BBC under fire over Gaza charity appeal

LONDON Sun Jan 25, 2009 11:05am GMT

A tattered flag flies in a strong breeze above the BBC headquarters November 21, 2008. REUTERS/Andrew Winning.

A tattered flag flies in a strong breeze above the BBC headquarters November 21, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Andrew Winning.

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LONDON (Reuters) - The government urged the BBC on Saturday to drop its refusal to broadcast a humanitarian appeal for victims of the war in Gaza.

The BBC said the appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), a coalition of 13 aid agencies, would compromise the impartiality of its coverage.

"The most important thing we can do for the people who are suffering is carrying on reporting it and we've done exemplary work in reporting the suffering of the people of Gaza," Chief Operating Officer Caroline Thomson said.

"If we lose the trust of the audience by appearing...to support one side rather than another, then we will have lost it for the charities themselves as well as everyone else."

Broadcasters ITV and Channel 4 said they would show it, but satellite broadcaster Sky said it had yet to reach a formal decision.

But most attention focussed on the stance of the BBC, which as the national public broadcaster is funded by a licence fee paid by owners of TV sets.

International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander said the British public could distinguish between support for humanitarian aid and perceived partiality in a conflict.

"I really struggle to see in the face of the immense human suffering of people in Gaza at the moment that this is in any way a credible argument," he said.

The BBC has argued that aid access to Gaza is in any case restricted, but Alexander said supplies and personnel had managed to get through on Friday.

"I do not think the fact that limited access is available at the moment is itself an adequate reason not to broadcast an appeal to try and address what is still a dire humanitarian situation," Alexander told BBC radio.

Politicians and aid groups have written to the BBC to try to persuade it to reconsider its decision, while hundreds of people demonstrated outside one of the broadcaster's London television centres.

About 1,300 Palestinians were killed and more than 5,000 were injured during Israel's 22-day offensive in the Gaza Strip, launched in an attempt to stop rocket attacks on its territory by Hamas militants. Thirteen Israelis died.

(Reporting by Avril Ormsby; Editing by Mark Trevelyan.)

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