Fair and Balanced
January 25, 2009 3:55 AM   Subscribe

The Disasters' Emergency Committee is an umbrella organisation of 13 major British humanitarian NGOs: ActionAid, the British Red Cross, CAFOD, Care International, Christian Aid, Concern, Help the Aged, Islamic Relief, Merlin, Oxfam, Save the Children, Tear Fund and World Vision. It was created to coordinate a rapid response to major disasters and to launch common appeals for donations to be broadcast in the British media. Since 1963, the DEC has previously successfully run appeals for the victims of a.o. the Asian Tsunami, the Darfur and Chad Crisis, the Congo Crisis, or the Burma and Bangladesh Cyclones. However, their latest appeal has been refused by the BBC.

In the BBC's Editors' Blog, its Director General, Mark Thmpson, cites concerns about the perception of its impartiality and casts doubt on the charities' "ability to deliver on the ground the aid raised in the appeal". Many are outraged, me included.
posted by Skeptic (25 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Of course, as was pointed out on Radio 4's Broadcasting House this morning, the appeal is currently being mentioned on every BBC news broadcast, and they are giving lots of airtime to people from the DEC explaining why the people in Gaza need the help and why the BBC should broadcast the appeal.

Sure, it might not be a prime time advert after Eastenders, but it's still an awful lot of coverage.
posted by Helga-woo at 4:24 AM on January 25, 2009

The BBC weren't alone on this, as ITV and Sky initially agreed with them, and also refused to broadcast it. ITV has since changed it's mind, and Sky is now thinking about it.

The BBC does broadcast DEC appeals when they're the result of a natural disaster. In this case though, Israel had literally only just withdrawn from Gaza, and it's entirely possible they may go back in. In an active warzone with BBC correspondents on the ground, I can see why they're a little touchy about doing anything that might be seen as partisan. historically, Israel has taken any criticism of its actions as a mark of anti-semitism, something which they've accused the BBC of in the past. Putting out an advert for the Gazan people, no matter how tragic their circumstances, threatens the neutrality of the BBC, or at least the perception of it.

Once you start putting out appeals for those suffering in warzones, while the BBC are reporting on it live, where does it stop? Appeals for Iraqi or Afghanistan citizens made homeless by allied bombing, appeals for israelis injured by hamas rocket fire, appeals for those tortured in Guantamo, or murdered activists in china?

More to the point, the BBC is supposedly editorially independent of the government, but that hasn't stopped a number of MPs from saying what they think the BBC should and shouldn't broadcast. Do we really want the BBC to turn into a state-run media body, or one which does whatever is most popular at the time? Do we want a pravda, or Fox News style BBC?
posted by ArkhanJG at 4:41 AM on January 25, 2009 [5 favorites]

CARE Australia is a funny one – presumably in the same group as CARE International[?]. Some workers got arrested in Serbia during the war for spying. "Oh yeah, I, um, used to be in the army and it's just a habit of mine to be taking notes on troop movements, silly me" was one of the lame excuses used.

And the patriarch, Malcolm Fraser... some say he became Prime Minister of Australia due, in part, to some dodgy CIA shenanigans.

But I've said too much already.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:15 AM on January 25, 2009

ArkanJG writes:

The BBC does broadcast DEC appeals when they're the result of a natural disaster.

I am sorry, that is factually inxorrect. The BBC, along with the other British TV broadcasters also has a long history of broadcasting DEC appeals in response to conditions arising in post-confluct situations. Take, for instance, this November 2008 Congo appeal: Youtube
posted by Mister Bijou at 5:15 AM on January 25, 2009

In case you can't read between the lines. CARE International is a front for the CIA.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:30 AM on January 25, 2009

When I came to England I was a BBC supporter. I thought they were fantastic. They had great documentaries and amazing world news. Four years later I am so disenchanted that I am embarrassed that i used to be pro-beeb. I still admire the ideal but it is getting more and clear they have filled up on stupid shallow people who make the very worst kind of decisions. Panorama has become Paranorma and Paranoia. Horizon has become schlocky reality TV pseudo-science. After several years of promoting housing speculation they have flipped on a dime and now have exactly the same "experts" telling us how to survive the credit crunch. Morning news is now about 5 minutes of news and about 25 minutes of whatever stupid reality TV show is on that week - strickly come britains got big X factor - and any cross promotional synergistic book/music/move release they can get their hands on. To make it even worse outside of London I think they have news crews of about 2 people for every 3 or 4 million and the local news is non-existent and they take the weekends off!

