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Pressure grows over BBC Gaza appeal|
Saturday, January 24, 2009
The BBC has come under mounting pressure to screen an emergency appeal for Gaza, after ITV, Channel 4 and Five all announced they will show it.
Thousands of protesters joined a demonstration in London, while a string of politicians, including senior Government ministers, urged the BBC to reconsider its decision not to broadcast the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) appeal.
The DEC - which brings together several major aid charities including the British Red Cross, Save the Children and Oxfam - wants the appeal to be broadcast on TV and radio from Monday to help raise millions of pounds for people in need of food, medicines and shelter following Israel's three-week assault on the Palestinian territory. DEC chief executive Brendan Gormley has voiced disappointment at the BBC's decision.
BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons voiced concern that comments made by politicians were coming close to "undue interference" in the BBC's editorial independence.
He said that the judgment on whether the broadcast should be shown was not for the Trust, which oversees the Corporation on behalf of the public, but for the BBC's senior editorial executives, led by director general Mark Thompson.
Mr Thompson on Friday night rejected a plea from International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander to screen the appeal, warning that a broadcast could compromise the impartiality of the BBC's reporting from the Palestinian territory. "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," he said.
But his argument was dismissed as "completely feeble" by health minister Ben Bradshaw, while Communities Secretary Hazel Blears called on the BBC to review its decision and urged the public to continue donating to the DEC appeal.
Calls for the broadcast to be shown also came from Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond.
Police estimated that 5,000 people took part in a march to Trafalgar Square, during which some demonstrators threw shoes at the BBC's Broadcasting House HQ. Organisers Stop the War said "tens of thousands" took part in the demonstration. Six protesters were arrested for obstructing police, but there was no violence.
Former Labour minister Tony Benn told the crowd: "People are dying in Gaza and if the appeal was made they would get the resources they need. It's not about the BBC. Millions of pounds will be raised by an appeal. People who are dying in Gaza would get the materials and supplies they need."