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(Hatem Omar / Maan Images)

BBC agrees to air Gaza charity appeal after getting Israel’s permission

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Even Israel now admits there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

(Abed Rahim Khatib / APA images)

The BBC announced Thursday morning that it would broadcast an emergency charity appeal for Gaza on Friday — but only after it was reassured that it won’t face censure from the Israeli government for doing so.

This is in stark contrast to 2009, when another Israeli massacre in Gaza was drawing to an end. Then, the BBC, along with Sky, refused to air an appeal from the same body – the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) — even though other major television networks, including Channel 4, did so.

The BBC’s then director general, Mark Thompson, said at the time that broadcasting the DEC appeal would breach impartiality guidelines, as funds were being raised for Gaza but not Israel.

He wrote in his BBC blog that the corporation, if it aired the appeal, could be accused of “taking a political stance on an ongoing story.”

So what has changed this time? Why is the BBC no longer afraid of airing the DEC appeal on its radio and television networks?

Regev instrumental

The reason appears to be that the allegedly independent broadcaster has been influenced by recent Israeli announcements that there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and therefore feels it can safely broadcast a humanitarian aid appeal.

Speaking on the BBC’s flagship radio news program, Today, this morning, the BBC’s media and arts correspondent David Sillito admitted as much.

“Israel has said there is a humanitarian crisis … so it feels as though the issue of impartiality has come to an end,” he told presenter Sarah Montague. “There is no issue of compromising impartiality.”

Montague then asked the obvious question: “So, it’s because of Israel’s admission that it’s a humanitarian crisis?”

Sillito replied: “It seems to have been a key part of it. [Israeli government spokesperson] Mark Regev, making a statement on Friday, talking about a humanitarian window, a humanitarian crisis, seems to have been instrumental.”

It’s a disturbing admission by the BBC that it feels it has been given permission by Israel to run the appeal — the same appeal it was too afraid to run five years ago because no such implicit permission had been given.

Loyalties called into question

The publicly funded corporation’s dependence on what Israel says and how this dependence influences its decision making process is of serious concern.

In 2009, an astounding 40,000 members of the licence fee-paying public complained to the BBC about its refusal to air the DEC appeal. The then Labor government also felt the wrong decision had been made, as did many BBC journalists.

However, a fear of not being “fair” to Israel (which was at the time in the process of slaughtering 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza) seems to have been the clinching factor for senior BBC management, raising questions about where loyalties at the top lie.

And even now, as it prepares to broadcast the appeal tomorrow on Radio 4 and BBC One, the BBC is thought to be preparing its own version of the appeal rather than taking the version offered by DEC.

It will be interesting to see if, even in a charity appeal, the BBC will strive, in its version, to show a “balance” between the effects of heavy duty Israeli bombing and shelling in Gaza and the results of Palestinian rocket fire into Israel.

The “balance,” of course, will be entirely false, as nothing caused by Palestinian rocket fire can compare to what Israel has wrought in Gaza, but it will be aimed at keeping the Israeli government happy.

Sillito’s further comments on this morning’s Today program reveal how desperately the BBC aims for that false balance in its reporting on Gaza, rather than simply showing the situation as it is.

Explaining why the BBC didn’t run the DEC appeal in 2009, he said that “making an appeal, talking in plain facts about a humanitarian crisis, it would look as though they [the BBC and Sky] were taking sides in what was an ongoing news story.”

Sorry state of affairs

It’s extraordinary that a news organisation can think that “talking in plain facts,” (in other words, telling the unvarnished truth about Israel’s carnage in Gaza) is somehow taking the Palestinian “side.” It’s not; giving “plain facts” is just straightforward journalism, devoid of the tortured fear apparent in the BBC’s reporting of the occupation.

This week, Israel is on a PR drive, now that its daily slaughter of Palestinians has abated. It is trying to present itself in humanitarian terms, professing concern for the crisis situation in Gaza.

In its daily media briefing yesterday, the British Israel Communications and Research Centre included a story headlined “Israel shifts focus onto humanitarian aid effort.”

The article quotes the Israeli army’s chief of staff Benny Gantz saying: “Now we must help rehabilitate Gaza … we will help, not out of any strategic considerations, but from humanitarian ones.”

The offensive irony of this PR strategy should be jumped on and pulled to pieces by serious journalists at the BBC.

Instead, we have Sillito on Today meekly saying that the BBC can run a charity appeal because “Now it’s felt that there is no doubt or debate about this … Israel has said there is a humanitarian crisis.”

The compliance implicit in this statement is appalling.

Why isn’t the BBC challenging Israeli spokespeople over their alleged concerns, confronting them with the “plain facts” that Israel created the crisis, not just with its out-of-control onslaught of the last four weeks, but with its medieval blockade and ongoing occupation? Why aren’t BBC journalists asking the Israeli government why it’s not bearing the cost of reconstruction in Gaza, instead of submissively accepting its tacit permission to broadcast a charity appeal?

