BBC left isolated as rival channels back aid appeal

Ministers step into row over corporation's refusal to show charities' plea for donations to Gaza

The BBC was engaged in a war of words with ministers last night over its refusal to broadcast an urgent appeal for humanitarian aid to Gaza. Government figures, aid workers and BBC staff expressed outrage that the corporation has not backed down, as some of its rivals did yesterday, and broadcast the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) appeal. The BBC said yesterday it was concerned that access to aid in Gaza might be problematic, and that it did not want to endanger the public's perception of the impartiality of its reporting.

The BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons expressed concern that the "level and tone" of the political comments were "coming close to constituting undue interference in the political independence" of the corporation.

Channel 4, Five, ITV and al-Jazeera English announced they will be airing the DEC appeal tomorrow, after initially falling in behind the BBC. Sky News was considering its position last night.

Public figures were outraged by the broadcaster's decision not to air the appeal, calling it a "terrible mistake". One former senior BBC journalist referred to "a culture of timidity". The BBC has previously aired DEC pleas for humanitarian help in volatile regions such as Congo and Burma.

Yesterday a march that had been organised to complain about the BBC's alleged pro-Israel bias, which began outside Broadcasting House, was given new focus by the row.

The director-general, Mark Thompson, stood by his decision last night, despite critics' attempts to draw a distinction between politics and aid.

The row once again pitted the Government against the BBC, six years on from the David Kelly controversy. It raised further questions over the judgement of senior BBC officials weeks after the Ross/Brand affair.

In an unusual intervention by a cabinet minister, the International Development Secretary, Douglas Alexander, wrote to Mr Thompson on Friday urging him to reconsider, but Whitehall sources said the BBC seemed determined not to back down. The health minister Ben Bradshaw, a former BBC journalist, said the decision was "inexplicable" and called the corporation's justification "completely feeble". The Communities and Local Government Secretary, Hazel Blears, added: "I sincerely hope the BBC will urgently review its decision."

A motion has been tabled in the Commons for tomorrow expressing astonishment at the corporation's judgement in blocking airtime from the coalition of major aid charities, including the British Red Cross.

It is understood that it was Mr Thompson's decision, and chief operating officer Caroline Thomson was ordered to go on radio – initially on Friday on Radio 4's The World Tonight – to defend the position. A source close to the row said: "Because she [Ms Thomson] has gone so strongly on editorial independence, it is very difficult to see how they can back down."

Ms Thomson said yesterday: "It is important to remember that broadcasting appeals like this is a unique thing we do and we have to be clear about two things when we do it. First, that that money will go to the people it is intended for; but second, that we can do it within our own impartiality principles and without affecting and impinging on the audience's perception of our impartiality."

Protocol dictates that the BBC leads the way on deciding a consensus on DEC appeals with other channels. But rival channels allege the corporation made an announcement on Thursday before consulting them, forcing them to break with the convention.

The DEC is an apolitical umbrella organisation made up of UK major aid organisations ActionAid, British Red Cross, Cafod, Care International UK, Christian Aid, Concern Worldwide, Help the Aged, Islamic Relief, Merlin, Oxfam, Save the Children, Tearfund and World Vision.

Mr Alexander welcomed the move by rival broadcasters to air the appeal: "The DEC appeal is crucial to help alleviate the suffering of people injured, displaced and hungry in Gaza."

Many former BBC stalwarts were appalled at the news and called for an immediate reversal of the decision. John Tusa, former managing director of BBC World Service, said: "It's a terrible mistake and I think they have lost for the moment any sense of judgement and a good deal of courage. Anybody who thinks giving aid to badly injured children in Gaza would be taken as bias needs their heads examined."

Former BBC correspondent Martin Bell said: "Old BBC soldiers like me are appalled by the BBC's decision. There are civilians dying out there who desperately need aid."

Director-general is under pressure to go

Mark Thompson's statement last night was a typically robust reaction to the latest challenge troubling his tenure as director-general of the BBC.

A scandal surrounding rigged phone-in contests on 'Blue Peter' in 2007 led to the regulator Ofcom fining the BBC £50,000. The BBC1 controller Peter Fincham resigned in the same year over the the editing of a trailer that misleadingly suggested that the Queen had stormed out of a photo session.

Mr Thompson came under pressure to resign last year, in the wake of controversy surrounding lurid calls to the actor Andrew Sachs, which resulted in the departure of Russell Brand, the resignation of BBC Radio 2 controller Lesley Douglas, and the suspension of Jonathan Ross.

Ministerial anger over his decision not to back down over the appeal will add to the pressure for Mr Thompson to do what some of his senior staff have done in recent years – resign.

Balance in the media: Has the BBC lost its nerve over Gaza?

The BBC is used to being accused of anti-Israel bias, but in 2004 it was jolted by a study that said BBC1 and ITV news were guilty, if unthinkingly, of under-reporting the Palestinian cause. Worse, the Glasgow Media Unit found viewers thought the "occupation" of the West Bank and Gaza referred to the Palestinians, not Israeli settlers.

At the same time, the BBC fell foul of the Israeli authorities over an interview with the nuclear whistleblower Mordecai Vanunu, released in 2004 after 18 years in prison, which was smuggled out of Israel. The BBC's then deputy bureau chief, Simon Wilson, had his work permit withdrawn and was barred from the country. He was allowed back in after the BBC bowed to demands that he make a written apology to the Israeli government for dodging its censors.

The BBC appointed a senior broadcaster, Malcolm Balen, to "take stock" of Middle East coverage, in his words. He drew up an internal report that has never been released, but one result appeared to be the appointment, in mid-2005, of Jeremy Bowen as the BBC's Middle East editor. His stated role was to supply context amid the footage of bloodshed and mayhem.

Why critics accuse the BBC of losing its nerve is because, several times during the present conflict, almost as much airtime has been given to the chief Israeli spokesman, Mark Regev, as if by allowing him his say, the BBC is supplying the necessary "balance" to the images of Palestinian victims. A live "two-way" between Mr Regev and Jon Snow of 'Channel 4 News' became a shouting match, but this has never happened on the BBC.

Donations can be made to the DEC Gaza appeal via its website www.dec.org.uk or by calling 0370 60 60 900

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Sphere Digital Recruitment: Display Account Manager

£25,000 to £35,000: Sphere Digital Recruitment: The Company Our client are th...

Sphere Digital Recruitment: Sales Director

£80 – 120K : Sphere Digital Recruitment: Sales Director – Ad tech - £80 – 120K...

Sphere Digital Recruitment: Senior Analyst – Global Sports Gaming Brand

40,000- 50,000: Sphere Digital Recruitment: Senior Analyst – Global Sports Gam...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum