Michael Grade: BBC smear damaged view of aid-giving

Michael Grade today accused the BBC of damaging the public perception of giving aid to relieve starving people by broadcasting a “smear” story claiming money raised to fight famine was spent on weapons.

The Band Aid trustee and former BBC chairman said it was ‘outrageous’that the corporation had attempted to ‘sex-up’its story with references to Band Aid, Live Aid and Bob Geldof.

Grade’s comment came after the BBC “unreservedly” apologised last night for broadcasting a series of reports claiming money raised by Live Aid to fight famine in Ethiopia was spent on guns.

Grade also criticised the BBC for taking seven months to issue its apology and indicated that the future of senior figures inside the BBC may have to be examined.

‘We are very glad, finally, to reassure all the millions of people across the world that have given money over the years, given millions of pounds to Band Aid and Live Aid to relieve suffering, that we can reassure them that the money did not go to arms,’Grade told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning.

Grade said there was no evidence that money raised by Live Aid and Band Aid had been misappropriated.

‘Journalists from all over the world for twenty odd years, from World in Action to Panorama to the New York Times, have tried to find evidence of this but never have,’he said.

An edition of Assignment, broadcast on the World Service last March, initially reported aid had been diverted by a rebel group in the beleaguered African country to buy guns.

That story was subsequently followed up online and on programmes including From Our Own Correspondent and the BBC News which named Live Aid and Band Aid as the source of the misdirected funds.

Asked whether some famine relief in that area had been used to buy arms, Grade said he would be ‘very nervous’to comment on that assertion.

‘All the evidence we have for that is this really dodgy Assignment programme which did its best to use Live Aid music, Band Aid music, Bob Geldof, everything it could to smear the Live Aid operation,’he said.

Despite the ruling from its editorial complaints department that the original World Service programme gave the impression that Band Aid money had been diverted, the BBC issued a statement last night in which it claimed the main thrust of its journalism had been validated.

Grade said this amounted to nothing more than a ‘face-saving exercise’for the BBC.

‘They have made a terrible, terrible mistake they have damaged 24 years of work, they have damaged the public perception of giving aid to relieve starving people round the world it’s just shocking,’Grade said.

‘And to sit and try and defend the little bit of their story that was true, it’s outrageous.”

Grade said the Band Aid trustees had complained to the corporation immediately after the broadcast in March yet it took the corporation seven months to formulate its investigation and apology.

‘If you take the trouble to read the findings online [of the BBC’s editorial investigation] you’ll see it wouldn’t take seven months to establish that, there was not a shred of evidence and that should have been evident three months ago,’he said.

He also criticised a comment made to the trustees by BBC director general Mark Thompson in a letter following their initial complaint.

‘The Trustees had a letter from the director general of the BBC and I quote directly, ‘It was excellent and robust journalism’. Well, that looks pretty sick now,’Grade said.

Asked by Today presenter Justin Webb if he thought Peter Horrocks, director of BBC Global News, should resign over the matter, Grade said: ‘That’s a matter for the BBC, in my view somebody needs to have their horoscope read to them.”

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