Heads must roll at the BBC, says Geldof after Ethiopia aid report

Bob Geldof's Live Aid concerts in 1985 raised $250m to fight famine in Africa
Bob Geldof's Live Aid concerts in 1985 raised $250m to fight famine in Africa

By Paul Vallely,  The Independent

Furious Band Aid founder calls for director of World Service to be dismissed

Bob Geldof upped the ante in the row between Band Aid and the BBC yesterday by calling for the director of the BBC World Service, Peter Horrocks – who is also the BBC’s director of global news – to be sacked.

The musician-turned-poverty campaigner also called for two other BBC journalists to be fired after various BBC news outlets claimed that 95 per cent of the $100m aid donated, by Live Aid and others, to fight famine in rebel-held northern Ethiopia in 1985 was diverted to be spent on weapons.

Geldof, who organised the Live Aid concerts that raised $250m to tackle famine Africa, also lamented the “intense systemic failure of the World Service”, which he said was once the jewel in the BBC’s journalistic crown.

He claimed there had been a “total collapse of standards and systems at the World Service which has a special and particular duty of care to the truth”.

The Band Aid Trust is preparing an official complaint to the broadcasting regulator Ofcom about the BBC story, which ran on all main BBC news outlets as well as the World Service.

Last night, the Live Aid organiser called for the sackings of Mr Horrocks, Andrew Whitehead, the World Service news and current affairs editor, and Martin Plaut, the originator of the story, which Geldof claimed was “thoroughly discredited and sexed up”.

Geldof said he was doubly disappointed because he had always been a great supporter of the World Service. He said it “beggared belief” that BBC journalists could take seriously a claim that 95 per cent of the aid to Tigray was spent on weapons. “Where were all the dead people then? If no one was getting food, why was nobody dying? That would have been one of the first questions I’d have asked,” he added. There were not many deaths in Tigray “because they were getting help – and massive amounts of it”, he insisted.

In an article in today’s Guardian newspaper, Geldof says the BBC World Service has a particular duty of care “because in thousands of small rooms in the many dark spots of our planet, people huddle secretly and in great danger [to listen to the World Service] to hear the reality and the truth behind their situation. And to tabloid all that away of an instant? Tragic beyond measure”.

He claims that the reporter, Mr Plaut, and his producers and editors, have, on the basis of unsubstantiated claims, compromised the neutrality of the Red Cross, which relies on its neutrality for access to war zones, dungeons and concentration camps.

“Just as the Ross-Brand affair exposed the systemic weaknesses of the BBC in the area of entertainment, so this now does in the news sector of the World Service – with far more drastic consequences,” Geldof adds. “Why did alarm bells not go off early on in this sorry tale? Where were the checks, balances, neutrality, even-handedness? They all failed at the World Service.”

Senior White House advisers, high-level United Nations delegates, senior British diplomats, many aid agencies, and the Prime Minister of Ethiopia who led the Tigray rebels at the time, had all refuted the BBC story, Geldof insisted, “and yet the World Service is so far off the rails it cannot recognise or acknowledge the truth”.

In addition to the sackings of the three journalists, he wants an immediate investigation into what he claims went wrong. “Steps should be taken to rectify the identified faults,” he says. “The World Service must work very hard to re-establish its hard-won and trusted reputation as the world broadcaster of excellence.”

The Independent asked for an interview with Mr Whitehead but a BBC spokesman said: “Sorry, we won’t be able to accommodate your request.”