The BBC and other major broadcasters have broken a 45 year-old agreement with overseas aid charities by refusing to broadcast their fundraising appeal for Gaza.
The Disasters Emergency Committee launched its national appeal for Gaza today saying the devastation was so great the 12 leading British aid charities felt “compelled to act”.
The DEC co-ordinates fundraising during international crises to try and maximise the impact.
But by far the biggest advantage of a DEC appeal is the free air-time given to it by the major broadcasters, usually after their main news bulletin in the evening. The agreement to grant free air time dates back to 1963, the year the big aid charities first came together for a joint appeal, and it has been sanctioned by broadcasting regulators.
Under the agreement, the main broadcasters agree what footage to use for the two-minute broadcast and usually provide the spokesperson. The script is agreed and then signed off by the DEC.
However talks broke down on Wednesday evening when the broadcasters could not reach an agreement. By convention, if all broadcasters do not carry the appeal then none do.
It is understood that nervousness at the BBC that the appeal could result in the corporation having to compromise its coverage of the Gaza story was largely behind the failure to reach agreement.
In a statement the corporation admitted it did not want to risk compromising confidence in BBC impartiality.
“Along with other broadcasters, the BBC has decided not to broadcast the DEC’s public appeal to raise funds for Gaza. The BBC decision was made because of question marks about the delivery of aid in a volatile situation and also to avoid any risk of compromising public confidence in the BBC’s impartiality in the context of an ongoing news story. However the BBC will, of course, continue to report the humanitarian story in Gaza,” it said.
Like other broadcasters, the BBC was prevented by Israel from sending in correspondents to cover the bombing, although it did manage to send out on-the-ground reports using one of its local producers who was there.
Speaking to The Times, Brendan Gormley, chief executive of the DEC, said he was saddened that the appeal would not be broadcast as it meant thousands of potential donors would not now be reached.
“We deeply regret this decision if it means our message doesn’t reach those who may want to give to a DEC appeal. We will soldier on but we recognise it will be much more of a struggle now to reach donors,” he said.
He also questioned the BBC’s suggestion that it may not be possible to deliver much aid because the situation remained volatile. British charities were already on the ground and delivering aid. “Agencies are already providing food, drugs and blankets as well as delivering clean water. But we will soon reach the limit of what we can do, without more money,” he said.
Several aid charities launched their own appeal as soon as the conflict began, although those will now cease now that the national DEC appeal is underway. Islamic Relief, a DEC member, has managed to raise £2 million, although other charities including Save the Children and the British Red Cross have struggled to get beyond tens of thousands of pounds. A national appeal from the DEC would normally raise about £10 million, but without the broadcasts the total is certain to be lower.
A spokesman for ITV confirmed an agreement could not be reached by broadcasters.
“The DEC did ask broadcasters if they could support the appeal. We assessed the DEC’s request carefully against agreed criteria and were unable to reach the consensus which is necessary for an appeal,” he said.