The BBC has angered aid groups and members of the public by blocking an advert from 13 development organisations for desperately needed humanitarian assistance in the aftermath of the Gaza conflict.
The Disasters Emergency Committee's (DEC) Gaza crisis appeal, launched yesterday, is being denied airtime because the Corporation says it could jeopardise its political neutrality - despite agreeing to previous appeals for people effected by war in DR Congo and elsewhere.
A 46-year-old agreement with DEC guarantees them a two-minute prime-time slot to broadcast appeals, but this can only happen if all broadcasters agree. The BBC's decision not to air the appeal means that no other channels can do so either.
The BBC boasts that it "has been raising money on behalf of charities since 1926 and charity appeals are an important part of its role as a public service broadcaster."
Of its decision to block the Gaza adverts, the Corporation said: "The BBC 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 added: "However, the BBC will, of course, continue to report the humanitarian story in Gaza."
An angry aid worker in the region told Ekklesia: "People suffering and dying here are hardly likely to be consoled that the BBC will be there to film their misery while simulataneously denying charities a vital chance to raise the money to help them."
She added: "Refusing the DEC adverts because those who back Israel's military action in Gaza might complain calls the BBC's independence into question far more than honouring a long-standing non-political charitable agreement does. And for the Corporation to think it is fit to decide where aid is effective and where not, rather than the experts from NGOs and relief organisations, is bizarre. This is an outrage. I hope ordinary people will protest in large numbers."
Launching the Disasters Emergency Committee Gaza Crisis Appeal on 22 January 2009, chief executive Brendan Gormley said that the devastation wrought in the Gazan territory was so huge that British aid agencies were compelled to act.
Over 1,300 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict, and many thousands have been injured, overwhelming local hospitals. The destruction has left people without homes and many children without schooling; power, food and water supplies are insufficient to cover the population’s needs.
Mr Gormley said: “DEC agencies have a humanitarian mandate. We are not proposing to attempt to rebuild Gaza – that is not our role. But with the public’s support we can help relieve short-term needs. Agencies are already providing food, drugs and blankets as well as delivering clean water.
“But we will soon reach the limit of what we can do, without more money. For Gazans struggling to survive, receiving urgent humanitarian aid will help them take the first step to recovery.”
Mr Gormley stressed that DEC aid agencies were non-political. “We work on the basis of humanitarian need and there is an urgent need in Gaza today. Political solutions are for others to resolve, but what is of major concern to us all is that many innocent people have been affected by the situation – and it is them that we seek to help.”
The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) was formed in 1963. It is an umbrella organisation for 13 humanitarian aid agencies who work together for major emergencies.
Its members are: ActionAid, British Red Cross, CAFOD, Care International, Christian Aid, Concern, Help the Aged, Islamic Relief, Merlin, Oxfam, Save the Children, Tearfund and World Vision
Donations to the DEC Gaza appeal: https://www.donate.bt.com/bt_form_gaza.html
Comments to the BBC about its decision may be made here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/complaints_stage1.shtml