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ARTICLE 19 calls on the BBC to reconsider decision to refrain from broadcasting Disaster Emergency Committee appeal for Gaza

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is a 26 January 2009 ARTICLE 19 statement:

ARTICLE 19 Voices its Concerns Over the BBC's Decision Not to Broadcast the DEC Appeal on Gaza and Calls on the Public Service Broadcaster to Reconsider its Position

On 24 January, the BBC took the decision not to broadcast the Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC) appeal for donations in support of humanitarian aid efforts in Gaza. The BBC cited concerns that they did not want to appear partial in the context of the conflict in Gaza and Southern Israel.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the BBC to reconsider its decision and to broadcast the DEC appeal.

The DEC appeal conforms to the humanitarian principles that relief should be distributed to civilians in need without partiality, as enshrined in Geneva Conventions common Article 3; Additional Protocol I Article 70; Additional Protocol II Article 18(2); as well as the Statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the Guiding Principles on the Right to Humanitarian Assistance of the International Institute of Humanitarian Law and others. Furthermore, DEC members have confirmed they are able to work without hindrance from the Hamas controlled authorities both to identify who are most in need of assistance and to channel assistance to them directly, either through their own staff or well established local non governmental partners. The DEC appeal is solely concerned with alleviating the suffering of the inhabitants of Gaza.

The complex political context of the DEC Gaza appeal is nothing new. In the past the BBC has not hesitated to broadcast the DEC appeals for donations to alleviate the suffering caused by other complex political emergencies, for example Darfur in 2004, and Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia in 1994. All conflicts have sides and all conflicts have casualties. By refusing to broadcast the appeal the BBC raises questions over its own partiality. Why grant air time to raise funds for victims in Darfur but not Gaza? Both are suffering the consequences of conflict and have the right to receive aid according to humanitarian law and humanitarian standards.

Furthermore, not only does the refusal to broadcast the appeal hamper the DEC's attempts to publicise the call for funds to alleviate human suffering, but by citing issues of impartiality as their reason, the BBC has effectively called into question the impartial nature of the thirteen DEC members. This could deter the public from donating to this non-political humanitarian cause and to future DEC causes.

If the BBC had concerns over appearing partial by broadcasting the appeal, they could have reverted to other means, far less restrictive for freedom of expression. For instance, the BBC could have introduced the DEC appeal through reiterating its impartiality in reporting on the conflict.

The pluralistic nature of media in the UK is to be celebrated: several other channels including ITV, Channel 4 and Channel Five, amongst others, are willing to broadcast the DEC appeal. These should be commended for fulfilling the British public's right to know about the full extent of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and the assessment by impartial humanitarian agencies, and for giving the public the opportunity to alleviate suffering. By so doing, these channels are also fulfilling a public interest function, a mission which the BBC had come to symbolise internationally and historically.

This public service function of the BBC was highlighted by Mark Thompson, the BBC Director General, when he claimed that the charity appeals were an important part of the BBC's role as a public service broadcaster. "For emergency appeals, through the Rapid Response Network, the BBC is able to work in partnership with other broadcasters and media. This unique collaboration gives the public the opportunity to support the valuable work of the DEC and its member agencies in saving the lives and livelihoods of people in situations of dire humanitarian need."

ARTICLE 19 calls on the BBC and its Director General to implement this vision and principle impartially, that is without discrimination on the basis of national origin, religion, race or ethnicity, and to broadcast the DEC Gaza appeal.

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