Protest planned over BBC refusal to show Gaza charity appeal

Thousands of people are expected to demonstrate in London on Saturday against the BBC's refusal to show a charity appeal to raise funds for Gaza. The BBC is citing concerns about its impartiality and over whether the aid can be delivered efficiently.


AFP - Thousands of people are expected to demonstrate in London Saturday against the BBC's refusal to broadcast a charity appeal to raise emergency funds for people in the Gaza Strip.

The BBC is worried that broadcasting the appeal could compromise its impartiality and questions whether aid can be delivered efficiently in Gaza, where Palestinians say over 1,300 people died during Israel's 22-day offensive.

But the decision has provoked fierce criticism from Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government, Muslim groups and the demonstration's organisers.

International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander has written to the BBC urging it to reconsider its decision.

"I think the British public can distinguish between support for humanitarian aid and perceived partiality in a conflict," he told BBC radio Saturday.

"I really struggle to see, in the face of the immense human suffering in Gaza at the moment, that this is in any way a credible argument."

The Muslim Council of Britain said the BBC's decision not to show the appeal was "a serious dereliction of its public duty".

Its secretary-general Muhammad Abdul Bari added: "The excuses given by the BBC are simply untenable and the governors need to act quickly before the corporation's image is irretrievably tarnished."

The BBC's chief operating officer Caroline Thomson said that maintaining the BBC's impartiality was "clearly in conflicts as controversial as this... a real issue for us."

As well as the publicly-funded BBC, Britain's main commercial broadcasters ITV and Sky will also not show the appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC).

The DEC, an umbrella group uniting respected charities like the British Red Cross and Oxfam, stresses that it is non-political and works simply to address humanitarian need.

The demonstration, being organised by the Stop The War coalition, will start at around 1400 GMT outside the BBC's offices in central London.

Stop The War, which estimates that the ban on broadcasting the appeal could cost up to 10 million pounds (10.5 million euros, 13.6 million dollars) in donations, is urging protestors to bring children's dolls wrapped in white shrouds to lay on the steps of the BBC.

The group has organised big rallies opposed to the violence in Gaza in London for the past few weekends.

The BBC's news coverage of the region frequently provokes controversy among commentators in Britain.

In 2006, its board of governors published an independent report into its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which found no evidence of deliberate or systematic bias.

But the report did say that coverage sometimes "in important respects, presents an incomplete... and misleading picture".

It also cited a "failure to convey adequately the disparity in the Israeli and Palestinian experience, reflecting the fact that one side is in control and the other lives under occupation."

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