Friday, January 23, 2009

The facts are insufficiently impartial

Facts are awkward. They take sides. They do not conveniently distribute themselves evenly along the spectrum of opinion and, therefore, they lack balance. They must either be suppressed or complemented by some lies. For instance. It is a matter of controversy only to Tzipi Livni that Gaza is experiencing a profound humanitarian crisis. Aside from the thousands dead and wounded, 50,000 people have been left homeless, 400,000 have been left without water, and 84% of the population have no secure source of food. Power shortages are normal - 40% of the population gets no electricity, while the remaining 60% only have intermittent access. Eight of Gaza's hospitals were partially destroyed by bombing and shelling during the war and 26 clinics were hit, and the whole medical system is suffering from severe shortages, including those resulting from having inadequate or non-existent power supplies. For over a month, access to Gaza's already diminished medical structure was severely reduced. By standards that are commonsensical, this is a humanitarian catastrophe. It has been worsened by the fact that, due to Israeli attacks on humanitarian workers, much aid delivery had to be suspended during the war itself. 89% of the people have received no aid at all. The simple fact is that if aid doesn't arrive soon, a great many people will suffer horribly and die.

The Disasters Emergency Committee, an umbrella group of 13 UK-based humanitarian agencies, did what it usually does in such circumstances. It prepared an urgent campaign to raise funds from the British public, for Gaza. Under an agreement dating back to 1963, the BBC broadcasts the DEC's emergency appeals, and other broadcasters tend to follow suit. Yet, this time, they have refused, a decision that will deny the campaign millions of pounds. Other broadcasters are now using this as an excuse to refuse to carry the appeal. The BBC says that its decision was prompted by concerns that broadcasting such an appeal would call its impartiality into question. I have to confess, I have absolutely no idea what this can mean. Does it actually mean anything? Note that the BBC didn't consider its broadcast on Kosovo, just under a decade ago, to have any implications for its impartiality. This despite the fact that the (very real) humanitarian crisis in Kosovo was at that point being used as a justification for war by the NATO powers that were at that point actually co-responsible for the crisis through their bombing campaign. In that case, there was an obvious consequence of broadcasting the DEC's appeal, inasmuch as it could have fed into pro-war propaganda and facilitated further carnage - but only a miserly sod would have demanded that it be withdrawn on those grounds. In the case of the Gaza appeal, the only likely consequence of broadcasting it is that some people get a slightly more comfortable and prolonged life. Obviously, the consequence of not broadcasting it is that they don't. The BBC is therefore clearly not being impartial. It is taking sides, effectively boycotting aid for Gaza on the apparent assumption that their job is to avoid offending Israel's supporters.

Tomorrow's protest starts outside BBC Broadcasting House at Portland Place, from 1.30pm. In the meantime, Stop the War recommends that you call the BBC and complain, on this number: 03700 100 222. Press 3 for complaints. And you might also consider donating to the DEC appeal.