable to broadcast appeals by the same aid charities for children traumatized by war in Gaza.

LYNCH: The charities caught in the middle of this also want the broadcast to go ahead. But they’re well aware that the debate over whether to air it has the potential to generate the very publicity and donations they so desperately want. Robin Greenwood is with Christian Aid.

ROBIN GREENWOOD: We are delighted that so many people are supporting. We wish it could be more. Our interest is not in keeping pressure on the BBC. Our interest is in relieving the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza.

LYNCH: The BBC has long been a target of those who support Israel or the Palestinians, both sides accusing the broadcaster of bias. This controversy suggests there’s little it can do to escape the critics no matter what it does or doesn’t do. For The World, I’m Laura Lynch, in London.

MULLINS: You can see videos of aid appeals the BBC agreed to broadcast in the past. They are at

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