Julia Reid, Sky News Online
Bob Geldof and the Band Aid trust are set to make an official complaint to the BBC over its claims that millions of pounds in donated aid for Ethiopia was spent on weapons.
Complaint follows claims by two former rebel fighters
The complaint will be made jointly with agencies including Christian Aid, and will denounce the “false and dangerously misleading impression” created by the BBC World Service’s Africa editor, Martin Plaut.
His report claimed that 95% of the aid which went to Ethiopia’s northern province of Tigray during the famine of 1985 was diverted for military use by rebel forces.
Paul Brannen, Head of Advocacy and Influence at Christian Aid, confirmed that the charity would be signing up to the complaint to BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons.
“This affair is a good example of the old adage that a lie can be halfway around the world while the truth is still getting its boots on,” he said.
There is not in fact a shred of credible evidence that this happened.
Draft letter of complaint seen by The Independent
“In these days of rapid and international communications it is more important than ever that the BBC independently verifies every single fact that it intends to broadcast.”
Oxfam says it will decide next week whether to sign up to the letter.
But campaigns and policy director Phil Bloomer said: “The British public, who in good faith donated money to help distressed, starving people, need to know that these allegations are preposterous.
“Aid distribution during this conflict held risks but it is indisputable that aid and the efforts of the humanitarian agencies saved many thousands of lives in Ethiopia.
Geldof, who raised $144m for Africa in the Live Aid concert in 1985, will also report the BBC to Ofcom.
“This story has gone around the world on the internet and created a totally false impression of what actually happened,” he said.
“At the time of Live Aid we had journalists crawling all over everything we did trying to find something wrong – and they couldn’t.
“And now, on the strength of one disgruntled soldier, the BBC has undermined the faith of ordinary people across the world in the effectiveness of giving to people in their hour of need.
“It is a disgrace.”
The Independent newspaper claims a draft of the complaint to the BBC speaks of “disgracefully poor reporting” by the BBC and reliance on “dubious sources and rumour”.
“There is not in fact a shred of credible evidence that this happened,” it reads.
“There is overwhelming evidence that tens of thousands and even millions were saved by these efforts, which were in fact spurred by reporting by the BBC.”
Mr Plaut’s story was broadcast on the World Service, Radio 4 and via the BBC website.
It relies on accounts by two former senior Tigrean rebels, one of whom, Aregawi Berhe, was expelled from the guerilla movement in the summer of 1985.
Geldof said Berhe had a political axe to grind and could not have witnessed the alleged transactions.
There are fears that the BBC’s report could undermine public generosity towards charity appeals for Haiti and Chile in the wake of the recent disasters.
A BBC spokesman says the corporation stands by the story and the documentary did not say that most famine relief money was used to buy weapons.