Recently, the UK-based Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), which comprises many aid agencies including the British Red Cross, Islamic Relief, Oxfam and others, called on all UK news broadcasters to broadcast a public appeal for Gaza. The BBC and other broadcasters refused, stating that “Along with other broadcasters, the BBC has decided not to broadcast the DEC’s public appeal to raise funds for Gaza. The BBC’s decision was made because of question marks about the delivery of aid in a volatile situation, and also to avoid any risk of compromising public confidence in the BBC’s impartiality in the context of an ongoing news story.” It is ironic that this very statement compromises the BBC’s professed impartiality.
The DEC is unique in that it brings together the UK’s aid, corporate, public and broadcasting sectors in order to rally the public’s compassion. As a non-political, humanitarian organization, it has “three principles” which guide its appeals: 1. The disaster must be on such a scale and of such urgency as to call for swift international humanitarian assistance. 2. The DEC agencies, or some of them, must be in a position to provide effective and swift humanitarian assistance at a scale to justify a national appeal. 3. There must be sufficient public awareness of, and sympathy for, the humanitarian situation so as to give reasonable grounds for concluding that a public appeal will be successful.
The crisis in Gaza clearly meets all three criteria, leaving one to only speculate why the BBC refused to broadcast the appeal.
Unfortunately, the BBC’s claims do not hold in the least. In 2006, the BBC broadcast an appeal for Darfur and Chad, stating at the beginning that the UN had deemed it the worst humanitarian crisis and concluding that “The crisis is by no means over, the violence in Darfur showing no sign of reaching an end, many people remain uprooted and reliant on international aid.” In 2008, the BBC’s Congo Appeal introduction stated that “Imagine being in such fear of your life that you have no choice but to leave home, uproot your family and flee.” Strange that no one thought that this would risk the BBC’s impartiality. Like Darfur and Chad, Gaza is a man-made catastrophe in which civilians are bearing the brunt of the hostilities. Making their situation even more precarious, Palestinians in Gaza are living under a strangling blockade and are not allowed to leave even for medical treatment.
The difference is crystal clear. The DEC appeal would have revealed Israel’s carnage in Gaza and would drive viewers to ask questions. It would have shown the demolished UN buildings, schools, and the storage facilities that contained desperately needed aid for the people of Gaza which were completely destroyed. The BBC would have to show the unrecognizable burnt bodies of women and children, as a result of weapons that are illegal to be used in civilian areas. It would demonstrate how Gaza’s hospitals are operating beyond capacity. It would also have to highlight how the blockade imposed by Israel has left the people of Gaza without basic resources. All of this would be shown without the usual Israeli excuses.
The desperation of these media outlets to maintain the old story line that “both sides are to blame” and that “they are all suffering” would be exposed as false. Those committed to “balance” in a severely unbalanced situation, at the expense of the suffering of thousands, are already taking a position because they are not showing the whole picture. The whole picture is not symmetrical — not by any standards.
A further factor comes into play. Journalist Robert Fisk was asked in a lecture he gave in 2008 in London, “is there a Zionist media lobby?” His response was, “There doesn’t need to be.” He explained that the minute a journalist used the word “wall” or “occupation,” a barrage of emails would be sent to the journalist with criticisms as well as accusations of anti-Semitism. And given Europe’s history, this is probably the worst thing one can be accused of being. The same people who criticize the use of such terminology, which are accurate and reflect words used in law, would most certainly be at the forefront of accusing the BBC of being biased should the appeal be aired. The fear is that just as the international solidarity movement grew with the growing humanitarian crisis in Darfur and the light being shed on the situation, the same would occur regarding Israel. Once these doors are open, many people would most certainly question Israeli behavior in the region and flouting of international law, and the already growing outrage would lead people to act. Or so we hope, and so they fear.
The first part of the claim further highlights the hypocrisy. It was stated that there were “question marks” in delivering the aid. Other than question the expertise of the charities under the DEC, the BBC is once again propagating dangerous double standards. In the 2008 Myanmar Cyclone appeal, the BBC’s Stephen Fry said, “There are difficulties in distributing and getting aid into the country, but despite these challenges, efforts are being stepped up.” He further went on to state that some of the 13 charities under the DEC already had people situated within Myanmar. Just like Myanmar, there are charities already situated within Gaza. Unlike Myanmar, this was not a natural disaster — the crisis in Gaza was created by humans and persists because of human indifference reinforced by the BBC’s decision.
As these words are being written, an Internet-wide movement to pressure the BBC to reverse its decision is growing. Only through this pressure for accountability and an end to double standards when it comes to the Israel-Palestine conflict, can people in Palestine finally be humanized in mainstream Western media. All over the world, when civilians are killed, the crisis is humanitarian. When it is in Palestine, it is political. Sadly, the media is the driving power behind the cheapening of Palestinians lives, under the guise of “impartiality.” However, in the words of Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
Jinan Bastaki is a recent Law graduate of the London School of Economics. She has been active in the LSESU Palestine Society and is now residing in the United Arab Emirates.