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
News
Shoppers at Selfridges department store in central London
black friday
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
Life and Style
View of champagne glasses at a beach bar set up along the Croisette during the 66th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes on May 17, 2013
food + drink(and for now, there's a clear winner)
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
Irradiated turkey and freeze dried mash potato will be on the menu this thanksgiving
video
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
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: Data Warehouse & Business Intelligence Co-ordinator

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Required skills include SQL querying, SSRS, u...

Guru Careers: Account Director

£45 - 55k: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Account Director to join an award-w...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Graduate Consultant - Sales Recruitment - £35k ote

£18000 - £25000 per annum + £35k ote: h2 Recruit Ltd: Looking for your first s...

Recruitment Genius: Advertising Media Sales - Print, Online & Mobile

£19000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing house has been ...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?