To quote the late Harry Horse in his cartoon in the Sunday Herald almost exactly three years ago: "Now that Orwell is beamed nightly into our democratic living rooms" (January 15, 2006). Rarely can the BBC have acted in quite such an Orwellian fashion as it has over the Disaster Emergency Committee's (DEC) Gaza appeal. George Orwell's 1984 warns against a future state media propaganda machine, the Ministry of Truth (based on Orwell's experience of working for the BBC), which puts out statements that are the opposite of the facts.
BBC director general Mark Thompson's justification for refusing to show the DEC's Gaza appeal is such a statement: "We decided not to broadcast the DEC's public appeal because we wished to avoid any risk of compromising public confidence in the BBC's impartiality in the context of covering a continuing news story where issues of responsibility for civilian suffering and distress are intrinsic to the story and remain highly contentious."
Since that statement, public confidence in the BBC's impartiality on this issue has been shattered worldwide. There has been an enormous outpouring of anger and disbelief that the BBC could be quite so partial in the face of mass human suffering. Thompson's argument has been torn to shreds and produced an alliance of opinion more broad than that which opposed the government's decision to go to war in Iraq.
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One only has to look at the comments - more than 1500 on Friday morning - on Thompson's statement on the BBC's "The Editors" blog page. I read through the first and last 100 comments and there are roughly 10 to one against Thompson. Admittedly, this is not quite the overwhelming statistic as the level of fatalities in the recent conflict, which stands at 100 to one, but it is significant all the same. Those in support mainly fall into the hardened, vehemently anti-Palestinian lobby.
Shockingly, the BBC has continued to use the justification that aid might not get through. Thompson said: "You will understand that one of the factors we have to look at is the practicality of the aid, which the public are being asked to fund, getting through. In the case of the Burma cyclone, for instance, it was only when we judged that there was a good chance of the aid getting to the people who needed it most that we agreed to broadcast the appeal. Clearly, there have been considerable logistical difficulties in delivering aid into Gaza. However, some progress has already been made and the situation could well improve in the coming days. If it does, this reason for declining to broadcast the appeal will no longer be relevant."
The DEC has countered this argument from the beginning. The DEC is unique in that it brings together the UK's aid, corporate, public and broadcasting sectors. As a non-political, humanitarian organisation, it has three principles that guide its appeals: the disaster must be on such a scale and of such urgency as to call for swift international humanitarian aid; the DEC agencies, or some of them, must be in a position to provide effective and swift humanitarian assistance at a scale to justify a national appeal; and that there must be sufficient public awareness of, and sympathy for, the humanitarian situation so as to give reasonable grounds for concluding that a public appeal will be successful. Clearly the crisis in Gaza meets all three criteria.
But let's look at Thompson's reference to Burma. On the day the Burma appeal aired, the BBC ran this story: "Burma's leaders are facing growing international concern over their reluctance to accept foreign aid, days after the devastating cyclone. The UN says its planes carrying vital food supplies cannot enter because they still do not have permission to land." In his voiceover for the appeal, Stephen Fry said: "There are difficulties in distributing and getting aid into the country."
But still Thompson and the BBC persist with this nonsense. It is the aid agencies who are best positioned to judge whether aid will get through. The reason for declining to broadcast the appeal is no longer relevant, if it ever was. But still we see no change in the BBC's stance.
ATTEMPTS to distinguish between "natural" and "man-made" catastrophes hold less water than a Gaza storage tank. In 2006, the BBC broadcast an appeal for Darfur and Chad, stating that the UN had deemed it the worst humanitarian crisis and that: "The crisis is by no means over, the violence in Darfur showing no sign of reaching an end, many people remain uprooted and reliant on international aid."
In 2008, the BBC's Congo appeal said: "Imagine being in such fear of your life that you have no choice but to leave home, uproot your family and flee." Strange no-one thought this would risk the BBC's impartiality. Like Darfur and Chad, Gaza is a man-made catastrophe in which civilians are bearing the brunt of the hostilities.
With the BBC's arguments in tatters, there has been complete mystification as to why it is persisting with this ban. To my mind and, it appears, to millions of others, the BBC is increasingly biased towards Israel in this conflict. A recent Financial Times editorial said: "The BBC at times gives the impression it has lost its collective nerve in covering this region. An independent panel on BBC coverage of the conflict, published in 2006, reported shortcomings that objectively favoured Israel: more coverage of Israeli fatalities; more Israeli spokesmen; and, above all: the failure to convey adequately the disparity in the Israeli and Palestinian experience, reflecting the fact that one side is in control and the other lives under occupation'."
I would argue that this bias has moved on apace since Thompson went to Israel in 2005 and signed a deal with prime minister Ariel Sharon on the BBC's coverage of the conflict. Just days later, BBC correspondent Orla Guerin was relocated to South Africa.
This is what former BBC director general Greg Dyke had to say: "It was pretty bad timing to announce it within days of director general Mark Thompson's visit to Israel where he had a meeting with Sharon. Sharon has never hidden his intense dislike of Guerin or the BBC's reporting of the Middle East."
Thompson has been discredited and must resign. The BBC must reverse its decision and until it does, I urge a mass boycott of the corporation. We must do all we can to assist the people of Gaza, especially by isolating the Israeli military state through a complete economic, academic and cultural boycott. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."