BBC – taking a stand on Gaza

January 26, 2009

The BBC has been roundly condemned at home for its refusal to broadcast an emergency appeal for Gaza on behalf of the Disasters Emergency Committee, a coalition of 13 aid agencies.

It says it does not want to be seen to be taking sides in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and that broadcasting the appeal could jeopardise its carefully cultivated position of impartiality. Sky News has followed suit.

But criticism has been fierce, including from the government and the Church of England.

The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, has accused the BBC of “taking sides”. He said on Friday: “This is not a row about impartiality but rather about humanity.

Former BBC foreign correspondent Martin Bell 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.”

BBC Director-General Mark Thompson said: “Inevitably an appeal would use pictures which are the same or similar to those we would be using in our news programmes but would do so with the objective of encouraging public donations. The danger for the BBC is that this could be interpreted as taking a political stance on an ongoing story.”

What do you think? Are Sky and the BBC being too cautious or do they have a point?


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I think that the behind-the-scenes reason for this decision by the BBC, which is so contrary to its usual tear-jerking brand of broadcasting, is probably that it has drawn a lot of private but high-powered criticism about its one-sided coverage of the recent action and its editorial bias against Israel.

Having decided to withdraw to the bunker of “impartiality” it has, in true big corporation style, gone into headless chicken mode and chosen the wrong issue on which to make a stand.

For Thompson to pretend that the BBC does not have a political stance on the Palestinian issue and many others is complete farce. As for Sentamu and the rest of the predictable gang who are complaining about the BBC’s new-found “impartiality”, their complaint is not about the high-minded “humanitarian issue”. It is simply that they are afraid of losing their traditional mouthpiece.

Posted by Jason | Report as abusive

the whole afair is impartial. And of course, when Hamsa was pounding Israeli civilians with missiles, (in contravention of all Geneva conventions), there was scant media coverage, and never any appeals for israeli victims. Seems on this animal farm, some are more equal than others, and it’s usually the palestinians.

Posted by eddie | Report as abusive

Yes, they are right and it’s about time someone stood up and defended the BBC. We are, after all, talking about a particularly politically divisive war and some viewer somewhere will interpret an appeal for aid showing pictures of the devastation as condemnation of the Israeli bombing. If anyone at all does do so, the BBC’s impartiality is challenged. For good or ill, the BBC has to work to its charter and its charter does not require it to act as a charity.
Whereas I accept that that is a close call, the real criminals in this are the politicians who, for the sake of a quick populist sound bite, are happy to jump on the bandwagon. It does not take a genius to see that every time one of them attacks the BBC it makes it all the more impossible for the Governors to reconsider. As said before, they cannot be seen to be partial. Equally they cannot be seen to be bowing to politicians, particularly if the politicians are part of the Government.
The only satisfactory element of this is the delicious irony that the Disasters Emergency Committee could not have dreamed of such good publicity.

Posted by Jamie Maitland | Report as abusive

I think the decision is the right one made for the wrong reasons. Disaster appeals are a form of advertising and we all know that charities are big business, however well-meaning. There shouldn’t be any advertising on the BBC. There are plenty of other media outlets that can be used, whether for a fee or free of charge. It follows that I don’t think we should ever hear appeals on BBC Radio, regardless of the subject matter, nor should the BBC use the BBC to advertise itself (those irritating “look how brilliant we are” slots). The Corporation is inconsistent in both these areas.

Posted by Matthew | Report as abusive

I am not a lover of the BBC., for a variety of reasons which, in this particular instance, are largely irrelevant. I would however align myself very much with Jamie Maitlands view. The BBC are distancing themselves from the political(and dominant)will of this abominable government, and are the better for it.

Sky appear to agree with me.

Posted by RLB | Report as abusive

with SKY joining the refusal it brings to mind the saying “You can tell a man by the company he keeps” Mr Murdock will be pleased

Posted by Patrick McKenna | Report as abusive

I note that my comment requires moderation, and I must say that I am not entirely sure what this means in the context of this form of communication. In the matter of wishing to contribute on further topics, mightI therefore amend the text to read “The BBC would appear to be distancing itself from the political,and possibly dominant,will of this (abominable)government, and, In my view, are the better for that, and that in this respect Sky TV appear to have adopted a similar view.”

