'No Jewish influence on BBC appeal decision'

By Leon Symons, January 29, 2009
Ben Bradshaw

Ben Bradshaw

Accusations that Israel had influenced the BBC’s decision not to broadcast an appeal for aid to Gaza were strongly denied this week.

The Board of Deputies said that no-one from the community or Israel had spoken to the BBC or had any contact with it about the Disasters Emergency Committee’s appeal, which was broadcast on Monday evening by ITV, Channel 4 and Five.

A Board spokesman said: “Of course humanitarian aid is very important. We were called by a BBC journalist seeking comment on this but we made none. But there is no Jewish, Israeli or Zionist influence here.”

The BBC itself is waiting to see if it may be ordered to broadcast the appeal after an inquiry by the BBC Trust. The Trust decided to intervene during the week as the total of complaints criticising the decision by director- general Mark Thompson not to broadcast the appeal approached 16,000.

Among those who criticised the BBC for its refusal to broadcast the appeal was Liverpool Labour MP Louise Ellman, who is also vice-chair of Labour Friends of Israel.

She told the Sunday Telegraph: “The BBC should allow the appeal. If it has specific concerns about whether the money should reach those in need then it should raise those specific concerns so they can be dealt with properly.”

BBC director general Mark Thompson defended his decision on the BBC’s The Editors blog. “Gaza remains a major ongoing news story, in which humanitarian issues — the suffering and distress of civilians and combatants on both sides of the conflict, the debate about who is responsible for causing it and what should be done about it — are both at the heart of the story and contentious...

“... We concluded that we could not broadcast a free-standing appeal, no matter how carefully constructed, without running the risk of reducing public confidence in the BBC’s impartiality in its wider coverage of the story.”

Sky News also declined to run the two-minute long DEC advert, which was transmitted on Monday on ITV, Channel 4 and Five. It showed pictures of children, homeless and displaced adults and the extensive damage across Gaza. What it did not mention once was Israel.

Ben Bradshaw, Minister for the South West and Health Minister, told the audience of BBC Radio 4’s “Any Questions” that “Israel has a long reputation of bullying the BBC” and that its coverage of the Middle East was “impeccable”. He said he spoke as a former BBC reporter.

Asked if Israel had put pressure on the BBC on this issue, Mr Bradshaw replied that he was “not suggesting they had”, but then went on to say that journalists had come under pressure and the BBC should not be “cowed by this relentless and persistent pressure from the Israeli government and they should stand up against it”.

However, the BBC London branch of the National Union of Journalists rejected an attack on the BBC and its editorial independence, and defeated an attempt to seek legal advice on the possibility of allowing BBC journalists publicly to disavow the decision.

Last updated: 3:40pm, January 29 2009