By GEORGE JAHN
January 28, 2009
VIENNA, Austria (AP) — The Nobel Peace Prize-winning head of the U.N. nuclear agency announced Wednesday that he was canceling interviews with the BBC over its refusal to air an appeal for victims of the Gaza conflict, adding an influential voice to a storm of criticism over the network's decision.
Mohamed ElBaradei said the BBC had violated "the rules of basic human decency" by not airing the appeal, which Britain's publicly funded broadcaster said would have damaged its impartiality in coverage of the conflict.
ElBaradei's outspokenness on the issue is unusual for the head of a U.N agency whose mandate has nothing to do with the Middle East or humanitarian issues but it is in keeping with his record.
The Egyptian-born diplomat, whose third and final term ends this year, has come under criticism from the U.S, and some other IAEA member nations in the past for comments on Iran, Iraq or other nations under examination for possible violations of nonproliferation commitments that they viewed as exceeding the agency's authority by straying from strictly technical issues.
ElBaradei's office said ElBaradei had canceled scheduled interviews with BBC radio and World
Service television because he believes the broadcaster's refusal to air the appeal "violates the rules of basic human decency which are there to help vulnerable people irrespective of who is right or wrong."
His protest follows growing criticism of the BBC decision in Britain with lawmakers saying that more than 110 of their colleagues have endorsed motions criticizing the BBC's decision to keep the Gaza appeal off the air.
Sky News has joined BBC in deciding not to carry the charity appeal, but much of the criticism has focused on BBC because of its publicly funded status.
The BBC said the network regretted ElBaradei's decision and "audiences around the world remain interested in what he has to say about a range of topics and we hope he will do an interview at another time."
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown refused to intervene in the controversy, telling the House of Commons Wednesday that "It is not for us to interfere with the independence of the BBC and of Sky."
Despite the inability to get exposure on BBC and Sky News, the aid agencies behind the appeal say they have been able to raise 1 million pounds ($1.4 million) for Palestinians in Gaza.
Among them are the Red Cross, Oxfam, and Save the Children. In the past they have raised money for victims of war, famine and natural disaster, with the help of broadcasters like BBC and Sky News.
The Gaza appeal, which was shown on several television stations Monday night and has since been placed on the Internet, shows crying and wounded children seeking help in the chaos of Gaza.
"These people simply need your help," intones a solemn male voiceover as the images portray the impact of three weeks of intense fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in Gaza. The fighting killed more than 1200 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.
Some of the images show elderly Palestinian women crying as they stand on the rubble-filled spot where their homes used to stand.
The narrator, who is not identified, describes how the sewer system has collapsed, leading to serious public health risks, and describes the hospitals as overwhelmed and under-equipped. He adds that a donation of just 25 pounds ($35) would provide blankets for eight children.
"Please donate now," the appeal concludes, offering detailed instructions on how to send money.
The Israeli government has tried to stay out of the fray, declining to take a position on whether the broadcast should be shown.
*Associated Press writer Gregory Katz contributed to this report from London.