No error of commission intended.

Posted by rlb | Report as abusive

It would appear that both the BBC and Sky both companies
pedlling program,s on the International stage have taken
this stance for mainly commercial considerations and hoping to sustain access to future stories.
The BBC is both a Public financed and commercial which is a conflict of interest the other National Television channel do not have. I think this link should be cut and
the BBC split, maybe sold off so the license payers can
benifit from capitalizing the launch of its commercial wing.
As for being impartial there are wrongs on both sides of the Gaza Isreal, conflict not least the block aid on Gaza
for fear of arms, which effects the economy and the lack
of control of phosperous arms etc going to Isreal.
Money will buy arms and most things but not my donation to any Red Nose day, so the BBC can wollow in humanity help. Send it direct to the Charities!

and there is a conflict of interest

Posted by D.Porter | Report as abusive

This has to be a political decision on behalf of the BBC.
By simply refusing to air the appeal, an absolutely unethical bias is shown. The BBC in my mind will long be remembered, from this point on, for their willingness to allow their political views and/or misinformed social perceptions, to obstruct aid for injured and dying people
in a catastrophic humanitarian crisis.
The BBC have cost people their lives with this decision!

Posted by roy | Report as abusive

Jason’s comment referred to the ‘one-sided coverage of the recent action and its editorial bias against Israel’

As a UK resident who takes great interest in the various media news outlets I find this statement mind boggling.
The BBC’s coverage of the recent Gaza/Israel conflict was very much weighed toward the Israeli viewpoint, A lot of air time was given to Israeli spokesmen, with none given to any Hamas spokesman. (yes I know they are terrorists, but a politically acceptable bias is still a bias). The position of the Palestinians (as opposed to Hamas) was left to footage of some of the damage inflicted.
There was famously an ‘argument’ with Mark Regev, however the dialogue was very concillatory to Isreal compared to most other UK news. Also the reporting was, let’s remember, all in the context of Israel not allowing in journalists – this is a contextual bias that, while not created by the BBC, can be (and has been) mis-interperated by advocates of either side as a reporting bias.
The point about un-biased reporting is not to portray both sides evenly, but to report any uneveness between the position of both sides truthfully.
The BBC very obviously did not do this, perhaps excusably given it’s unique position, but not deniably.
And there was definitely no bias toward the Palestinians, if anything there was under-reporting of their position in the BBC compared to the other media.
I can see that there is some sense in the BBC decision re. the DEC appeal, but there is no way it is a reaction to previous bias toward the Pakestinians.
There was none.

Posted by A Clark | Report as abusive

I just don’t understand why Israel cannot recognize the Hamas government as a legally elected one? It is ironic that all the governments in the world harp about democracy and equal rights, while a legally elected government is getting beating right, left and center along with it’s people.

The coverage by BBC and Sky was heavily biased towards the Israelis.

Hamas is a legally elected government and Palestinians are the same as you and I. Where have the Human Rights gone to?

We are indeed hypocrites…

Posted by anna k | Report as abusive

The popularity for english news channels such as al jazeera and press tv is because the bbc is not impartial and more of a mouthpiece for the british government across the globe. Mistrust across the globe have been growing.
UK considers itself to be a friend of Israel and this is the position in the news broadcast by BBC. With increased competition BBc has to be a little bit more truthful regarding the atrocities of Israel and hence it is also accused of impartiality by the powerful Israel supporting lobby.

Posted by akthar | Report as abusive


Posted by Hilary Aquilina | Report as abusive

why did the bbc run the darfur and congo appeal? the issues were same in those appeal; i.e two sides to the story and aid being difficult to pass on. bbc have simply caved into the Israeli lobby.

no point discussing sky news. we know they have an agenda and giving a fair voice to Palestinians isn’t part of that

Posted by Jay B | Report as abusive

BBC and Sky’s decision would have been deemed appropriate if they could prove absolute consistency in impartiality for all the news they cover.

