Peter Marshall | 25.01.2009 00:09 | Palestine
Tony Benn at Broadcasting House
Benn takes a letter into Broadcasting HOuse
And comes out, surrounded by police
Who push protesters away across the road
George Galloway in the crowd listening to speeches
A reminder of the children killed
Faces in the crowd
A brief stop for pictures after passing Broadcasting House
I was delighted to be able to congratulate him on this performance in person as he sat outside Broadcasting House. In the interview he gave the details of the DEC appeal on air (see below), and he told me he had repeated this in BBC TV News interview. He also told me that the whole Today programme studio had been on his side, against the decision taken by the BBC hierarchy.
If you missed his contribution you can hear it again on the BBC web site at http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_7848000/7848670.stm where he told people they could write cheques to the 'Disaster Emergency committee Gaza Crisis' and send it to PO Box 999, London EC3A 3AA, or go to any Post Office quoting Freepay Number 1210. You can also go to the DEC web site http://www.dec.org.uk/
Later the programme broadcast Caroline Thomson, one of the BBC bosses, attempting to justify the decision. Frankly what she said was appalling and my immediate response was to log on to my computer and send my complaint to the BBC ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/). You can hear her on the Today site, as well as International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander who has also asked the BBC to think again.
After a short press conference outside Broadcasting House, Tony Benn led others into the BBC building to deliver a letter of protest. Around 20 people entered and then a policeman stood in front of me and prevented me from following them. But they soon came out and moved up the road to where the rally was to take place. Police pushed a number of demonstrators who wanted to continue to demonstrate outside the BBC across the road away from the building, and tempers got a little raised, but there was no real violence.
Speaker after speaker denounced the BBC decision and called on them to change their mind, and there was considerable cheering when it was announced that other broadcasters had decided to run the appeal. Benn in his speech forecast that the pressure on the BBC which was coming from all sections of the community would soon force them to change their mind.
The demonstration had been planned long before the DEC appeal became an issue, and the starting point at Broadcasting House was chosen to draw attention to the lack of honest and unbiased coverage of the Israeli attack on Gaza by the BBC. This was not the fault of the many journalists who - in so far as the Israeli press ban had allowed - had worked as well as they could, but an institutional bias, in part resulting from the same kind of misapplication of the idea of impartiality that led them to the ridiculous decision over the DEC appeal. The demonstrations main aims, also reflected in the speeches at the rally were to call for an end to the blockade of Gaza, for a stop on arms sales to Israel and for the Israeli war criminals to be brought to justice.
The rally overran and the march proceeded to Trafalgar Square directly rather than as had originally been planned going past Downing Street, and shoes were thrown on the road outside the BBC rather than there. A few people were arrested for obstructing the police as the march reached Piccadilly Circus, and stewards halted the march, apparently demanding that those arrested should be released before they went on. But after around ten minutes the march moved on anyway to a final rally at Trafalgar Square. As this got under way I left, walking past many police vans parked around the square and in Whitehall. There had been a very strong police presence throughout.
At home I read the Press Association report of the demonstration. Ridiculously it stated there had been 400 demonstrators at the BBC, and I think this was the figure used in the BBC news I heard at 6pm. On their web site the BBC now says 2,000. The report on Sky quotes a police estimate of 5,000 - which would normally mean there were 10,000 on the march.
More pictures on My London Diary http://mylondondiary.co.uk/2009/01/jan.htm shortly.