“Impartial” BBC refuses to air aid appeal

The BBC faces a judicial review over its decision last week not to broadcast a 3‑minute appeal for aid for the people of Gaza in the wake of Israel’s punishing “war” against Hamas. Over 13-hundred Gazans were killed, including over 400 children. Thousands were wounded, and despite denials from Israel, a humanitarian crisis exists among the bombed-out ruins of Gaza.

The BBC’s decision not to broadcast the appeal was based on its view of journalistic impartiality, an increasingly dicey, gatekeeper position for professional journalism. In this case, however, the BBC’s action is viewed by many as a transparent act of capitulating to the Israeli government. Veteran Labor Party politician Tony Benn took the BBC to task while a guest on one of its own programs.

This is a textbook example of how and why professional journalism is losing its grip in a world where people no longer accept its authority to represent their interests. Informed and networked people are able to make decisions on their own, and in this case, they’ve decided against the BBC. The appeal has raised £3 million in the last week, despite the BBC’s decision.

This will also go into the file of items to pull out when anybody wishes to debate the decline in trust in the press. BBC director general Mark Thompson wrote on his blog, “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.” In making this statement, Thompson is proving just the opposite, for the “public confidence” call isn’t his to make in our increasingly networked world. Public confidence has always been with, well, the public, and the assumption that a news organization can claim it without asking first is at the bottom of the black ooze at La Brea.

Thompson wrote that the free-standing appeal would include pictures of Gazans in distress, adding, “The danger for the BBC is that this could be interpreted as taking a political stance on an ongoing story.” If this is true, then how is it not also true that refusing to participate in the appeal is taking a political stance?

This whole thing smells.

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