Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

BBC: “Just trying to stay neutral”

The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those
who in time of great moral crises maintain their neutrality
.”
- Dante

Last week, the BBC made the decision not to air an appeal on behalf of the Disasters Emergency Committee for Gaza on the basis that “the BBC’s impartiality was in danger of being damaged.” The BBC’s COO, Caroline Thomson, asked “Could the BBC be sure that money raised for this cause would find its way to the right people?”

Tim Llewellyn, former BBC correspondent in the Middle East, immediately questioned the decision, asking:

How is the BBC’s impartiality to be prejudiced by asking others to raise money for the victims of an act of war by a recognised state, an ally of Britain, using the most lethal armaments it can against a defenceless population? What sly little trigger went off in her head when Thomson questioned whether the aid would reach the right people? What right people? Hamas, the elected representatives of the Palestinian people? The hospitals and clinics run by private charities and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency? The mosques? The citizens of Gaza, persecuted beyond measure not only by their Israeli enemies but by the western powers who arm and sustain Israel and defy the democratic vote of the Palestinian people?

Llewellyn’s comments made it immediately clear that Thomson’s views weren’t representative of the majority of the BBC. And then the venerable Tony Benn managed to get on air and ask for aid anyway:

“I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t think we should give aid to Gaza,” says Benn.

The anchor speaking with Benn repeatedly voices concern that funds could go to Hamas, then asks if Benn thinks the appeal will lose money based on the BBC’s decision. Benn’s answer?
“People will die because of the BBC decision – let me be clear about that. And I started my life 60 years ago as a BBC producer, I love the BBC, I support it. But it has capitulated to Israeli pressure. That’s the truth, I have to tell you.”

If only everyone had so much courage. But perhaps the BBC’s poor judgement will indeed improve the campaign’s reach? As Diana from KABOBfest points out:

It is great that they took the decision not to air it; the lines are becoming clear and the backlash they are getting shows the anger at the lobby. BBC employees don’t want to be accused of caving to the lobby (even though they cave every day). Brits are now refusing to pay their mandatory license fee and BBC is feeling the heat for once.

It’s clear to me that the BBC’s decision is morally wrong and unjustifiable, however, Diana has a point. The BBC has long kowtowed to pressure; As Nigel Fountain points out in an otherwise unintelligible Guardian op-ed, the BBC has been here before. Fountain reminds us of a 1974 airing of a South African apartheid propaganda film on the BBC.

Fundamentally, the problem here is the BBC’s impression that their desire is to remain “neutral.” By implying that they must ignore the humanitarian crisis and the victims in Gaza in order to err on the side of neutrality in fact implies that not offending Israel is more important than helping the over 5,000 injured, and countless who have lost homes or livelihood thanks to Israel’s massacre.

9 Comments

  1. here is what desmond tutu had to say about neutrality:

    “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the
    side of the oppressor” -Archbishop Desmund Tutu

  2. Even better than Dante! Why am I not surprised?

  3. From the day it was founded, the BBC has always acted as the Foreign Office’s mouthpiece. They get their money from there; they have a so-called Governor’s board that is basically a “censure board.”
    Indeed the BBC World Service (the body responsible for international news) was first called “the Empire service.” Of course the BBC has evolved since then, but the methods of deceit too. There is immense pressure exerted on the British government, and subsequently on the BBC by pro-Israel groups as you know.
    But the bias has become so ridiculously obvious… it beggars belief.

  4. Even sadder is the fact that the US equivalent of Tony Benn is nowhere to be found. Is it so difficult to understand that the humanitarian crisis must trump everything else ?

  5. The new layout is just great Jill!

  6. There may be a few too many obscure British cultural references here, but I thought it was one of the more eloquent and succinct comments on this particular bit of craven nonsense:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/cartoon/2009/jan/27/bbc-gaza-aid-appeal

  7. To say that the BBC is impartial is simply surreal. This article written last June during the siege, illustrate beautifully the BBC’s position.
    http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=9307

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