BBC faces pressure over Gaza charity b'cast

Relief organizations, politicians among critics speaking out

LONDON -- The BBC has come under increasing political and religious pressure to air a television appeal supporting charities in Gaza, after ITV, Channel 4 and Five said they would go ahead and broadcast the appeal for money. BSkyB, the satcaster majority-owned by News Corp., has yet to decide on whether to broadcast the humanitarian appeal.

BBC director general Mark Thompson rejected the call by charity umbrella group the Disasters Emergency Committee to air the broadcast last week, saying it would reduce public confidence in the impartiality of BBC news broadcasts on the conflict.

The DEC represents a group of British charities in Gaza including Action Aid, the British Red Cross, Care International and Worldvision.

"Inevitably an appeal would use pictures which are the same or similar to those we would be using in our news programs but would do so with the objective of encouraging public donations," said Thompson in a BBC blog post.

"The danger for the BBC is that this could be interpreted as taking a political stance on an ongoing story," he concluded.

Culture secretary Andy Burnham said the BBC was free to make its own broadcasting choices, but praised rival broadcasters for opting to show the appeal.

But other senior figures, including international development secretary Douglas Alexander have gone further and condemned the move, arguing that the BBC's decision lacked credibility.

"I think the British public can distinguish between support for humanitarian aid and perceived partiality in a conflict," he said.

"I really struggle to see, in the face of the immense human suffering in Gaza at the moment, that this is in any way a credible argument."

The Archbishop of York has said that by failing to air the broadcast the BBC was already taking sides in the conflict.

"This is not an appeal by Hamas asking for arms but by the Disasters Emergency Committee asking for relief. By declining their request, the BBC has already taken sides and forsaken impartiality," the Archbishop said in a statement.

The BBC has already received around 1,000 telephone complaints and around 10,000 by e-mail, the pubcaster confirmed.

The raft of criticism has been blasted by BBC Trust chairman Michael Lyons who said some were "coming close to constituting undue interference in the editorial independence of the BBC."