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Sun 25 Jan 2009 01:25 AM

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BBC resists Gaza charity demands

The BBC resisted demands on Saturday to braodcast a charity appeal on behalf of the people of Gaza.

The BBC on Saturday refused to back down in the face of intense criticism by the British government and campaigners for refusing to broadcast a charity appeal to raise emergency funds for people in Gaza.

The organisation is worried that broadcasting the appeal could compromise its impartiality and questions whether aid can be delivered efficiently in the Gaza Strip.

But its decision has provoked fierce criticism from Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government and Muslim groups, while thousands of demonstrators gathered Saturday to protest against the move.

The BBC, which is publicly-funded, is now the only terrestrial broadcaster not showing the appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC). Its three rivals said Saturday they would screen it.

In a blog post on the broadcaster's website, BBC director-general Mark Thompson wrote: "Gaza remains a major ongoing news story, in which humanitarian issues... are both at the heart of the story and contentious.

"It is sometimes not a comfortable place to be, but we have a duty to ensure that nothing risks undermining our impartiality. It is to protect that impartiality that we have made this difficult decision," Thompson added.

The DEC, an umbrella group uniting respected charities like the British Red Cross and Oxfam, stresses that it is non-political and works simply to address humanitarian needs.

International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander has urged the BBC -- which is publicly funded -- to show the appeal.

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

"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 Muslim Council of Britain said the BBC's decision was "a serious dereliction of its public duty".

Secretary-general Muhammad Abdul Bari added: "The excuses given by the BBC are simply untenable and the governors need to act quickly before the corporation's image is irretrievably tarnished."

Around 400 people gathered for a rally outside BBC offices addressed by speakers including former Labour cabinet minister Tony Benn and lawmaker George Galloway, who accused the BBC of bias against the Palestinians.

The crowd chanted "BBC, shame on you" and a few threw shoes at the BBC office.

The numbers later swelled to at least 5,000 for a march through central London.

The Stop The War Coalition, which organised the march, estimates that the ban on broadcasting the appeal could cost up to 10 million pounds (10.5 million euros, 13.6 million dollars) in donations.

The group has organised big rallies opposed to the violence in Gaza in London for the past few weekends.

Around 5,000 people also took to the streets of Britain's second biggest city, Birmingham, for a pro-Palestinian demonstration, while around 100 Cambridge University students have occupied the law faculty there in protest at Israel's attacks on Gaza.

The BBC's news coverage of the region frequently provokes controversy among commentators in Britain.

In 2006, its board of governors published an independent report into its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which found no evidence of deliberate or systematic bias.

But the report did say that coverage sometimes "in important respects, presents an incomplete... and misleading picture".

It also cited a "failure to convey adequately the disparity in the Israeli and Palestinian experience, reflecting the fact that one side is in control and the other lives under occupation."

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