And if Israel hadn’t “said so,” would the UN or DEC statements of a humanitarian crisis been enough to dispel the BBC’s doubts about the existence of a human tragedy in Gaza? Highly unlikely.

It is the Israeli viewpoint that appears to be elevated above all others at the BBC.

The DEC appeals for Gaza in 2009 and now in 2014 have helped to expose the sorry state of affairs at the BBC when it comes to Israel. The fear of Israeli censure if BBC journalists report the “plain facts” has been laid bare for all to see, as has the craven need for Israeli approval in its broadcasts about Gaza and the occupation. At the BBC, it seems, if Israel doesn’t “say so,” then neither will our public broadcaster.

David Sillito’s interview on Today can be heard on the BBC website (time code 01:12 onwards) until 13 August.

Comments

Thanks for this great report on the BBC reporting situation. As for details:
1. If you don't pay the UK-BBC tax, you can go to jail.
2. Montague may be asking a good question this time (scripted?), but the "Today" set is not that independent. (actually, in July 2014 --when the Gaza killings were going-- they did not produce a single critical question to an Israeli PR or even to their own Israel commenter).
I repeat, this is a great description.

The BBC only pursues its policy of impartiality with regard to Israel. The reporting for instance, of Russia and the Syrian Government is very definitely partial as they are routinely condemned, referred to as regimes and reports only take the British Government line. No attempt is made to give any spokesman from these countries any right of reply even to explain any action. Whether you agree or disagree with these countries this is neither journalism nor simply reporting facts. Since Thompson, who had close links to Israel, the BBC has pursued a policy of supporting Israel in contravention of its charter. Newsnight, the BBC's flagship news programme has become a travesty in this respect.

"If you don't pay the UK-BBC tax, you can go to jail"

Caging people for the victimless crime of not paying for a service, esp a corrupt one? For those of you who still might have thought Britain was a civilized country smh

Small wonder they back Israel and it's Gaza butcheries

Thank you for this report, very informative. I actually was under the impression the BBC were seeing sense, how wrong was I?!
The BBC licence fee is not a tax, you only need to pay it if you watch live TV otherwise you don't (see bbc website for details). So if you only use your TV for computer games or watch prerecorded programs that have been already aired you do not need to pay the fee. The BBC will try to scare you into paying and will even say they want to come into your home to check but do not let them in.

Why are British viewers charged a license fee at all? The BBC has for years functioned as a right wing echo chamber. The Savile and related scandals demonstrate a shocking and repellent culture of rape and sexual abuse at the Corporation. On top of this, it's obvious that the BBC is in important respects an arm of Israeli hasbara operations. The fraudulent application of the doctrine of balance has meant that naked lies have the same value as demonstrable truth. The whole of the BBC is a rotten, highly commercial propagandistic mouthpiece for the people who run Britain plc, and today's admission that a desperate plea for emergency aid to Gaza is permissible only due to the gracious consent of the barbarians who caused the suffering, death and destruction- this comes as no surprise.

What a shower of craven, greed-soaked bastards.

I'm one of the shower of craven, greed soaked bastards you refer to. I don't work in News.

Your criticisms are a mirror-image of those on the other side of the political spectrum. It seems that the licence fee is always the key issue. Personally I think there's a lot wrong with the BBC and the licence fee is now an anachronism. The BBC is too commercial - it's been forced to compete in a market it shouldn't be in, so where it should be devoting its attention to underexposed music, arts and news etc funds are ploughed into ever more vacuous spectacles like Strictly bake off Factor or whatever. It needs pruning pretty drastically.

And you're right that in some ways that it's the voice of the establishment. It is the state broadcaster, in all but name. Since the David Kelly affair and Hutton (where it did some serious poking at Blair's Iraq bullshit) it's probably taken a lot more care about who it upsets. Certainly whenever it gets near the License Fee settlement it can be found treading softly, whoever the govt of the day is.

But I don't get the pro Israeli accusations (whereas I hear bias in coverage of Russian affairs, in particular and the lack of coverage of UK anti-austerity protests). I listen to R4 mainly and I have a really hard time imagining that anyone could listen to that coverage and come away with the idea that there's a pro-Israeli agenda at work. Also there's an implicit suggestion in such accusations from the right or the left that it's the accusers who have an access to 'the truth' that the BBC are covering up. Define an objective truth and a way of measuring it and you might have a point, but I don't see any of that.

It is worth remembering that the British Government has not spoken out about Israel's disproportionate response to Hamas rockets fired from Gaza and who knows what pressure has been put on the BBC by government ministers at least this time no doubt forced by overwhelming public opinion they are going to broadcast the appeal. How ever the bigger question is why has the Government not supported the UN resolution to investigate Israel for war crimes and then Israel would be made to pay for the damage which they have caused.

