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BBC apologises to Band Aid over “misleading” report

By | Published on Thursday 4 November 2010

The BBC has apologised to Band Aid over allegations stated or implied by its news programmes that money raised by the pop campaigners back in 1985 to help famine victims in Ethiopia was diverted to help anti-government groups in the country buy weapons.

The allegations started eight months ago on BBC World Service programme ‘Assignment’, when a BBC Africa reporter claimed that both government aid and charitable monies that were sent to Ethiopia in the mid-eighties ended up in rebel-held areas of the Tigray province and were used to buy arms. Although that report didn’t actually name Band Aid, other BBC News reports about the programme’s investigation suggested funds raised by the Band Aid Christmas single and Live Aid concert were among those that went to rebel forces.

Band Aid co-founder Bob Geldof rejected the claims at the time, while The Band Aid Trust made an official complaint to the Beeb. And yesterday the BBC Editorial Complaints Trust admitted there was no evidence to suggest any Band Aid or Live Aid money went to buy weapons and, while stressing that no such claim had actually been explicitly made on the BBC World Service programme, the Trust admitted that such an allegation could have been inferred by the way the story was presented, and subsequent reporting of it elsewhere in Planet BBC.

The Unit said in a statement: “‘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”. A formal apology will now be aired across the BBC’s media.

Responding to the Editorial Unit’s findings and the Beeb’s apology, Geldof told reporters yesterday: “This was an unusual lapse in standards by the BBC. It was BBC reports from Ethiopia which prompted me to set up Band Aid in the first place. It made an important journalistic and humanitarian contribution to our whole project. But the BBC’s misleading and unfair coverage on this story has done unknown damage to ordinary people’s willingness to donate their hard-earned cash to disaster funds”.

He continues: “The public needs to be confident that money it donates in good faith gets to the people it’s intended for. And the truth is that the money spent by Band Aid over the past 26 years has been subject to meticulous auditing and independent review. So we welcome the BBC’s apologies and hope they will begin to repair some of the appalling damage done. No one is saying that the BBC shouldn’t make programmes scrutinising the efficacy of aid. It is fine for them to ask questions. But they have to give honest answers”.