To top it all off they allow a subset of the population who own very specific expensive smart phones (BBC execs and their families) to download DRM free video from iPlayer while the rest of us have DRM encumbered time-bombed PC-bound versions unless we are willing to hack. I have a hard time understanding how they can possibly justify this when the reason I can't DRM free content is supposedly licensing agreement problems. Do those agreements have clauses allowing distribution to iPhones, Nokia N90's and Wahoo X9798s? Of course not.

I'm very close to shutting off my TV and opting out of the license fee because the people running the Beeb have turned into something I feel nothing but scorn for. Integrity my ass. The BBC is corrupted by both stupidity and entertainment industry whoring. A patently ridiculous claim of objectivity for rejecting a charitable appeal for the millions of innocent people trapped in an incredibly crowded refugee camp with guards firing on it just logically follows from what the BBC is.
posted by srboisvert at 6:04 AM on January 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Uh ArkhanJG, I'm missing something in your comment. I think NOT making the kind of appeals you just describe is way scuttles any impression of neutrality that you might have enjoyed. I'm not sure what the UK - Israel relationship looks like, but this makes the BBC look like a wholly owned subsidiary of the US State Department that didn't get the memo that Bush et al are no longer driving.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:03 AM on January 25, 2009

ArkhanJG, that is utter rubbish. The BBC has agreed previous DEC appeals on behalf of the victims in Congo, Darfur or Kosovo, for instance. Those were also warzones, and current news items. In the case of Kosovo, the humanitarian crisis, as shown by the appeal, was even the rationale for direct military intervention by NATO (thus also by Britain). Yet there was no question of partiality in broadcasting the appeals. The only possible explanation is that the perpetrators there had less capable shills and less vociferous supporters.
posted by Skeptic at 9:23 AM on January 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Personally, I applaud the BBC's decision. I think it takes real courage not to sacrifice their principles at the altar of political correctness when under this much pressure. Let's see if they keep it up with all the flak they are getting, which I expect will be much more than the flak ITV will get for making the opposite decision. It's also sad that New Labour is trying to interfere with the BBC's editorial independence again.

I'm also puzzled by comments such as this, by the Archbishop of York:
"By declining [the DEC's] request, the BBC has already taken sides and forsaken impartiality."
The argument from many seems to be that inaction is an act of "taking sides" and true impartiality is attainable only by taking the right side. See, for example, Tim Llewellyn, writing in The Observer:
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?
The people making these arguments do so in a way that insinuates that there is only one possible way to see the conflict, of Israelis unjustifiably attacking innocent defenseless victims. But many feel differently, so it is good that the BBC does not start with this premise.

In the case of Kosovo, the humanitarian crisis, as shown by the appeal, was even the rationale for direct military intervention by NATO (thus also by Britain). Yet there was no question of partiality in broadcasting the appeals.

Yes, there was. There just wasn't a question of partiality that you acknowledge because you again start with the premise that one side in that conflict was in the right. Not that I disagree with you, but it is not a self-evident truth, and many others would disagree.

You might as well look at all of the humanitarian crises that weren't covered by a DEC appeal broadcast on the BBC. What about the far greater numbers of civilians affected by the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan? Why wasn't there a BBC-broadcast BBC appeal for them? Are they any less deserving or less innocent than the Gazans? Perhaps you think there should have been such an appeal. That is a perfectly consistent position. But the organizers and broadcasters surely recognize that such an appeal invariably demonizes the combatants, which in that case would have included British soldiers fighting for a cause many British people thought was justified.
posted by grouse at 9:53 AM on January 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

grouse Courage my arse. There's nothing even remotely "partial" in trying to avert deaths from exposure, starvation, thirst and sickness among over one million people in a small blockaded territory. Nor does this imply that one side was more wrong than the other. Or is this some guilt speaking? I note that the Israeli government just pledged to protect war criminals from prosecution.

And your references to Iraq and Afghanistan are completely disingeneous: the DEC's purpose is rapid reaction in sudden large-scale emergencies. The situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, disastrous as they are, had nothing "sudden" about it, and thus fall outside the DEC's actual remit.
posted by Skeptic at 10:22 AM on January 25, 2009

Glasgow BBC is being occupied by Stop the War coalition at the moment!
posted by By The Grace of God at 11:34 AM on January 25, 2009

Israel has taken any criticism of its actions as a mark of anti-semitism, something which they've accused the BBC of in the past. Putting out an advert for the Gazan people, no matter how tragic their circumstances, threatens the neutrality of the BBC, or at least the perception of it.

