You can’t be impartial about aid

‘THE BBC is right’, writes  Mark Steel. ‘If they broadcast that appeal for aid to be sent to Gaza it would be taking sides. The Israeli Defence force could legitimately say “We’ve gone to enormous lengths to kill people, then you go and help keep them alive. How do you square that with your remit to be neutral?”‘

THE BBC is right. If they broadcast that appeal for aid to be sent to Gaza it would be taking sides. The Israeli Defence force could legitimately say “We’ve gone to enormous lengths to kill people, then you go and help keep them alive. How do you square that with your remit to be neutral?”

So the BBC needs to look at other areas in which its ‘impartiality’ could be called into question. To start with they’ll have to scrap Crimewatch, which clearly takes the side of the murdered against the murderers. Maybe they could get round this by having a new balanced Crimewatch, in which the police plea for witnesses to a crime, but then the presenter says, “Next tonight — have you seen this man? Because Big Teddy and his gang are desperate to track him down and do him in for ringing us up earlier. So if you have any information please call us, where Nobby the Knife is ready to talk to you in complete confidence.”

It’s impossible to be entirely neutral about anything, especially an appeal for money. Appeals are made for injured veterans of World War II, but I don’t suppose they’d take them off air if they got a letter saying, “Dear BBC, I’m a Nazi war criminal but I pay my licence fee just like everyone else, and as such I was appalled by the biased images of the Battle of Normandy used to promote your financial appeal. There are two sides to every story, and I thought you had a promise to be impartial. So come on BBC, us Kommandants watch tv as well!”

Appeals have been made for victims of wars in the Congo, Darfur and Bosnia, keeping people alive and thereby undermining the efforts of the armies who tried to wipe them out. But if the current stance carries on, if anyone feels their block of flats collapsing they’ll think, “I hope this is an earthquake and not an invading army or we won’t get a penny via the BBC.”

Aware of the frail logic of not showing the appeal, the BBC has made some even stranger statements to justify its decision, such as claiming it couldn’t be sure the money would “get through”.

Ah yes, that must be it. If only Gaza was like the Congo or Darfur, where the Red Cross can pop along to the village cashpoint machines, draw the money out and get Janjaweed or Hutu militias to help them search for two-for-one bargains in the local Somerfield.

Luckily for the Middle-East, the US government has been less squeamish about this question of impartiality. For example in Bush’s last year he sent Israel $2.2bn worth of military aid, and there’s no record of anyone saying: “This couldn’t be seen as breaching our impartiality in any way, could it?”

The problem is that when viewers are confronted with scenes of misery and destruction, they’re bound to ask what or who caused this, and if it was done deliberately.

So the BBC couldn’t remain neutral. Either they allowed the appeal that would lead to those questions being asked, or they refused it, in which case they’re suggesting they shouldn’t aid the relief of civilians who’ve been bombed, starved and slaughtered, as on this occasion their plight can be justified. And it’s decided this time to be biased not towards the impoverished but towards the impoverishers.

Or maybe they’ve been under such a barrage of complaints lately they just panicked that in the middle of the appeal the presenter might say, “Oh and by the way, I shagged David Attenborough’s grandson. Anyway, back to the lack of clean water.”

Author: Idrees Ahmad

I am a Lecturer in Digital Journalism at the University of Stirling and a former research fellow at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies. I am the author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War (Edinburgh University Press, 2014). I write for The Observer, The Nation, The Daily Beast, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Al Jazeera, Dissent, The National, VICE News, Huffington Post, In These Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, Die Tageszeitung (TAZ), Adbusters, Guernica, London Review of Books (Blog), The New Arab, Bella Caledonia, Asia Times, IPS News, Medium, Political Insight, The Drouth, Canadian Dimension, Tanqeed, Variant, etc. I have appeared as an on-air analyst on Al Jazeera, the BBC, TRT World, RAI TV, Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Alternative Radio with David Barsamian and several Pacifica Radio channels.

One thought on “You can’t be impartial about aid”

  1. BBC’s Newsnight is notably quick to assign Richard Watson to do a investigation report about extremists tendencies among British youth.

    Newsnight has a web page dedicated to a collection of reports, titled “Richard Watson on Extremism”.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/newsnight/uk_terror_threat/default.stm

    The web page also invites readers to see full Newsnight terror/extremism graphic wall.
    Interestingly the stories lean heavily on a specific profile of people and fails to point out if there could be other groups that take part in armed and violent activities that could pose risk to peace in UK.

    When can one expect from BBC’s uncompormised impartiality that militant tendencies exercised by British youth travelling to Israel to support the incursion in Gaza will be investigated?

    Watson produced two documentaries on a few dozen books found in a public Tower Hamlets Library.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/2007/09/wednesday_5_september_2007.html

    Will we be hearing about the literature, posters, DVDs and campaign material those returning from Operation Cast Lead?

    ever since some of those brave British boys were quoted by Nick Palmer in The Sun, viewers have been eager to watch Watson’s take on his matter of
    perennial passion.

    BBC needs to come out clearly if it invokes impartiality on a subjective basis.
    Newsnight also needs to see if the above pages reflect
    objective and even handed treatments of violent traits among ALL British youth or should declare that the stories on the page are selective.

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