Charities urge BBC to launch emergency appeal for victims of Syria's war

Corporation fears lack of public sympathy for plight of millions may hurt fundraising efforts
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The Independent Online

Broadcasters including the BBC are under increasing pressure to allow an emergency appeal for victims of Syria's civil war.

The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), an umbrella fundraising body for Britain's leading humanitarian organisations, has formally approached the BBC about airing a nationwide appeal which could raise tens of millions of pounds for efforts to help nearly four million people caught up in the conflict. About 70,000 people are thought to have died.

Key charities including Islamic Relief and Oxfam are convinced of the need to combine fundraising efforts into a DEC appeal as the fighting across Syria reaches a deadlock and refugees both inside the country and across its borders struggle for accommodation and basic needs.

The Red Cross has also spoken of an urgent need to increase the aid operation inside Syria.

Broadcasters would play a vital role in disseminating the DEC's message about the humanitarian situation in Syria, but The Independent understands that discussions are continuing between NGOs and the networks about whether key criteria for launching an appeal have been met.

Concern has been raised about whether the appeal would be successful, and about the difficulty of obtaining footage to show the perilous conditions faced by the estimated two million people trapped inside Syria, where journalists have been regularly targeted.

With media coverage often focused on the military confrontation or diplomatic failures, there is debate within the DEC about whether the third of three criteria for an appeal – the need to prove existing or likely "public sympathy for the humanitarian situation" – has been fulfilled.

The BBC confirmed tonight that it had received a request from the DEC to air an appeal and that the matter was under consideration. A spokeswoman said: "The BBC has now received a formal request to broadcast a DEC appeal. We are looking at the details and will be making a decision shortly."

One NGO source said: "The situation with the appeal is ongoing. Some reservations have been expressed by broadcasters but also within some charities about whether everything is in place to get this right."

DEC appeals have often been highly successful, raising huge sums for emergency relief operations. The last appeal, in 2011 for the crisis in east Africa, raised £79m while the 2005 appeal following the Asian tsunami raised £372m.

But they have also previously proved controversial for broadcasters, which have to balance ongoing coverage of the conflicts behind many humanitarian disasters with their ability to elicit large numbers of donations by providing air time for charities.

The BBC and Sky were criticised in 2009 when they refused to broadcast a DEC appeal during Israel's military operation against Gaza. They said the appeal risked undermining public confidence in their impartiality. Other broadcasters, including Channel 4 and ITV, did air the appeal.

The BBC has also refused to broadcast other appeals, including for victims of the Israel Hezbollah conflict in Lebanon in 2006.

The violence convulsing Syria has claimed 70,000 lives and led to more than 750,000 fleeing to neighbouring countries, where many are crowded into emergency accommodation. Inside the country, millions are facing hunger, medicine shortages and the privations of a harsh winter.