MPs, actors and directors join calls for airing of Gaza appeal

MPs, actors and directors join calls for airing of Gaza appeal

By staff writers
27 Jan 2009

A House of Commons motion criticising the BBC and Sky for refusing to broadcast a plea for humanitarian aid funding for Gaza has been backed by 112 MPs. Actors and directors are also joining the protest.

The Disasters Emergency Committee's Gaza Crisis Appeal was screened on Monday 26 January by ITV, Channel 4 and Five. But the BBC and Sky refused, with the Murdoch-owned channel similarly claiming that it would undermine its impartiality.

The BBC's reasons for not airing the film were was described by Labour MP Richard Burden's motion, signed by those from all parties, as "unconvincing".

Golden Globe-winning actor Samantha Morton says she will not work for the BBC again if it doesn't show the advert.

Others in show business and broadcasting are equally annoyed. Comedian Bill Bailey accused the Corporation of "moral cowardice", and former BBC journalist and correspondent Rageh Omar said the director general had "panicked politically".

In a letter written to Mark Thompson, the BBC's director-general, the actors Tam Dean Burn and Pauline Goldsmith, and the directors Peter Mullan and Alison Peebles, said they were "appalled" by the refusal to show the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) appeal.

They declared : '[W]e will never work for the BBC again unless this disgraceful decision is reversed. We will urge others from our profession and beyond to do likewise.

"We will also not pay our TV licence fee in protest and encourage others to do likewise. It is time for the people of Britain to take a stand on this issue by demanding the BBC reverse this decision."

Church and faith leaders are also outraged at the BBC's action, with Anglican Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu saying "the issue is not impartiality but humanity."

Meanwhile, protests over the issue have taken place at BBC Broadcasting House in London and in Glasgow. Over 5,000 more public complaints rolled into the BBC today, and it is predicted they will exceed 50,000 by the end of the week.

The Scottish National Party said all seven of its MPs, including Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, are backing the cross-party parliamentary motion urging the BBC to broadcast the DEC appeal.

SNP Westminster leader and former BBC international affairs reporter Angus Robertson MP said: "With every day that passes the BBC's defiance becomes more and more ridiculous.

He added: "Whatever people's views on the conflict, there is no doubt that international aid is of vital importance in Gaza at this time - and for the BBC to hinder that effort is totally unacceptable by a public service broadcaster."

Avi Shlaim, the professor of international relations at the University of Oxford, said Sky and BBC management were behaving in a "cowardly" way.

Mohammed Shafiq, the chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, a UK Muslim youth organisation, also urged the broadcasters to reconsider.

Labour peer Baroness Uddin, the first Muslim woman in the House of Lords, told Mr Thompson yesterday that the BBC's decision had been a "gross misjudgment". She said: "We should all be demanding that BBC governors intervene in this matter and reconsider its position."

Simon Barrow of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, which has affiliate relations with a number of DEC member charities, said: "The BBC has engineered an unedifying and unnecessary crisis for itself, alienating many people who otherwise look to it for good reporting and fairness. Let's hope that humanity and sense will prevail over the current stubborness and refusal to rectify a clear mistake."

The Disasters Emergency Committee, which includes CAFOD, Christian Aid and Tearfund, says thousands of people in Gaza are struggling to survive, with many having lost their homes and most down to their last supplies of food and only limited amounts of fresh drinking water.

It points out that just £25 can buy warm blankets for 8 children, while £50 can provide a Food parcel for a family for one month.

In describing the emergency, it points to:

* Electricity - supplies to Gaza are erratic at best with 75% of the area cut off completely. There is a significant public health risk arising out of the almost collapse of Gaza’s water and sewage system, the running of which is dependent on electricity.

* Water - Around 500,000 people are without running water with 37% of Gaza’s water wells not working effectively and fuel reserves depleted due to restrictions on access and damage to pipes.

* Health - The capacity of the health system has been significantly reduced due to the damage of at least 21 clinics. Ten primary health care clinics are functioning as emergency clinics and hospitals and intensive care units continue to treat the mass casualties.

In addition, DEC says, overall:

* At least 412 Children have been killed and 1,855 injured

* 60% of the population is living in poverty

* 1.1 million people are dependent upon aid to survive.

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You can donate to the DEC Gaza Crisis Appeal at http://www.dec.org.uk by calling 0370 6060900, or at any Oxfam, Red Cross, Save the Children or Islamic Relief shop, high-street bank or post office.

Comments to the BBC about its decision may be made here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/complaints_stage1.shtml

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