Sunday, January 25, 2009

BBC crisis over refusal to broadcast Gaza appeal.

The BBC have often been accused of being anti-Israel so I have some sympathy for the situation they now find themselves in, where people are lining up to accuse them of "taking sides" in the Israel/Palestine dispute because they refused to broadcast a charity appeal to help the stricken people of Gaza rebuild their homes.

The corporation's director general, Mark Thompson, was left isolated as rival broadcasters ITV and Channel 4 agreed to put out the plea for aid made jointly by 13 British charities. The BBC has decided the broadcast of the appeal might be seen as evidence of bias on a highly sensitive political issue.

The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, has accused the broadcaster of "taking sides". He said yesterday: "This is not a row about impartiality but rather about humanity.

"This situation is akin to that of British military hospitals who treat prisoners of war as a result of their duty under the Geneva convention. They do so because they identify need rather than cause. 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 archbishop added.

Communities secretary Hazel Blears said: "The BBC's decision should not discourage the public from donating to this important appeal. I sincerely hope the BBC will urgently review its decision."

The BBC's unrepentant stance has stirred up rebellion in the ranks of it own reporters and editors. One senior BBC news presenter told the Observer: "I've been talking to colleagues and everyone here is absolutely seething about this. The notion that the decision to ban the appeal will seem impartial to the public at large is quite absurd.

"Most of us feel that the BBC's defence of its position is pathetic, and there's a feeling of real anger - made worse by the fact that contractually we are unable to speak out."

Jon Snow, the journalist who presents Channel 4 news, said the BBC should have been prepared to accept the judgment of the aid experts of the DEC. "It is a ludicrous decision. That is what public service broadcasting is for. I think it was a decision founded on complete ignorance and I am absolutely amazed they have stuck to it."

Snow said he suspected a BBC bureaucrat had "panicked" and he called upon Mark Thompson to put the situation right. Martin Bell, the former BBC foreign correspondent, said the BBC should admit it had made a mistake. He claimed "a culture of timidity had crept" into the corporation. "I am completely appalled," he said. "It is a grave humanitarian crisis and the people who are suffering are children. They have been caught out on this question of balance."

I agree that the decision was utterly wrong and that "a culture of timidity ha[s] crept" into the organisation, but there really is a dreadful hypocrisy being displayed here.

Every time the BBC report what is taking place in the occupied territories, they are accused of displaying an anti-Israeli bias, simply due to the fact that there is no way to report on what is taking place there that shows the Israelis in anything other than an awful light.

So can we be surprised that the BBC, anxious to appear even handed, has actually found itself bending too far in the other direction and appearing to be indifferent to the Palestinians and their plight?

I have written before of how the BBC leans towards the Israelis in this dispute in an attempt to stave off criticism, but the criticism of the BBC's coverage of this dispute never seems to stop.

The London Times even greeted the news that the BBC was bending it's views towards the Israelis with the headline, "The BBC pro-Israeli? Is the Pope Jewish?"

So, wrong as this decision is, can we be surprised that the BBC has reacted to the constant claims that is anti-Israel by leaning too far in the opposite direction?

I really hope that the BBC reverse this dumb decision and decide to do whatever they can to help the stricken people of Gaza, but I have sympathy with the fact that the constant attacks upon them have led them to this present quagmire.

The charge of antisemitism is a very powerful one, which is why Israel's supporters use it, and it is not remotely surprising that - in order to appear above such a charge - the BBC should find itself leaning too far in the opposite direction.

The actual blame here should be directed towards the people who immediately equate any criticism of Israel with antisemitism.


Good on Tony Benn for simply refusing to go along with this nonsense.

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