By Laura May, Press Association
Veteran politician Tony Ben accused the BBC today of a “betrayal” of its public service obligations following its decision not to broadcast a public appeal for funds for Gaza.
Having spoken on the Today programme, he will address a pro-Palestine rally called by the Stop the War coalition outside Broadcasting House in central London.
The former Labour MP and Stop the War president will say: “The decision of the BBC to refuse to broadcast a national humanitarian appeal for Gaza, which has left aid agencies with a potential shortfall of millions of pounds in donations, is a betrayal of the obligation which it owes as a public service.
“The destruction in Gaza, and the loss of the lives of over a thousand civilians and children, has shocked the world as Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki Moon, made clear, when he saw the devastation for himself.
“The human suffering that the people of Gaza have experienced over the last few weeks has appalled people who have seen it for themselves on their television screens.
“To deny the help that the aid agencies and the UN need at this moment in time is incomprehensible and it follows the bias in BBC reporting of this crisis, which has been widely criticised.
“I appeal to the chairman of the BBC Trust to intervene to reverse this decision to save the lives of those who are now in acute danger of dying through a lack of food, fuel, water and medical supplies.”
The Disasters Emergency Committee – which brings together several major aid charities – wanted to run TV and radio appeals to help raise cash to assist people in need of food, shelter and medicines as a result of Israel’s military action in the Palestinian enclave.
Similar appeals have been aired during previous humanitarian emergencies, raising millions of pounds from the British public.
But the BBC, ITV and Sky have said they will not show the appeal.
The BBC said it is concerned about compromising public confidence in its impartiality in the context of a conflict which has sparked fierce debate.
And the Corporation also raised questions about the delivery of aid to Gaza in the current volatile conditions.
Yesterday international development secretary Douglas Alexander wrote to the broadcasters urging them to reconsider.
In a letter to the BBC’s director-general Mark Thompson and the heads of ITV and Sky, he wrote: “While I recognise that this is a decision rightly taken by broadcasters, I hope that in light of the great human suffering still taking place in Gaza, you will reconsider your decision in relation to the DEC appeal.”
Mr Alexander last weekend announced an additional £20 million of official UK emergency aid to Gaza and yesterday met the DEC and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and charities to discuss the humanitarian response to the crisis.
He said he stood ready to address broadcasters’ concerns about the viability of delivering aid to the war-torn territory, pointing out that both Oxfam and Save the Children have been able to get supplies in today.
In a reply to Mr Alexander, the Director-General wrote: “I note the Government’s desire to work with the NGOs to help alleviate the situation and the progress you say that Oxfam, Save The Children and others have been making in getting aid through on the ground.
“In addition to the practical issue of delivering aid, however, there was a second important reason why we decided after careful consideration that the BBC should not broadcast the DEC appeal. This is because Gaza remains an ongoing and highly controversial news story within which the human suffering and distress which have resulted from the conflict remain intrinsic and contentious elements.
“After consultation with senior news editors, we concluded that to broadcast a free-standing appeal, no matter how carefully couched, ran the risk of calling into question the public’s confidence in the BBC’s impartiality in its coverage of the story as a whole.
An ITV spokesman said: “The DEC did ask the broadcasters if they could support the appeal.
“The broadcasters assessed the DEC’s request carefully against agreed criteria and were unable to reach the consensus which is necessary for an appeal.”
The DEC has stressed that its aid agencies are non-political and working on the basis of humanitarian need.
It is an umbrella organisation which includes Action Aid, British Red Cross, Cafod, Care International UK, Christian Aid, Concern Worldwide, Help the Aged, Islamic Relief, Merlin, Oxfam, Save the Children, Tearfund and World Vision.
Brendan Gormley, DEC’s chief executive, said: “We are disappointed that our message about the human suffering in Gaza and the need for aid is not reaching the public as usual.
“The Gaza appeal has been launched to help alleviate the suffering of desperate civilians.”