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by Peter Avis

The BBC in the Hot Seat.

Translated Thursday 19 February 2009, by Karen Singleton

Anger after the channel refuses to broadcast an appeal in favour of the Palestinians.

Special correspondent

The BBC is at the heart of a controversy after its refusal to broadcast an appeal to help the Palestinians produced by about 15 humanitarian organisations. This has provoked the anger of MPs, clergy, ministers and journalists. For many years, the Disasters Emergency Committee has brought together NGOs such as the Red Cross, Oxfam and Save the Children to issue appeals with the support of all the public channels during catastrophes or conflicts : after the tsunami in Asia, the massacres at Darfour, in the Congo or during the Vietnam war.

The director-general of the BBC, Mark Thompson, announced that this appeal in favour of the Palestinians would not be broadcast. The reason? That it could not be guaranteed that the viewers’ donations would help the victims families, the injured or the starving population of Gaza. The BBC invoked its sacrosanct code of "impartiality" towards opponents in a conflict.

National outcry! Even the Health Minister, Ben Bradshaw, suggested that the BBC should sometimes resist the pressure of the Israeli government. John Sentamu, the Bishop of York and number two in the Anglican Church, lodged a protest with the "Beeb." Martin Bell, a former war correspondent, expressed the sentiment of many of his colleagues in denouncing the network’s "culture of timidity" when faced with the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. On Saturday, thousands of demonstrators accompanied the former minister, Tony Benn, peace activist and radio journalist of 60 years, to protest in front of the BBC’s headquarters. ITV and Channel 4 – both private channels – decided to broadcast the appeal Monday evening. The BBC has never found itself so isolated from public opinion, and it is not certain it will come out of this regrettable affair unscathed.

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