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MPs join angry chorus over BBC refusal to screen Gaza appeal

Over 50 MPs will back a parliamentary motion urging the BBC to screen an emergency appeal for Gaza as the corporation refused to back down last night despite more than 10,000 complaints from the public.

The early day motion to be tabled today by Labour’s Richard Burden has received the support of 51 MPs from across the Commons.

The BBC said it had received “approximately” 11,000 complaints in all, including 1,000 phone calls, over its decision not to broadcast the advert for the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC).

Director general Mark Thompson has also rejected a plea from International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander, warning that a broadcast could compromise the impartiality of the BBC’s reporting from the Palestinian territory.

Thousands of people yesterday demonstrated against the decision outside the BBC’s Broadcasting House in central London.

The corporation’s rival terrestrial broadcasters ITV, Channel 4 and Five said they would show the advert and Sky is considering its position.

The DEC — which brings together several major aid charities including the British Red Cross, Save the Children and Oxfam — wants the appeal to be broadcast on TV and radio from today to help raise millions of pounds for people in need of food, medicines and shelter following Israel’s three-week assault on the Palestinian territory.

Mr Burden, a member of the Commons’ International Development Committee, said he had written to Mr Thompson to press for an explanation for the BBC’s decision, calling those given so far “both unconvincing and incoherent”. “This is not about taking sides in the conflict. It is about providing urgent help to people in desperate need,” he said.

Those who have agreed to sign the motion, which will state that the Commons is “astonished” by the BBC’s decision, include senior Labour MPs Keith Vaz, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, and Mike Gapes, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show that it was an “insult” to viewers to suggest they could not distinguish between the humanitarian needs of children and families in Gaza and the “political sensitivities of the Middle East”.

And Justice Minister Shahid Malik said he had not met anyone that supported the BBC’s position.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Dr Rowan Williams and Dr John Sentamu, also joined critics of the BBC for its refusal to broadcast the Gaza appeal and urged it to “wake up and get on with it”.

But Culture Secretary Andy Burnham said it was right that broadcasters made their own decisions. He told Sky News’ Sunday Live: “I think these are difficult judgments for all broadcasters, but particularly so for the BBC because of the way in which it is funded.”

He added: “It’s right that broadcasters come to their own judgment.”

Last night, a spokeswoman for the BBC said its position remained unchanged.

Belfast Telegraph

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