Lose-lose 

24 January 2009 tbs.pm/1012

Protest over BBC Gaza appeal veto

Let me first state my position.

I personally am very much in favour of support for the Gaza Crisis Appeal. Just looking at the pictures of dreadful injuries, UN schools shelled, the use of white phosphorus shells in built-up areas and the inordinate number of civilian casualties – there can be no doubt here that a great deal of support is needed by, and due to, the Palestinian people. We have given the Palestinians money in the past to rebuild infrastructure, and it has now been wiped out. So we need to provide at least short-term assistance – this is the immediate need.

I am also very angry over the Israeli Government’s actions in this matter – a better literal example of the word “overkill” is hard to imagine. I believe, incidentally, that it is entirely possible to condemn certain actions of the present government of Israel without being anti-Semitic.

Fundamentally, what is needed is a political peace process leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state, with appropriate security measures in place to protect both sides an no doubt UN involvement to keep the peace, at least to begin with. There is no possible way that an action like this by Israel can have any other result in the long term than delivering a cure that is far worse than the disease – Israel is dramatically increasing the store of hatred held for it in neighbouring countries.

Should the BBC be carrying the appeal? Well, I would certainly like it to, because I think this appeal needs to be publicised in every possible way. But would it be the right thing to do?

The problem is that in this case there is no such thing as a “right thing to do” – the BBC will be criticised whatever position it takes on this. As it stands at present, the BBC is seen as having caved in to Israeli pressure. That may or may not be the case. Had it decided the other way, it would have been widely criticised, equally as being “anti-Israel” or as supporting Hamas terrorism. Were it to change its position now it would be seen as caving in to government pressure, or the actions of other pressure groups.

All this being said, I am not particularly impressed by at least part of the BBC’s reasons for not carrying the appeal. “The BBC decision was made because of question marks about the delivery of aid in a volatile situation…,” says the statement. Well, I’m sorry, but the aid agencies know how to go about doing this as they have proved time and time again. This represents an apparent value judgement regarding the effectiveness of the aid agencies, which I do not believe has been invoked before. “…and also to avoid any risk of compromising public confidence in the BBC’s impartiality in the context of an ongoing news story,” it goes on. Well, that is actually a legitimate reason.

Those who continually carp on alleging left-wing bias at the BBC, might like to reflect on the current situation, in which even the “Labour” Government – which, remember is some distance to the Right of Edward Heath’s Conservative government of yore – is criticising the BBC, not to mention the Guardian (which the BBC is supposedly in bed with just because it has the best media coverage) and left-wingers like Tony Benn. It’s just not as simple as those who allege left bias would like to make out.

This is such a contentious issue that there is no way that a decision either way would remain uncriticised. There is no way that the BBC could win, either way. Perhaps what we should be doing is leave the broadcaster alone to get on with its job, which, in almost all cases, it does extremely well. BBC-bashing with the smallest excuse (not that this case is small) is becoming far too much of a tabloid-stirred pastime to be healthy.

The BBC also said it had made the decision along with other broadcasters – well, that consensus has broken down. At the time of writing, both ITV and Channel 4 have changed their minds about not carrying the appeal, and I bet you won’t hear any criticism one way or another. But if the BBC changes its mind… well, just watch.

Remember that in most cases (perhaps not including this one) criticism of the BBC is stirred, if not originated, by its commercial rivals and competitors, either on the air on in print. It’s not a game we should be helping them win.