So helping the effort to feed and care for Palestinians harmed by the recent war is a criticism of Israeli actions? That would only make sense if a) the audience of the DEC appeal had no idea whatsoever of the carnage in Gaza and therefore cast Israel in a bad light, or b) people starving and suffering in the aftermath of the war was actually the intention of Israel, and so prevention equals criticism.

Of course, you could maintain that the BBC be agnostic about whether anybody is actually suffering, but I would think you were taking the biscuit with that.

(Oh, and anti-Israeli /= anti-Semitic. I'm not accusing you of making that equation, but it deserves to be pointed out every single time.)
posted by Sova at 11:43 AM on January 25, 2009

Of course the palestinians are suffering at the moment; the news coverage provided by the BBC alone proves that.

The question is whether the perception of coming out in full blown support of the palestinians by providing direct help with publicising the aid agency video is worth the political ramifications. I'm specifically thinking of zimbabwe here; would the long term plight of the palestinians - and the israelis - be best served by having BBC reporters banned from entry to the gaza strip? Given the touchiness of the Israeli government on the subject of any implied criticism of their actions, I can see it happening.

Like it or not, Britain is deeply involved in the history and politics of the israeli-palestinian conflict, in ways they are not in say, the congo (an ex-belgian colony) or kosovo. Coming down for one side or the other, or even being perceived to do so, could easily have greater ramifications for the ability of the BBC to work there.

I'm no blind fanboy of the BBC; they're far too corporate-biased, they do too much coverage of light entertainment news, and their science coverage of late has been woeful. But they're still far more unbiased in their reporting than many other media sources, and I deeply dislike the idea of Rupert Murdoch (via stoking it in the Daily Mail) or the British government effectively getting a say in the BBC editorial decisions.

The palestinians (specifically those in gaza) are suffering, and I fully support aid agencies going in to help. I question the automatic assumption that the BBC also has a duty to help out directly that outweighs any potential consequences. Providing help to aid sufferers of a natual disaster is pretty uncontroversial. Getting stuck into the israeli-palestinian conflict is not.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:06 PM on January 25, 2009

So helping the effort to feed and care for Palestinians harmed by the recent war is a criticism of Israeli actions?

Yes. Or at least I can see how could be taken as such. It implies the Israelis deliberately targeted the civilan infrastructure and civilians themselves in collective punishment for their support of Hamas, and/or that the israelis are unwilling or incapable of providing help and assistance to those affected by their campaign.

Personally, I think the above IS true. But then, I don't need the tolerance of the Israeli Government to do my job, unlike the BBC.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:15 PM on January 25, 2009

"I think it takes real courage not to sacrifice their principles at the altar of political correctness when under this much pressure."

Obviously the Beeb were snivelling cowards for giving in to popular pressure to help with the humanitarian appeals for Darfur.

Darfur, like Gaza, was condemned by the UN Security Council.

The difference being... 400,000 people were brutally, rapidly slaughtered in Darfur... and yet, the BBC claims that Gaza, with 1300+ people killed, is somehow too dangerous of an environment to send aid into.

When the BBC turns their back on this, they are turning their back on the British Red Cross and a long list of solid humanitarian aid organizations.

I sure hope that if Britain ever finds itself at war, the BBC will do its duty and refuse to air any humanitarian relief messages for British civilians. After all, it's their DUTY to be strictly impartial about these things...
posted by markkraft at 2:26 AM on January 26, 2009

I'm on the BBC's side on this one. I don't think they're right, and I don't think it is a good decision, but it's hard to overestimate the degree to which any BBC decision gets kicked about by someone or other. In fact, I was going to put a post together on just this point before the outage. Another day, perhaps.

At it's heart, the BBC is a government organisation. By which I mean it operates under that claustrophobic layer upon layer of bureaucracy that ordinary companies typically avoid because the demand for transparency, accountability and inclusivity is paramount. It's a slow moving behemoth. Like the proverbial law, it makes an ass of itself sometimes by making the wrong decision for the right reasons.

In particular, the BBC gets kicked, a lot, by supporters of Israel. Ironically, it is so paranoid about the criticism it gets from these parties, and the way its critics have served to undermine trust and support for the corporation's newsgathering arm that a stupid decision like this was just a matter of time as the BBC went for a risk averse approach.

