Monday, January 26, 2009

Gaza aid appeal divides broadcasters

ITV aired the DEC aid appeal on Monday

Two major news organisations have refused to broadcast an appeal intended to raise money for victims of the recent conflict in Gaza. Both the BBC and Sky News have decided not to air the appeal saying that it could compromise impartiality as news broadcasters. Jon Ryley, Sky’s head of news, released a statement in which he said, “"The absolute impartiality of our output is fundamental to Sky News and its journalism. That is why, after very careful consideration, we have concluded that broadcasting an appeal for Gaza at this time is incompatible with our role in providing balanced and objective reporting of this continuing situation to our audiences in the UK and around the world"[Sky News].

The decision has brought widespread criticism, both from members of the public and from British members of parliament. Former parliamentarian Tony Benn has been one of the outspoken critics and insisted that the BBC had a responsibility of informing viewers of the humanitarian appeal. He told CNN’s Jim Clancy that people were suffering in the region and that aid was desperately needed before more people died. “After all we’re all human”, he said, “and this is a humanitarian appeal”. But he evaded the question put to him over reservations that some might have suggesting the money may fall into the hands of Hamas. Jim Clancy said that “Hamas have the guns” and that there was a risk the money could be diverted to rebuild their military infrastructure. Tony Benn refused to be drawn into such a possibility and instead pointed out that Hamas had been elected.

While ITV, Channel Four, Channel 5 and al Jazeera have all said they will air the Gaza appeal, it is not yet clear whether other international broadcasters will air the appeal. The Disasters Emergency Committee [DEC] say they have not approached all broadcasters however. Amongst them was CNN who say they had not been asked to show the 3 minute film [BBC / Sky News / CNN].

Meanwhile, EU Commissioner Louis Michel has described the destruction in Gaza as “abominable” but blamed Hamas for bringing Israel’s onslaught. However there is increased criticism that Israel may have broken rules concerning the use of certain weapons. Sagah abu Halim is one victim highlighted in a CNN report. She received appalling injuries suspected to be the result of being struck by white phosphorus. Ben Wedeman said the use of white phosphorus in densely populated areas would “inevitably” result in civilian casualties. But Israeli spokesman Mark Regev is adamant that Israel was careful not to target the innocent. “We do not target civilians” he told CNN, adding that Israel had deployed weapons surgically against enemy target. But says CNN’s Ben Wedeman, “Not surgical enough for victims like Sagah”.

It is these victims that the DEC wants to help and some fear that not airing their appeal will stop the flow of donations. The irony is that more people will now have heard about the call for donations because of the decision made by the BBC and Sky.

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