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Stars attack BBC over Gaza appeal

PUBLISHED: 11:52 30 January 2009 | UPDATED: 15:53 07 September 2010

Katie Davies THE BBC's best-loved stars from across north London have criticised the corporation s decision not to show an aid appeal from Gaza, but have urged against a planned boycott of the public service network. Monty Python star Michael Palin, forme

Katie Davies

THE BBC's best-loved stars from across north London have criticised the corporation's decision not to show an aid appeal from Gaza, but have urged against a planned boycott of the public service network.

Monty Python star Michael Palin, former newsreader Martin Bell, veteran comedian Warren Mitchell and BBC presenters Joan Bakewell and Esther Rantzen have all questioned the actions of the network.

This week the BBC and Sky refused to show the appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), an umbrella group of 13 aid agencies who have been organising televised pleas for 46 years without interruption.

The local stars, also including writer Deborah Moggach, whose Anne Frank series has just been shown on the BBC, and Only Fools And Horses actor Roger Lloyd-Pack, have slammed the decision but have fallen short of those, such as Oscar-nominee Samantha Morton, who said she would boycott future projects unless the BBC had a rethink.

Ms Rantzen said: "I don't think death is discriminatory and I would be delighted to give donations to the appeal provided the charities can ensure that the money goes to save lives.

"But I think it would be completely inappropriate to boycott the BBC. I think that would be very self-important and none of us can know the full arguments put both to the BBC and Sky when they came to these decisions."

Hampstead Garden Suburb's Martin Bell agreed: "The BBC has made the totally wrong decision but I don't believe in a boycott - we need the BBC."

Primrose Hill resident Joan Bakewell said she wasn't sure about "sit-ins, boycotts or tearing up licence fees" but did think the decision was wrong.

The two-minute appeal was aired on all terrestrial channels on Monday night just before 6.30pm. A backlash then came from stars, who threatened to rule out appearing in BBC productions or paying licence fees.

Despite the BBC and Sky's failure to show the film, the appeal has raised a record £1million. As Michael Palin pointed out: "The BBC's decision seems confused to say the least but, as a result, this has been one of the most widely publicised appeals in recent years and anyone who chooses to contribute can do so without any difficulty.

"I would be more worried if I felt the BBC's coverage of the war was inadequate, but I think the BBC did a commendable job of trying to get stories out of Gaza despite the Israeli ban on the international press."

Other stars said the corporation should go back on its decision and air the piece. Long-time Gaza supporter Mr Lloyd-Pack said: "The decision is a bad mistake. I have written to them and asked that they rescind on that decision.

"By not showing this appeal they are exercising support the other way. This is not about politics - people are dying."

South End Green resident Ms Moggach said: "I can't imagine why the BBC isn't showing it. They have shown these appeals for other war situations and what has happened in Gaza is terrible beyond belief."

Highgate's Warren Mitchell told the Ham&High the boycotters can at least be thanked for raising awareness: "I think the BBC should show it. This is a humanitarian thing and being Jewish I have a worrisome interest in the whole matter.

"I'm sure the BBC won't care if some out-of-work actors fail to pay their licence fee, but it does get a bit of publicity - even the Ham&High is writing about it."

So far, more than 20,000 people have complained to the BBC about its decision.


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