ENGLAND: Top Anglicans join criticism of BBC for not airing Gaza appeal

January 25, 2009

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Archbishop of York John Sentamu have joined in British condemnation of a decision by their national broadcaster not to air a charity appeal for aid to Gaza.

Williams, the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, said on January 25 he fully backed Sentamu, who said, "This is not a row about impartiality but rather about humanity. This is not an appeal by Hamas asking for arms but by the Disasters Emergency Committee asking for relief. By declining their request, the BBC has already taken sides and forsaken impartiality."

 

Williams expressed his agreement with Sentamu as it emerged that the BBC had received more than 11,000 complaints. More than 70 British lawmakers planned to back a parliamentary motion on January 26 urging the corporation to reverse its decision not to broadcast an appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee, which represents more than a dozen aid agencies, including church groups such as Christian Aid.

The appeal was asking for money to buy food, medicine and blankets following the Israeli assault on Gaza, which was said to have been to prevent rocket attacks by Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, into Israel, but that resulted in massive civilian casualties among Palestinians.

Israel was accused of using excessive force and targeting civilians during a three-week offensive that Palestinian human rights groups say killed 1,285 people, 70 percent of whom were civilians. Hamas was, however, also criticized for using people as human shields and for its months-long rocket attacks into Israeli civilian areas that preceded the onslaught.

"It is abominable, indescribable," Louis Michel, the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, told journalists in Gaza on January 26 after visiting the area. "At this time we have to also recall the overwhelming responsibility of Hamas. I intentionally say this here -- Hamas is a terrorist movement and it has to be denounced as such."

British politicians, including the minister for international development, Douglas Alexander, and the minister responsible for communities, Hazel Blears, and a former Labour Party cabinet minister, Tony Benn, have urged the BBC to "think again."

On January 26 on BBC Radio Four, the BBC's director general, Mark Thompson, reiterated his belief that airing a charity appeal for Gaza would put the corporation's impartiality at risk. Thompson said the BBC could not give the impression it was "backing one side" over the other.

Although the appeal will be shown on Britain's Independent Television, it will not be seen on another independent news channel Sky and some commentators and politicians assert that the BBC and Sky have been unduly pressured by pro-Israeli lobbyists.

Labour Party lawmaker and one time cabinet minister, Gerald Kaufman, who is Jewish, claimed that the BBC was worrying about what he called "nasty pressure" from some pro-Israeli lobbyists.