BBC's refusal to broadcast DEC Gaza Appeal

Background

Hickman & Rose are instructed by two Gazans who have lost their homes and members of their families and are still awaiting aid, plus a client in the UK who has complained to the BBC over their refusal to air the DEC Gaza appeal, which was a decision made by BBC Chief Executive Mark Thompson.

On 28 January 2009 we sent two letters to the BBC Executive and the BBC Trust. One letter explained that our clients were making a complaint under the BBC complaints procedure and the other letter was a judicial review “letter before claim” of Mark Thompson’s decision, which argued that

  • the decision not to broadcast the appeal is unlawful on the basis that it is ‘irrational’ (meaning that no reasonable decision maker being aware of all relevant matters could reasonably have reached it).
  • the decision has the perverse result of giving the appearance that the BBC is biased against civilians living in Gaza, and therefore not ‘impartial’, contrary to its very objective. It further attributes to those ‘on the other side’ the view that they would not want humanitarian aid to reach civilians who are suffering.
  • the BBC failed to consider whether the restriction was compatible with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which includes a right to receive information; the BBC has not shown that the restriction was strictly necessary and proportionate to any legitimate aim.

The Trust Decision:

On 19 February 2009, the BBC Trust, which had set up an ad hoc committee to review the Director General’s decision, decided to stand by Mark Thompson’s original decision on the basis that it was “reasonable, having regard to the importance of preserving the reputation of the BBC for impartiality”.

Our clients were obviously very disappointed by this decision. They had very much hoped that the BBC Trust would use this opportunity to calmly review the decision of the BBC Executive and agree with our clients that it was irrational in view of the actual content of the DEC appeal and for all the other reasons we put forward.

Next steps:

Our clients maintain that, irrespective of the position taken by any viewer as to the causes of the emergency, no rational person could fairly say that aid should be denied to civilian casualties caught up in the hostilities.

However, instead of using public money on this litigation, after careful thought, our clients have decided that money and attention would be better focused on the humanitarian situation in Gaza than on a continued legal battle. The legality of the BBC decisions are NOT admitted, but a judicial review claim will not now be commenced in the High Court by our clients.

According to the DEC, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is now completely overwhelming.

After an 18 month blockade of Gaza and three weeks of heavy shelling, thousands of people are struggling to survive – they have limited supplies of food and fresh drinking water.

Our clients reemphasise the comments that have already been made by the DEC, namely that:

a) It is vital that the BBC’s decision in this case does not set a precedent for future appeals; and

b) The three criteria agreed with broadcasters for launching DEC appeals – scale of need, ability of DEC members to deliver aid and evidence of public support – should be the only criteria considered by the BBC.

Our clients also emphasise what the DEC cannot: that is, that the BBC's decision, quite apart from being legally wrong, is morally wrong and deeply repugnant to all fair minded observers and commentators.

Irrespective of whether a court case is brought at this stage, the public in the UK, Gaza and elsewhere, know that the BBC have made a huge error and the reputation of the BBC has been seriously damaged, rather than protected.

The BBC seem to think that the public cannot tell the difference between a humanitarian crisis appeal by a humanitarian organisation and the need to be impartial in reporting a political conflict. We are confident is that the public can see it.  

It remains open to the BBC to make an immediate decision to broadcast the DEC appeal.

Anna Mazzola
Hickman & Rose Solicitors
Aylesbury House
17-18 Aylesbury Street,
London EC1R 0DB
DX 53346 Clerkenwell
Tel:+44(0) 20 7702 5331 (switchboard)
Fax:+44(0) 20 7253 1367
amazzola@hickmanandrose.co.uk