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Saturday, 24 January 2009

BBC DEC row: confusions and contradictions

I am a passionate supporter of the BBC and its editorial independence. I strongly resent any row in which shouty people try to force the BBC to change an editorial decision. The price we pay for the BBC's neutrality is that it sometimes makes decisions with which one disagrees - and nobody should seek to shout those decisions down, however unpalatable they may sometimes be. The BBC's decision not to show the DEC Appeal is the BBC's decision and the BBC's decision alone. It is ironic that the very people (including Government ministers!) who are now insisting that the BBC change its mind are accusing other people of having bullied the BBC! Pot, kettle, etc. I suggest that the DEC could produce a Gaza appeal which is in line with the BBC's editorial policy and rules on impartiality. The Red Cross, a constituent body of the DEC, is raising funds for Palestinian AND Israeli civilians affected by this conflict. For example, at time of writing, if you text LIFE to 81400, it will cost you £1.50, most of which will be split equally between a hospital in Gaza and a hospital in Israel. Israel too has had its wounded, and the emergency medical service Magen David Adom (which gets no govenment funding) has faced greatly increased costs as a result of Hamas' rocket attacks (and Magen David Adom has opened a field hospital for wounded Palestinians in Gaza, with an emergency room and four ambulances to take patients to Israeli hospitals). Surely DEC could produce an appeal, based on the Red Cross's work, that the BBC would consider impartial and so be able to broadcast? Of course, the immense suffering of Palestinian people in this latest Gaza conflict far outweighs that of Israelis (which has still been considerable). It is vital to get aid into Gaza and I applaud British charities' work there. If the BBC does decide to show the DEC Appeal after all, then I will not be opposed to that. What I oppose is bullying of the BBC by politicians and others who insist that the BBC MUST show this appeal - hands off the BBC! Especially you Government Ministers, Messrs Bradshaw and Alexander. A final thought: a recent poll (http://extras.timesonline.co.uk/pollresults.htm if you scroll down to the questions about Gaza) of UK public opinion shows that 24% of people blame Hamas for the Gaza War, 18% blame Israel and 58% blame both sides equally or are not sure who to blame. That 58% do not go on demonstrations or shout angrily at the BBC. But they do pay their licence fee and expect the BBC to be an utterly impartial guide to the deeply complicated politics of Israel, Palestine and the wider Middle East.