The BBC was going to start an appeal for civilians caught up in the latest Gaza conflict. Eyes rolled, but whatever. Then they called it off. Then the opinion pieces appeared and I thought that would be it, but the next day they kept going, and I thought that was the response and that would be it, but today they were there again.

Monday:

The Times – The charities are guilty, not the BBC<br/> The Corporation is right not to run the Gaza appeal. Oxfam and others are clearly anti-Israel, by Andrew Roberts (the author of Masters and Commanders – How Roosevelt, Churchill, Marshall and Alanbrooke Won the War in the West)

Mark Thompson, the Director-General of the BBC, is quite right to refuse to broadcast the appeal of the Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC) for humanitarian relief for Gaza, but not for the reason he thinks. He is under the impression that it will damage the BBC’s reputation for impartiality in reporting the Israel-Palestine question, but the fact is that the BBC does not have any such reputation, having for years been institutionally pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli. The reason that his decision is brave and right, however, is that many of the 13 charities that make up the DEC are even more mired in anti-Israeli assumptions than the BBC itself. …

In the months prior to the decision by Hamas to end the six-month ceasefire and resume rocket attacks, these charities issued a flood of one- sided denunciations aimed at Israel. Their campaign repeated tendentious and often highly inaccurate terms such as “collective punishment” and “violation of international law”. On March 6, 2008, CARE International, Cafod, Christian Aid and Oxfam (among others) published a widely quoted report under the headline “The Gaza Strip: A Humanitarian Implosion”. The authors did not bother to hide their political bias against Israel, repeating standard Palestinian political rhetoric and including claims that Israeli policy “constitutes a collective punishment against ordinary men, women and children” and is “illegal under international humanitarian law”.

The report was wrong on many counts, including allegations over the availability of food and basic necessities, which were later contradicted by both the World Bank and World Health Organisation, neither of which are exactly Israeli stooges. The fact that Hamas chose to pursue war with Israel rather than the welfare of its people, was not covered in these reports. There was no sense that any of these claims might be disputed by the other side or by genuinely neutral observers.

Etc an so on. Tuesday:

The Times – It would help if the BBC admitted making a mistake<br/> The corporation’s position on the Gaza appeal is indefensible, by Sunny Hundal (editor of the political blog LiberalConspiracy.org)

The BBC says that joining other broadcasters in airing the appeal would compromise its own journalistic integrity. But this would only make sense if it was actively working with the aid agencies on the ground. But it is not, and it is patronising to assume that we, the viewers, cannot tell the difference between news coverage and aid appeals.

The truth is that the BBC has become afraid of its own shadow. It has become so cowed by accusations of anti-Israeli bias that it has become unsure of what impartiality even means. It has become so cowed by sniping from the Right that it has lost conviction in the integrity of its own journalism. The anti-BBC brigade in the press and politics will use any excuse to undermine the corporation. And to assauge those critics, the corporation has sacrificed its own understanding of impartiality.

Eh. And today, Wednesday:

The Times – Forget the Gaza fuss. Let them buy airtime<br/> Who knows who’s right in the appeal row? Viewers could make their own minds up if we had US-style political advertising, by Daniel Finkelstein

To me, a battle between the BBC and Oxfam over impartial coverage of the Middle East is a little like the Iran-Iraq War. As Henry Kissinger put it, can’t they both lose? And on the question itself I go back and forward. Yes, people are suffering and it is right to help them. Full stop. You can donate without taking a view on whose fault it was. On the other hand, for the charities involved there is a strong political motivation and an anti-Israel agenda. This appeal is not just humanitarian, it is political. Yes, no, I can go on like this for ages.

The thing is, I shouldn’t have to. …

I understand why we all worry about American-style advertising of causes. It means that money becomes a much bigger part of the political equation. And it allows people to make tendentious negative adverts and reach voters without any filter. So of course there are disadvantages.

Yet from the cacophony, from the riding of the absurd hobbyhorses, from the promotion of ill-informed opinion will emerge a better politics. We understand this to be true with democracy, with allowing people to vote. We see that pooling opinion – wild, uncensored opinion – is better than the dictatorship of experts. So why not with this? Why do we think we need to be protected from free speech by someone deciding whether a point is acceptable?

Well, be that as it may, but I don’t think us Americans have exactly wonderfully impartial news media because our political undertakings have to cough up the money to advertise. I do like the idea of them both losing, tho.