Head in the Sky 

26 January 2009 tbs.pm/1013

Sky Won’t Screen Gaza Aid Appeal

So Sky News has joined the BBC in deciding not to screen the Gaza appeal.

Given that ITV, Channel 4 and Five, which have all demurred, don’t have international audiences to worry about, it seems as if BBC News and Sky News, which do, are both worried that screening the Gaza appeal would constitute a high-wire act – and a very high one at that – in the court of Middle East opinion.

John Ryley, head of Sky News, said that broadcasting the appeal was not compatible with maintaining impartial journalism in covering the Gaza conflict. He added, “Unlike some other UK broadcasters, Sky News is widely viewed across the Middle East.”

This is as true as it is irrelevant. In common with BBC World and CNN, Sky News operates a generic feed for its international broadcasters, one devoid of advertisements. On its international feed, Sky uses the ad-break downtime to run summaries of the news, sport and weather, with a version of its theme music playing in the background. Sky could easily have kept its broadcast of the Gaza appeal to a UK-only audience, just as the BBC could have kept the appeal off BBC World.

The politics of the conflict are irrelevant. Yes, you could argue that Israel’s use of firepower in Gaza was excessive; yes, you could argue that a barrage of Kassam rockets was bound to be met by a response sooner or later. I’m sorry, I don’t care about the rights or wrongs. I am far from anti-Israeli, and I feel that the Palestinians deserve better than the more extreme and militant elements of Islamic fundamentalists in their midst. But the fact is that, if media coverage from Gaza is to be believed, there are people there in dire need of life’s basics, and an appeal to get help to where it is needed transcends (or at least should transcend) politics.

As I said in my previous blog on the subject, the BBC’s handling of this has given the Gaza appeal a prominence in the news it otherwise probably would not have had. If the Corporation’s Machiavellian intent was to get for the appeal as much publicity as possible, it has certainly been successful. At the same time, Sky emerges from this with little credit – keeping its head below the parapet and hiding cowardly behind Auntie’s skirt.

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