The universe works in mysterious ways seeing how their decision has in fact helped the emergency appeal get more publicity than it had hoped.

Posted by Sofia | Report as abusive

Obama has opened his mouth to the Muslim World in general and Palestinians in particular but has not extended his heart. He still dictating in civilized way that America cannot dictate anything to Israel what is best for her but still telling Palestinians that he cannot talk with their elected Hamas, Hamas has to accept Isarel’s existance and boarders without having any existance or boarders for Palestinians and he may go on using Veto power is any resolution displeases Israel.Security of Israel is paramount for him but Palestinian’s security or even human rights has no priority.
Mr. President, since last 40 years all American Presidents have used the same unwise, unjust, unfair and WRONG policies to resolve Arab-Israel issue and all have failed miserably. If you want to change that history, You will have to change the POLICY not the Envoys and talks. Sweet or cowboy talks and dictates had invited hatred towards America and it will stop only if we stop our unjust policies.

Posted by john dahodi | Report as abusive

It’s an impossible situation for the BBC. The Middle East debate is politicized and polarzied: everyone has a strong and passionately felt opinion. Quite rightly so. But this means any action or inaction will be interpreted as a sign of partiality and subjectivity. The only way the BBC can be ‘impartial’ is when it annoys everyone in equal measure. From some of the reactions here and elsewhere, perhaps it is on its way of achieving that goal …

Posted by MW | Report as abusive

although I don’t agree with BBC for not airing something that is beneficail to our fellow human beings, I can see where they are coming from. but if they are doing this as to not seem biased, then they need to make sure that during their coverage of things like the gaza crisis, they don’t give free time to the israeli lobby who sends out its bandits all over the airways to hide its war crimes.we americans who rely on international news to get the truth like reuters and BBC are dissappointed when we see these honorable new reporting agencies giving into the zionist lobby the way american news channel and news papers do.

Posted by sidney | Report as abusive

Please advise why you have not listed the comments I submitted yesterday.

Posted by Ian Hadassin | Report as abusive

BBC Director-General Mark Thompson said: “Inevitably an appeal would use pictures which are the same or similar to those we would be using in our news programmes but would do so with the objective of encouraging public donations. The danger for the BBC is that this could be interpreted as taking a political stance on an ongoing story.”

I am fully accorded to the above mentioned comment.

Please do not say me of my persiality. I am trying to establish myself as impartial.

A news is the description of any events or incedent of public interests in truthful, accurate, objective,fair and unbiased or impartial manner. So any descriptive report of any event or incedent can not be a news until it fulfills or complies with the aforesaid criterias as well in all respect.These are integral part of news and special care to taken while making any news for public. Any news concern or organization is dedicated as well as commited to maintain the above criterias of news.

BBC, as being the world leading news organization, can not disregard or surpass the above vital points of news.Not only that, the above points are the indispensable parts of journalistic works.The all above mentioned points regarding news making,have been originated from the ethical codes of journalism. Jouenalism imparts any confict,is almost true. But ethically journalism does not indulge or afford to continue any confliction in the society.It is the great virtue of journalism.

Now, in the greater sense of responsibility and accountability to bigger society, BBC can not appeal on behalf of certain distressed part or group of any particular country or region to reflect itself as biased or partial. BBC can disseminate a lot of news coverages on the disasterous facts ongoing in Gaza and its people.Objectfully,BBC can draw the attention of world leaders and other NGOs including volunteering organization as to accord them all seeking required solution to the existing problem by disseminating so many news reportings to the world people.How can it be expected to break or disobey the ethical codes of journalism from BBC? BBC can never include itself with any part or group anyway,might be considered as humanitarian or whatsoever.

Posted by PRANAB HAZRA | Report as abusive

There are rockets still being fired from Gaza into Israel; 3 fell this morning, one smack dab between two kindergarten schools.

I would like to understand why no international news correspondence is covering this story.

The 8 years of rocket fire that led to the Gaza military operation was never covered until Israel responded.

The UN and humanitarian bodies should be in outrage over this and responsible media networks should be covering this in the interest of fairness and balance, at the very least.

I welcome any comments that can help me to understand.

Posted by Abba | Report as abusive