* BBC apologises to Bob Geldof charity for weapons reports
* Geldof calls coverage “misleading and unfair”
* BBC says “main thrust” of reporting found to be sound
(Adds comments from Ethiopian government)
By Mike Collett-White
LONDON, Nov 4 (Reuters) - The BBC apologised on Thursday for reports this year which gave the impression that millions of pounds raised for Ethiopian famine relief by the Band Aid music charity were used by rebel groups to buy weapons.
Irish singer Bob Geldof complained bitterly about the March reports, which originated from “Assignment” on the public-funded broadcaster’s World Service radio programme.
He challenged the BBC to substantiate its stories. At the time the World Service said it stood by its report.
“Since their inception over 26 years ago, Band Aid and Live Aid have been subject to meticulous governance, auditing and independent reviews,” Geldof said.
“The BBC’s misleading and unfair coverage had the potential to be extremely damaging to public faith, not only in Band Aid, but also other charitable campaigns and people’s willingness to donate their cash to disaster funds.”
Geldof added in a statement that it was an “unusual lapse” in the broadcaster’s standards, and said it was BBC journalist Michael Buerk’s dispatches from Ethiopia which prompted him to raise money for famine relief in the first place.
“I recognise the important journalistic and humanitarian role the BBC has played in our story,” he said.
Geldof welcomed the BBC apology and hoped they would repair “some of the appalling damage done.”
The BBC challenged some points made by the Band Aid Trust.
“Assignment did not make the allegation that relief aid provided by Band Aid was diverted,” it said.
“However, the BBC acknowledges that this impression could have been taken from the programme. We also acknowledge that some of our related reporting of the story reinforced this perception.
“The BBC regrets this and accepts we should have been more explicit in making it clear that the allegations did not relate specifically to Band Aid.”
There were apologies on the broadcaster’s main radio news programme on Thursday morning and on its website www.bbc.co.uk.
However, an internal BBC investigation validated the “main thrust” of the original report, which was that several sources gave evidence that Ethiopian rebels had diverted money intended for famine relief and that some of it was spent on weapons.
The Ethiopian government’s head of information, Bereket Simon, called for a more comprehensive apology from the BBC, which included Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people.
“I think the aggrieved party by this unfounded report was not only Bob Geldof. It was Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people as well so it is appropriate for the BBC to apologise to the Ethiopian public,” he told Reuters.
Michael Grade, former head of the BBC and a Band Aid Trust trustee, criticised the broadcaster for taking so long to apologise for a story it got “horribly wrong”.
Geldof, with Ultravox frontman Midge Ure, masterminded the 1984 hit song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” which featured some of the biggest acts of the time, topped charts and sold millions of copies, donating the proceeds to Ethiopian famine relief.
They followed it up with Live Aid in 1985, a transatlantic concert which raised an estimated $100 million for Ethiopians.
In 2005, Geldof staged Live 8, an international series of anti-poverty gigs which reached up to three billion people over the radio, Internet and television. (Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)