Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 24/01/09

The letter Blast The The letter Brazen The letter Cowards!

Since 1963, the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) - a grouping of major humanitarian charities - has been given time on UK television to broadcast appeals for help and funding for activities in aid of alleviating suffering. The facility has been used not only for times of natural disasters (earthquakes, flooding and famine) but also for humanitarian work to relieve the consequences of human conflict.

The broadcasts have to be agreed by a committee representing all the terrestrial broadcasters and Sky. If one member of the panel says no, then by convention no channel screens the appeal.

Appeals have been screened for donations to help the victims of wars in Vietnam, the Gulf, the Balkans and Africa. The broadcasting corporations have seemingly had no qualms about this, and rightly so.

So why, when the DEC asked for airtime to broadcast an appeal for funds to help the people of Gaza suffering from not only the disproportionate and brutal actions of the Israeli military but from the effects of the illegal blockade which preceded the attack, did the BBC refuse to agree to giving the appeal a slot and thus - by convention - meaning that none of the other channels could broadcast it either?

The reasons given by the Director General, Mark Thompson and his sidekick Caroline Thomson (the 'Chief Operating Officer' - sheesh!) were, to put it kindly, unconvincing. Thompson said that to broadcast the appeal:

"...ran the risk of calling into question the public's confidence in the BBC's impartiality in its coverage of the story as a whole."

COO Thomson added that they were 'concerned' that any aid might not get through, but also:

"...it remains a matter of great, great controversy..."

Let's take this rampant bollo in reverse order.

Firstly, the aid is getting through already, although it must remain a matter of concern that Israel and Egypt might - singularly or severally - put that access in jeopardy for their own political and strategic reasons. But how can the existence of a humantarian catastrophe be in any way a "a matter of great, great controversy"? The only major figure to have claimed that Gaza is not in a state of humanitarian disaster has been the appalling Israeli foreign minster 'Zippy' Livni.

As for Thompson with a 'P', even if you allow his conceit that the public still has 'confidence' in the BBC's 'impartiality' - a moot point given that nearly all of the BBC's reports from the area were produced by their bureau in occupied Jerusalem or by reporters 'embedded' with the invading forces, the reproducing of Israeli government statements as if they were facts (i.e., the 'unilateral ceasefire'), and the soft-pedalling interviews with Israeli spokesbeings - one has to ask again what the hell that has to do with an appeal for humanitarian aid for civilians who have been maimed, made homeless or ground down into utter squalor by the conflict. Especially when even two government ministers (one of whom is a former BBC hack) say that the dear old Broadcorping Castration has got it completely wrong and should reverse their decision.

The decision of the Thom(p)son Twins is not only indefensibly unreasonable, it is evidence of something far deeper which is rotten in the BBC. No, I don't mean the conspiracy loons' claims of inherent pro-Israel bias in the corporation or pressure from our own 'Friends Of Israel' within governmental circles, but of the supine complaisance with power which has typified the Corporation since the havoc wreaked upon it by the Hutton Report, whereby a minor error by one BBC reporter was deliberately blown up into a storm which enabled a nobbled enquiry to provide the Régime with the opportunity to remove the last vestiges of genuine independence left in the BBC's governance. Ever since that tsunami of faux-outrage led to the removal of Greg Dyke and Gavyn Davies from the two positions of leadership at the broadcaster, the BBC has been running scared of any involvement in anything which might bring it into conflict with the Régime and its obsessions. Genuine investigative reporting is at a premium, genuine journalism has been replaced by tabloidese celeb-whoring, and leadership in the whole edifice has been replaced by even more of a risk-averse, box-ticking managerialism than was seen during the nadir of John Birt's tenure in charge.

Developments during Saturday have been interesting, in that ITV, Channel Four and five have now broken ranks and said that they will screen the appeal after all. Sky is, apparently, still considering its position at the time of writing, and will no doubt need to check with Rupert to see if anything which might draw attention to what Israel has done to Gaza might possibly conflict with the Dirty Digger's business interests.

In the event that Sky does decide to broadcast DEC's appeal (and even if it doesn't), then further damage will have been done to the BBC. Not only would it have made itself seem cloddish and pusillanimous by its original decision, it would also hand a huge propaganda coup to its competitors and make the Corporation an even bigger target for those - amongst whom I do not count myself - who wish to dismantle not only the BBC but the whole concept of non-commercial public service broadcasting in this country; an act of cultural vandalism which could never be undone.

Whether the BBC now changes its mind is no longer important, then: the damage will have been done, and once again the wounds will have been self-inflicted. For this reason alone (leaving aside the 'rigged phone vote' scandals and the 'Ross/Brand affair'), Mark Thompson should either resign forthwith or that clique of trusties called the BBC Trust (sic) should try to generate a spinal column between them and remove this incompetent from his job before any further harm is done.

At a time like this, I wish I still had a television set so that I could refuse to pay the licence fee in protest at such blithering idiocy.

In the meantime, the Disasters Emergency Committee's appeal for Gaza can be found by clicking on the button below. Please give what you can. An arrow to click on to take you to a follow-up item