The suffering of innocents in Gaza has been appalling and, rightly, efforts must be made to alleviate such suffering. NGO’s launched appeals early on in the crisis, many successful because of the impact of news coverage brought to the safe populations of Europe and the US by the major newscasters, including the BBC and SKY. This coverage was vital in reporting, as far as practicable and as impartially as can be reasonably expected, the reality of the situation and the suffering of Palestinians and constant fear of Isrealis across the border. The images and stories flashing across our screens and over the radios contributed undoubtedly significantly to the success of appeals.
However, when the Disaster Emergency Committee’s (DEC’s) request for a broadcast appeal was turned down this is seen by many as the BBC, and SKY, being inhumane, irresponsible and even downright evil.
The BBC has suffered recently in the eyes of the public and has taken a real battering. Its position as one of, if not the, most respected news organisations on the planet is hard earned and easily undermined. Impartiality, or the appearance and reputation of something very near to it, is key to the BBC’s ability to report on the suffering we talk of. One argument made was that such a broadcast appeal may undermine public confidence in the BBC’s impartiality, countered by the notion that to think that viewers can’t distinguish between a genuine humanitarian appeal and support for terrorist is insulting.
Well, of course the public can distinguish the difference but that’s not the point. Putting the BBC’s audience aside for a moment, when the BBC’s reputation is no longer respected by the protagonists, combatants, belligerants, regimes, governments and agencies in areas of suffering, then the very effectiveness of the BBC as a news organisation, able to credibly report that suffering, is critically damaged. And the BBC is a potent mechanism for presenting that news (as opposed to a specific appeal) to a lot of people, many of who will dig into their pockets.
Put very simply, when the BBC is no longer allowed into the most war ravaged and suffering areas of the world because their impartiality is not trusted, by the actors on the ground, then the success of any appeal for the suffering will be diminished considerably – because few will even know about it in the first place.
If broadcasts in support of raising money for the suffering directly reduce the ability to broadcast the material which would allow the public to see, hear and understand the circumstances of, that suffering in the first place, then the BBC is right to take the stance it has.
And, from a cynical perspective, the BBC’s stance has in fact drawn even more attention to the appeal (newspaper coverage about the row, several packages on the BBC itself), without necessarily damaging the BBC’s reputation across the world (although a fair few in Britain are mightily upset).