I'm so embarrassed that this is happening at the University I graduated from. Attacking a professor's freedom of speech is not what my university should be doing. Denying the palestinians, Salaita, a successful academic, as their advocate is not what my University should be doing. My University has a horrendous administration that includes Chancellor Wise. Wise sits on the board of directors of Nike. If Nike does not want to become part of BDS, they ought to remove Chancellor Wise from their board, or Wise must give Salaita his job back, and never attack someone for speaking out against mass murder again.

The BBC and Sky are always the first to report any news so why is it they are not showing the same standard of work? why are they not being fair? Why are they not questioning Israelies as they are the ones who caused the deaths, injuries and destructions and they are saying we will help Gaza on humantarian grounds were was this concern when they were bombing Gaza. This is just there way of appealing to the public not to boycott their products as they need the money for weapons when they decide to bomb Gaza again in 5 years time. Disgusted with BBC and Sky you all should be ashamed of yourself you should have supported Gaza as a human but the question is are you HUMAN????

It should be noted that the BBC is routinely lambasted by the right as a bunch of pro-Islamist lefties (evidence - have a look at biasedbbc.org). They've recently come under fire for not referring to Hammas as a terrorist organisation from that side, while on this website I've seen them described as a Zionist mouthpiece. Kicked from both sides. They have been questioning the Israelis, and the reports from the ground by Jeremy Bowen etc have made clear the appalling suffering that's inflicted daily by both the blockade and the barrage of rockets. I have seen the BBC criticised for referring to the situation as a 'conflict' as opposed to a 'massacre'. I wonder what would change if it did that, and I suspect that it would be nothing. Impartiality is a hard thing to achieve, and sometimes not the best route, but the BBC is damned if it does, and damned if it doesn't. It's too soft a target. As Richard suggests, our fire should be directed at Westminster and the spineless money grabbing cretins that are selling arms to the Israelis.

I think the BBC should be renamed - it is now the IBC : Israeli Broadcasting Corporation. As a British citizen, though no longer a licence-fee payer as I am over 75, I am disgusted at the behaviour of our national broadcaster. Since when does the BBC, which belongs to me and other British citizens, have to seek permission from a foreign power for what it broadcasts?

The BBC is paid by fees of the people. An action has to be unfolded in which the people demand objective journalism concerning the ongoing struggle of the Palestinian people with their oppressors. There has to be give wide attention to this action. A similar action was undertaken in Germany concerning journalism of a national broadcaster. http://online-boykott.de/de/un...
The fees which everyone is obliged to transfer on the account of the BBC should be transferred to another account which is called for exemple : "waiting for independant journalism of the BBC". Every person sustaining this action should send a letter be adressed to the board of the BBC in which is declared that payments of fees will start again as soon the board of the BBC publicly declares that their journalism on the struggle of the Palestinians has been biased for many years now and that they will stop immediately continuing this.
After that BBC declaration the fees which have been amassed on the account "waiting for independant journalism of the BBC", will be transferred then on the account of the BBC

"The BBC ... said ... broadcasting the [2009[ DEC appeal would breach impartiality guidelines, as funds were being raised for Gaza but not Israel."

If the BBC broadcasts an appeal to help tsunami victims in Thailand, surely it devotes equal time asking viewers to donate to Swiss bankers. Thus it serves the mission of public broadcasting.

This story clarifies one thing: even the BBC concedes it's no longer independent.

If you look at the BBC exectutive note how many Jews are on it Peace and Good will to the people of Gaza

Read the back of the licence you dont need ro have one if you scramble the bbc channels. You can cancell your licence and let them know why. If you prefer that they go back to independent un biased reporting. The bbc used to stand for something now its becoming more like fox news.

"Headline is a total distortion of the facts. Appeals on the BBC are determined by the Disasters Appeals Committee a grouping of major charities who pride themselves on being completely independent of the BBC."

Rubbish, Suzy Andrews. Why not read the article before writing a completely false assertion about who controls output on the BBC?

Since when did a purportedly unbiased independent British news organization need to seek Israeli permission to report or air anything??. But of course if you examine why the BBC was set up and who has had control of it from day one it comes as no surprise.

The BBC might be a national institution with corrupt and well as good folks working for it, but at the end of the day the people who work there want to keep their jobs and their homes and not worry unduly for the wellbeing of their family members. Peter from the BBC has tried to tell you that people stuck their necks out on the David Kelly affair and Hutton reports and now they and their co-workers know what they're up against. If you think it is easy to just stand up and call Israel out on what it is doing then go take a look at Jim Stone's site and read his story. He's a really smart guy so he's still with us. I'm not sure how many of the rest of us would still be walking around if we decided to take a firm stance against Israel. So do your homework people. What is happening in Gaza is terrible beyond imagination, but Palestinians are not the only target in this war and if we want our Country to take a firm line with Israel we need to buckle up for a very bumpy ride!

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