U.K. Refusal To Air Gaza Appeal Criticized

A political row has broken out in Britain over plans by some of the country's major charities to broadcast an appeal on behalf of victims of the conflict in Gaza. The broadcasters say they are concerned that they might appear to be seen as taking sides in the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The conflict in Gaza has created a political feud between two British TV networks and a group of leading humanitarian organizations. The charities want to broadcast a two-minute appeal for donations on behalf of victims of the war. Both the BBC and a satellite channel called Sky News have refused to put it on the air. They say it would compromise their impartiality as they cover the conflict between Israel and Hamas. NPR's Rob Gifford reports from London.

ROB GIFFORD: Thirteen of Britain's main charities including the Red Cross, Oxfam, and Save the Children constitute the Disasters Emergency Committee, or DEC. The committee has raised up to $30 million in the past in a series of urgent appeals to the British public for a variety of countries.

The DEC had asked broadcasters to air an appeal during primetime tonight seeking donations for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, but the BBC has declined to show the appeal. Mark Thompson is the BBC's director general.

Mr. MARK THOMPSON (Director General, BBC): We are passionate about defending the BBC's impartiality. You know, we do want to cover the humanitarian story. We want to cover it in our news programs where we can put it in context. We can do it in an even, carefully, carefully balanced, objective way. And we worry about being seen to endorse, you know, something which could give people the impression that we were backing one side.

GIFFORD: Thompson denied his arm had been twisted, as he put it, by pro-Israel lobbyists. The BBC was joined in its decision not to broadcast by a satellite channel Sky News, but three other domestic British networks said they would broadcast the film.

Most of the public's anger, though, has been directed at the publicly funded BBC with 11,000 viewers registering complaints. Nearly 60 politicians are backing a motion in parliament urging the corporation to reverse its decision. Richard Burden is one of them. He says the BBC has aired appeals for victims of other conflicts.

Mr. RICHARD BURDEN (Member of Parliament, Labor Party, United Kingdom): If what Mark Thompson and the BBC management are saying is that they don't want to broadcast this appeal because it's controversial, then I would completely disagree with that. But that, I guess, would be an honest position.

But what they're saying is that they don't want to broadcast it because they want to retain their impartiality. What they seem to be saying is that impartiality means treating suffering children in Gaza different from suffering children in Congo or Darfur.

GIFFORD: But supporters of the BBC say that aid sent to Gaza is a particularly sensitive and political issue, not least because its distribution could be controlled by Hamas which runs the territory. The Middle East conflict is especially sensitive for the BBC, which has in the past been criticized for being too pro-Palestinian in its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Adrian Lovett of Save the Children said his charity and the others involved were deeply disappointed by the BBC and Sky News' decision.

Mr. ADRIAN LOVETT (Director of Campaigns and Communications, Save the Children): Whatever the - what we acknowledge are deeply complicated issues around this crisis, at the heart of it are 400,000 people today without running water, 50,000 people who are homeless today, raw sewage running down the streets, and children who tell us on the ground in Gaza that they are afraid, that they're traumatized. And they are deeply vulnerable. And those are the children that we're there to help.

GIFFORD: A number of senior politicians and even the archbishop of Canterbury have joined in criticizing the BBC. The archbishop of York, John Sentamu, said the BBC should consider humanity first and show the television appeal. Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.

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