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Gaza appeal

Brian Taylor | 10:27 UK time, Monday, 26 January 2009

On occasion, an issue arises where I prefer to ventilate your views rather than proffer my punditry. This, I feel, is one such.

The issue? Whether broadcasters, specifically the BBC, should show the appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) of charities with regard to aid for Gaza.

There have been a couple of developments over the weekend and today.

Firstly, the issue was brought home to BBC Scotland, literally, via a demonstration.

Secondly, Sky News has now joined the BBC in declining to broadcast the appeal.

Sky's head of news, John Riley, comments: "The nature of an appeal is that it sets out to provoke a specific response from the viewer.

"We don't believe that broadcasting such an appeal on Sky News can be combined with the balance and context that impartial journalism aims to bring to the highly charged and continuing conflict in Gaza."

Earlier, the BBC had attracted substantial adverse comment for turning down the broadcast.

Here is what Mark Thompson, the BBC's Director General, has to say on the subject.

"We concluded that we could not broadcast a free-standing appeal, no matter how carefully constructed, without running the risk of reducing public confidence in the BBC's impartiality in its wider coverage of the story.

"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.

"When we have turned down DEC appeals in the past on impartiality grounds it has been because of this risk of giving the public the impression that the BBC was taking sides in an ongoing conflict."

Herewith the alternative view.

Douglas Alexander, the Secretary of State for International Development, says: "My appeal is a much more straightforward one.

"People are suffering right now, many hundreds of thousands of people are without the basic necessities of life.

"That for me is a very straightforward case and I sincerely hope that the British people respond with characteristic generosity."

The First Minister Alex Salmond has also commented, saying: "This is the time when people across the world are celebrating the legacy of Robert Burns, who wrote 'man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn'.

"The sole purpose of the DEC is to help innocent people who are suffering through no fault of their own.

"I can't help feeling that the BBC are running scared at the present moment and they should reconsider their unfortunate decision not to allow the DEC to screen their appeal - especially now that other broadcasters have confirmed that they are showing it."

The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has also strongly criticised the BBC.

There has been discussion, on either side of the argument, with regard to the issue of whether aid would get through. However, the core question centres upon impartiality versus aid.

In essence, the alternative views are these:

• This is a purely humanitarian appeal, designed to assist a suffering people. It goes ahead without the broadcasters but their involvement would enhance it enormously. Viewers are well able to distinguish between news coverage and a charity appeal.

• This is an ongoing - and highly complex, politicised - conflict. Every day, broadcasters have to tread carefully, balancing competing views. If those same broadcasters then publish images which are designed to evoke sympathy for victims on one side of the conflict, then their impartiality is jeopardised.

Over to you. Given the gravity of these events, I would strengthen my now habitual appeal for even-tempered contributions.


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