January 26, 2009 / 11:46 AM / 11 years ago

BBC and Sky not to air Gaza charity appeal

LONDON (Reuters) - The BBC and Sky withstood intense popular criticism on Monday and refused to air a charity appeal for the victims of Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

A Palestinian woman feeds her grandson outside the United Nations headquarters in Jabalya in the northern Gaza Strip January 26, 2009. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

Thirteen of Britain’s largest charities, who together constitute the Disasters Emergency Committee, have asked broadcasters to air an appeal during primetime on Monday seeking donations for Palestinians affected by the conflict.

But the BBC and Sky, which have 24-hour news channels watched in the Middle East and have closely followed Israel’s three-week war in which 1,300 Palestinians were killed, have said they will not broadcast the appeal because they do not want to be seen to favour either side of the conflict.

“Our commitment as journalists is to cover all sides of that story with uncompromising objectivity,” John Ryley, the head of Sky News, said in a statement on Monday, which followed the BBC’s weekend announcement that it would not air the appeal.

“That is why, after very careful consideration, we have concluded that broadcasting an appeal for Gaza at this time is incompatible with our role in providing balanced and objective reporting of this continuing situation to our audiences.”

Until Sky’s decision, the BBC had stood alone against the appeal, drawing criticism from politicians, media commentators and the public, with 11,000 viewers registering complaints.

Leading figures in the Church of England also joined the criticism of the BBC, which is funded by taxpayers, with John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, saying the money was only for those who were hungry, sick, wounded or need of shelter.

“This is not an appeal for Hamas — that would be horrendous and horrific,” he said, referring to the Islamist group that has run Gaza since early 2006 and whose rocket fire into Israel led Israel to launch its air-and-ground assault.

It is not the first time the BBC has refused to air appeals for the Disasters Emergency Committee, which have raised up to $30 million in the past — it did not run an appeal for Lebanon after Israel’s conflict with Hezbollah there in 2006.

Emphasising the BBC’s need for impartiality in reporting the Middle East, the corporation’s chief Mark Thompson said:

“Everyone is struck by the human consequences of what’s happened (in Gaza) and we will ... continue to report that as fully and as compassionately as we can.

“But we are going to do it in a way where we can hold it up to scrutiny. It is our job as journalists.”

A Disasters Emergency Committee spokeswoman said she understood the BBC and Sky’s decision but added: “Impartiality for us is meeting the humanitarian needs, which are massive.”

She said funds raised from the appeal, which will use television news footage to draw attention to the destruction in Gaza, would be directed only to Palestinians, more than 5,000 of whom were wounded, and not to Israeli victims of Hamas rockets.

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