The BBC's critics know they are forcing it to make stupid decisions. When a programme it makes is commercially successful, they decry its loss of public service values and unfair competition with commercial channels. When it makes "public service" content that nobody watches its critics declare it an unloved anachronism. If it doesn't surf the knife edge of impartiality - as decided by a partisan critic - on any topic it is inevitably craven and irresponsible.

On Israel/Palestine, as z million threads here may perhaps have indicated, there rarely is a neat middle line. It's plainly not that the DEC appeal is conflict related that the BBC have fought shy. It is because the BBC knows damn well that heart rending pictures of dead Palestinians and a ruined Gaza play directly into the hands of the people for whom "Pallywood", "fauxtography" etc are the lingua franca and for whom anything deviating from a specific pro-Israeli narrative is ineffably biased.

None of these critics gives two hoots that ITV and other media show the same footage. They don't have whole sites dedicated to documenting their "bias". They're not funded by a regressive, unnecessary extorted from the cold hands of freezing widowed penstioners. And none of these broadcasters have to show that they care much because they're not funded like the BBC, they aren't subjected to the same demands for accountability and because, frankly, they know these partisans are a fairly small share of their audience.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:37 AM on January 26, 2009

Sky have also decided to not screen the DEC advert, citing neutrality concerns.

John Ryley, head of Sky News, said: "The conflict in Gaza forms part of one of the most challenging and contentious stories for any news organisation to cover.

"Our commitment as journalists is to cover all sides of that story with uncompromising objectivity."
posted by ArkhanJG at 9:50 AM on January 26, 2009

It must be noted that Sky News forms part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Although its "uncompromising objectivity" is not quite as egregious as that of its US sister, Fox News, I personally had little doubt as to what its decision was foing to be. ITV and Channel 4 are screening the appeal, though.
posted by Skeptic at 10:20 AM on January 26, 2009

And, as for "impartiality" and being able to report from a warzone, let's hear from somebody who may have one or two things to say on that subject:

This is not about taking sides at all. This is a humanitarian issue. There have been similar appeals [after] man-made catastrophes in Darfur, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, broadcast by the BBC without any qualms.

What's different this time? It's Palestinians involved so what we seem to be saying is there's one rule for Africans and another for Palestinians. We need a bit of spine-stiffening. I fear a culture of timidity has crept into [the BBC].

Martin Bell
posted by Skeptic at 10:25 AM on January 26, 2009

This is all to preserve their impartiality? Oh. Okay.
posted by Law Talkin' Guy at 1:58 PM on January 26, 2009

112 MPs signed an early day motion today criticising the BBC and sky for not broadcasting the DEC appeal. I'd have a lot more respect for them if they'd been more vocal at the time condeming israel, or signing an early day motion condemning the British Government for not leaning on the israelis directly, or via the US, to stop the bombing and killing in the first place.

But yeah, it's obviously the BBC's responsibility to get stuck into the conflict when the UK government refuses to do so.

Lastly - Rupert Murdoch's leanings may well be behind sky's decision to not broadcast either, but it's not exactly often that he and the BBC agree on something. He's certainly been making hay with the Daily Mail taking its usual stance of kicking the BBC.
posted by ArkhanJG at 2:23 PM on January 26, 2009

Law Talkin' Guy - the Daily Mail group - of which the Evening Standard was part until last week - has a fairly unpleasant track record of misrepresenting anything that gets in its way, including the BBC.

The very fact that the BBC is prepared to openly discuss how it can improve its impartiality, and runs through challenging hypothetical situations to test its executives bears witness its commitment to impartiality.

Ironically, the not-at-all biased Mail and Ynet news scream that the findings of that hypothetical exercise are outrageous and shocking. Although it is blindingly obvious that the BBC will typically bend slightly towards a more inclusive, so called "left wing" standpoint given its charter, and will be more sensitive to the concerns of a disenfranchised, vociferous muslim community than it will the majority Christian one.

That's no more pro-muslim or anti-christian bias than the ability of the Israeli media to criticise Israeli government policy is anti-semitism.

That's not to say the BBC is perfect or always impartial - however possible that goal may be, but the vast majority of accusations the BBC faces regarding its impartiality are specious at best and gross misrepresentation at worst. That Daily Mail article you link to "exposed" a secret meeting in which the BBC admitted all sorts of internal failings. It subsequently transpired the BBC had aired the meeting in open and transmitted it live via an open web feed. An alternate view is also available here.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:03 AM on January 27, 2009

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