BBC apologises to Bob Geldof for Band Aid slur
The BBC will broadcast a remarkable series of apologies to the Band Aid Trust and Sir Bob Geldof, after a slew of BBC programmes earlier this year gave the impression that millions of pounds "raised by Band Aid and Live Aid for famine relief in Ethiopia had been diverted by a rebel group to buy weapons".
The story originated in an edition of the Assignment series on BBC World Service, made by Martin Plaut, the service’s Africa editor and broadcast on March 4 this year.
Mr Plaut reported claims that 95pc of $100m (€70m) in aid that was sent to the northern Ethiopian province of Tigray had been diverted by a rebel group, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), to buy weapons and build up a hardline Marxist faction within the movement.
The story was picked up by BBC One’s Six O’Clock News, which specifically said that the TPLF had “siphoned off” money raised by Band Aid.
The reports provoked a storm of protest from Band Aid, with Sir Bob Geldof saying that the claims were “palpable nonsense” and that there was “not a single shred of evidence that Band Aid or Live Aid money was diverted”.
The Band Aid Trust wrote formally to the BBC in early April, but received a 19-page reply from director-general Mark Thompson on May 27 saying that Mr Plaut’s report was “robust and excellent journalism”.
However by late September, the BBC started to negotiate apologies, which will be broadcast today on the World Service, as well as BBC One, Radio 4 and the BBC News channel in this country.
The BBC will concede that there was “no evidence” for claims that Band Aid money had been diverted by rebels to buy weapons. “The BBC wishes to make clear that these statements should not have been broadcast, and to apologise unreservedly to the Band Aid Trust for the misleading and unfair impression which was created. The BBC also wishes to apologise to Sir Bob Geldof for implying that he had declined to be interviewed because he thought the subject too sensitive to be discussed openly,” it will say.
The BBC yesterday drew a distinction between allegations that aid money had been diverted, and the impression that that money had been from Band Aid. “Assignment did not make the allegation that relief aid provided by Band Aid was diverted. 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,” said a BBC spokesman. “We note that the ruling validates the main thrust of the programme’s journalism; that there was evidence from a number of sources that the TPLF had diverted money intended for famine relief and that some of this was spent on weapons.”
However one industry source yesterday criticised the BBC’s handling of the case. “It’s bad enough that the BBC made such a terrible mistake – worse still that this flawed journalism was first broadcast on the World Service, of all places,” said the source. “But they compounded their mistake by robustly defending the programme before a proper investigation. They then took seven months to deal with the complaint.”