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Britain's BBC, Sky refuse to air Gaza charity appeal

LONDON (Reuters) - Two of Britain’s major broadcasters, the BBC and Sky, faced down broad popular criticism on Monday and refused to air a charity appeal for the victims of Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

Thirteen of Britain’s main charities, who together constitute the Disasters Emergency Committee, have asked broadcasters to air an appeal during primetime on Monday seeking donations for Palestinians affected by the conflict.

But the BBC and Sky, which have 24-hour news channels watched in the Middle East and have closely followed Israel’s three-week war in which 1,300 Palestinians were killed, say they will not air the appeal for fear of being seen to take sides.

“Our commitment as journalists is to cover all sides of that story with uncompromising objectivity,” John Ryley, the head of Sky News, said in a statement on Monday.

“That is why, after very careful consideration, we have concluded that broadcasting an appeal for Gaza at this time is incompatible with our role in providing balanced and objective reporting of this continuing situation to our audiences.”

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Until Sky’s decision, the BBC had stood alone against the appeal, drawing criticism from politicians, media commentators and the public, with 11,000 viewers registering complaints.

It is not the first time the BBC has refused to air appeals for the Disasters Emergency Committee, which have raised up to $30 million in the past. It refused to broadcast an appeal for Lebanese victims after Israel’s war with Hezbollah in 2006.

Emphasizing the need for impartiality in reporting the Middle East, the BBC’s chief Mark Thompson said:

“Everyone is struck by the human consequences of what’s happened (in Gaza) and we will ... continue to report that as fully and as compassionately as we can.

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“But we are going to do it in a way where we can hold it up to scrutiny. It is our job as journalists.”

A Disasters Emergency Committee spokeswoman said she understood the BBC and Sky’s decision but added: “Impartiality for us is meeting the humanitarian needs, which are massive.”

She said funds raised from the appeal, which will run on three channels, would be directed to Palestinians, 5,000 of whom were wounded, and not to Israeli victims of Hamas rockets.

The war, which began on December 27, tentatively ended on January 18 when Israel and Hamas began separate ceasefires. Israel says it launched the offensive because of constant rocket fire by Hamas into Israel, killing at least 21 Israelis since 2001.

Editing by Kate Kelland