BBC under fire for Band Aid 'slur'

Charities in uproar at claims that donations were spent on weapons

Bob Geldof and the Band Aid trust are to report the BBC to the broadcasting regulator Ofcom over a World Service report that millions of pounds raised for famine victims in Ethiopia in 1985 were actually spent on weapons.

A group of Britain's most respected agencies – including Oxfam, the Red Cross, Unicef, Christian Aid and Save the Children – are joining Band Aid in writing an official complaint to the chairman of the BBC Trust, Sir Michael Lyons.

They are to complain of the "false and dangerously misleading impression" created by a report by the BBC World Service's Africa editor, Martin Plaut, which alleged that 95 per cent of the $100m in aid which went to the northern province of Tigray in 1985 had been diverted for military use by the rebel forces which held the area.

A draft of a letter written by the agencies, seen by The Independent, speaks of "disgracefully poor reporting by the BBC which "relied on dubious sources and rumour" and which was "designed to leave an overall impression that the vast majority of resources raised by aid efforts in the mid 1980s largely went on buying arms". In a clearly angry tone the agencies say: "There is not in fact a shred of credible evidence that this happened. There is overwhelming evidence that tens of thousands and even millions were saved by these efforts, which were in fact spurred by reporting by the BBC." The draft concludes: "How the quality of the BBC's work then contrasts with the quality of this specific story now."

The story, which went out in the World Service's Assignment programme – and in a shorter version on Radio 4 in From Our Own Correspondent, as well as on the BBC website – relies on the testimony of two former senior Tigrean rebels. The most senior, Aregawi Berhe, a one-time commander in the rebel army, was expelled from the guerrilla movement in the summer of 1985.

"He therefore not only had a political axe to grind against his former colleagues but he wasn't even in Tigray at the time," said Sir Bob Geldof last night, "so he could not have witnessed these alleged transactions".

The anti-poverty campaigner, who raised $144m for Africa in the Live Aid concert in 1985 – which was spent in six different countries – accused the BBC of "wilfully naive reporting".

"This is a Ross/Brand moment in BBC standards for me," Sir Bob said. "This story has gone around the world on the internet and created a totally false impression of what actually happened. At the time of Live Aid we had journalists crawling all over everything we did trying to find something wrong – and they couldn't.

"And now, on the strength of one disgruntled soldier, the BBC has undermined the faith of ordinary people across the world in the effectiveness of giving to people in their hour of need. It is a disgrace."

It was not just the volatile campaigner who was incensed. The BBC story was "outrageous and very damaging," said Nick Guttmann, director of emergency relief operations at Christian Aid .

"It is palpable nonsense," said Phil Bloomer, director of Oxfam's campaigns and policy division. "The idea that 95 per cent of aid was diverted is beyond belief. We know because we bought the food, we bought the trucks, we took the food in, saw it distributed and then we drove the empty trucks out.

"You have to ask what is the motive of those behind these claims, made by political opponents of the Ethiopian Prime Minister as an election approaches in Ethiopia," he added.

"And you have to ask why the BBC seems to have been prepared to run with these extraordinary claims about our work without even putting in a call to Oxfam before they were broadcast."

"We're not utter fools," said Mr Bloomer. "We've worked for 60 years in some of the most difficult situations in the world with the extremes of human behaviour and have systems in place to safeguard against diversion."

A former British ambassador to Ethiopia, Myles Wickstead, added weight to the aid agencies' condemnation last night. "I'd give no credibility whatsoever to the idea that 95 per cent of aid to Tigray was diverted," he concluded.

"It was too highly monitored, most particularly that of Live Aid. Some money may well have gone astray in Ethiopia in 1985. But nowhere nearly on the scale which the BBC has alleged."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Account Executive / Account Manager

£18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive / Account Manager is ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Social Media Account Writers

£12000 - £13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This social media management pr...

Ashdown Group: Deputy Editor (Magazine Publishing) - Wimbledon - £23-26K

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Deputy Editor - Wimbledon...

Ashdown Group: Editor (Magazines/Publishing) - Wimbledon - £26-30K

£26000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Editor (Magazines/Publish...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones