Long respected as a beacon of free speech, bloggers across the Arab world and beyond have been left questioning BBC's integrity after its refusal to air an appeal for the victims of the latest Israeli war on Gaza.
The row started after the BBC refused to air this video by the UK-based Disasters Emergency Committee, an umbrella group of humanitarian charities including Oxfam, Save the Children and the Red Cross, saying that broadcasting it would jeopardise their neutrality.
Independent broadcaster Sky News also refused to carry the appeal, while publicly owned Channel 4 and private channels ITV and Channel 5 did – promoting demonstrators to take to the street and bloggers to their keyboards in protest against the decision.
Writing at American-Palestinian KABOBfest, Jillian notes:
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.
News from Syria says the BBC has run DEC appeals in the the past, even during politically charged situations. He notes:
The BBC has shown every DEC appeal in the past. And it has shown them in highly political humanitarian disasters, like Yugoslavia.
But by banning it, the BBC is doing something more than hurting the appeal for cash. It is politicising the neutral work of the DEC – which includes organisations like the Red Cross, Oxfam and Save the Children.
In Gaza, around 30 demonstrators who picketed outside the BBC offices, made a similar claim. According to the International Solidarity Movement:
Protestors rejected the claim made by the BBC that airing the appeal would compromise the impartiality of the agency – citing numerous examples of DEC appeals for emergency assistance in conflict-zones that have been aired by the station without question. Speakers accused the BBC of maintaining racist double-standards when it comes to issues regarding Palestine.
Still in Gaza, Moments in Gaza posts details about the Gaza protest and notes:
So … people are homeless, hungry and in hospitals all around Gaza. Asking for humanitarian help for them is…”biased” ? So much for bloody objectivity! What shame.
Moroccan blogger Hisham, who maintains the Mirror, lashes out at the BBC saying:
From the beginning of the murderous aggression on Gaza, the BBC has been, as usual brilliant in sanitizing in the name of “impartiality” the horrors visited upon defenceless civilians in Gaza. Talking about a “retaliatory offensive” when it was clear that it was a pre-planned attack and a deliberate slaughter of civilans; evoquing “conflict” as if the forces on the ground were in any shape or form comparable; Accepting Israel’s dictat which blocked independent access to the crime scene for international journalists without registering any significant protest; offering spaces for Israeli spokepersons, which is legitimate by the way, but without convincingly challenging the PR work.
From Israel, Goy uses the row as an opportunity to discuss the ‘objectivity’ of media. He writes:
The BBC uses the word ‘objective’ to describe its news coverage a lot of the time. Objective, when it comes to journalism, is preposterous. It suggests that the reporters do not have, and are incapable of having, any opinion on the matters which they report on, but merely present the facts as they are.
Even if this were possible – and I'm not going to bother spelling out the subjectivity that comes from the personal interpretation – the thing is that the BBC editorialises all the time, providing commentary and opinion dressed up as fact. You watch a news bulletin – any one – and tell me if I'm wrong.
Another Israeli blogger, The Elder of Ziyon describes BBC's decision not to air the appeal as “strange” and adds:
Anyone who ever watches how the BBC covers Israel cannot but laugh at this absurd logic. Israelis and Zionists have no problem with the millions of dollars being spent to help Gazans; only with the millions being given to Hamas, directly or indirectly. Israel itself spends incredible amounts of time, effort and money to help Gazans. Israel has never protested aid going to Gazans from WHO, the Red Cross or any other charity group.
In a weird way, the BBC in making this decision seems to have betrayed its own genteel anti-semitism. While no Jewish or Zionist group asked the BBC not to air the appeal, the Beeb assumed that the selfish, powerful Jews would be upset at giving money to Gazans. Rather than deal with those imaginary protests the BBC thought that they should throw the Elders a bone, deny the appeal and use it as “proof” of their objectivity.
Meanwhile, several groups have sprung at Facebook condemning the move, including Complain to the BBC in Large Numbers and I Condemn BBC for its pro Israeli Broadcast of WAR ON GAZA, among others.