Monday 26 January 2009
Broadcasting unions have branded the BBC's decision not to air the Gaza humanitarian aid appeal as "cowardly" and said the move risks being seen as "politically motivated".
In a joint letter to BBC director general Mark Thompson today, Jeremy Dear and Gerry Morrissey, the general secretaries of the National Union of Journalists and Bectu respectively, called on the corporation to change its mind and broadcast the appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee.
The BBC, along with Sky News, has refused to air the appeal saying it risked compromising its impartiality. However, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel Five will all air the DEC appeal this evening.
ITV1 will broadcast the appeal just before its 6.30pm national news bulletin and it will also air after Channel 4 News just before 8pm.
Complaints to the BBC over its refusal to broadcast the DEC appeal had reached 15,500 earlier today. Of these, 1,340 were by phone and the remainder by email.
In their letter, Dear and Morrissey – who together represent thousands of workers within the BBC – said the corporation's stance would "seriously hinder" DEC in getting its message across to the British public.
"The humanitarian crisis, in which innocent children are suffering, is likely to be prolonged as a result of the corporation's decision," they said.
"The justifications given for the decision – 'question marks about the delivery of aid in a volatile situation' and risks of compromising its 'impartiality in the context of an ongoing news story' – appear to us cowardly and in danger of being seen as politically motivated and biased in favour of Israel.
"We, above all, understand the BBC's need to maintain editorial impartiality and we also understand the pressure journalists and the BBC come under from those who accuse the BBC of bias in reporting the Middle East.
"That said, we agree with those senior BBC journalists who say this is a decision taken as a result of timidity by BBC management in the face of such pressures – [former Middle East correspondent] Tim Llewellyn described this as 'institutional cowardice'.
"Far from avoiding the compromise of the BBC's impartiality, this move has breached those same BBC rules by showing a bias in favour of Israel at the expense of 1.5 million Palestinian civilians suffering an acute humanitarian crisis."
The two men asked why Israel was being treated differently when the BBC broadcast a DEC appeal about the Burmese cyclone in May 2008 despite it being an ongoing news story.
"Our members feel this makes the BBC appear pro-Israeli and indifferent to the plight of the victims of this conflict," they said. "How can airing such an appeal risk compromising the BBC's impartiality? We believe the BBC's decision not to show the appeal is wrong and we urge you to reconsider."
Both the NUJ and Bectu passed motions over the weekend condemning the BBC's decision not to screen the appeal while corporation journalists in London will tomorrow vote on a similar resolution at a chapel meeting.
The BBC is facing a growing revolt from its own journalists over its decision not to broadcast the appeal, with sources reporting "widespread disgust" within its newsrooms. However, BBC staff have said they have been told they face the sack if they speak out on the issue.
Meanwhile, the Stop the War coalition has said it will protest outside the BBC's Broadcasting House building in central London from 5.30pm today in a bid to put pressure on the corporation to change its mind.