I understand why the BBC’s decision not to broadcast the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal for the people of Gaza has generated so much anger. Arguments about maintaining the BBC’s ‘impartiality’ are completely implausible when the Corporation has been willing to televise appeals on Darfur and the Congo. One wonders, too. what qualifications Director General Mark Thompson feels he has to make an informed judgement on whether funds raised by international aid agencies are spent wisely. It’s rather like Oxfam deciding to comment on whether the BBC is right to waste money on ‘Strictly Dumb Dancing’.
But I’ve personally been unimpressed by campaigners like the Stop the War Coalition who have shifted all their energy onto protests against the BBC. It seems like a perfect example of middle-class rage against the sense of impotence in having so little power to stop Israel’s ferocious bombardment of Gaza, rage that has turned on a weaker target and forgotten who the real enemy is. The BBC did not bomb Gaza and to call for a ‘mass return’ of TV licences (and highlighting the dumb decision to do so by Starsky & Hutch actor David Soul) is to forget the reasons why the BBC has become so cowardly.
Cowardice is born of a fear of censure by those with real power. To begin with, Israel will always be seen as ‘controversial’ because of the success that Zionism has had in painting any perceived criticism of the Israeli state as an act of anti-Semitism. But it is the years of direct pressure from the government on the BBC and the sustained right-wing press attacks on public service broadcasting that has brought us to the point where the BBC’s management hide behind ‘impartiality’ to try and avoid anything that might be potentially contentious. You only have to see how papers like the Daily Mail are reporting this story (they have described the BBC as an organisation whose reputation was “shredded long ago, when it adopted an institutionally liberal attitude to everything from abortion and migration to minority rights and religion”) to see that any campaign that seeks to undermine the licence fee plays into the hands of the Right. One has to wonder, too, why campaigners haven’t called for a mass cancellation of contracts with Sky TV, who have also refused to show the DEC appeal.
Focusing on the BBC has taken the spotlight off Israel. It may be easier to rage against Mark Thompson, for he is undoubtedly spineless. But after today’s broadcasts of the DEC appeal, it should be the moment to end the 15 minutes of impotent fury and return again to the main issue - punishing the Israeli state through consumer and sporting boycotts and through disinvestment.
The DEC Appeal for Gaza
Click here to donate to the DEC Gaza Crisis Appeal