Their ultimatum came as the satellite broadcaster Sky also decided yesterday it would not screen the DEC film. Like the BBC, it said it wanted to protect the impartiality of its news reports.
Gaza is in the grip of a humanitarian crisis, with its 1.5 million population urgently needing food, water, medicine and shelter, after Israel’s three-week assault.
The BBC said yesterday it had received about 15,000 complaints about its decision not to screen the appeal for the DEC, which represents several charities.
A sit-in protest has been staged at the BBC Scotland headquarters in Glasgow, with some demonstrators setting fire to their TV licences, while a line of police officers guarded the entrance to Broadcasting House in London.
The open letter to the BBC, written a day after the Oscar nominee Samantha Morton threatened to boycott the corporation, reads: “We, the undersigned actors and directors, like millions of others, are absolutely appalled at the decision by the BBC to refuse to broadcast the DEC appeal for Gaza.
“We therefore are taking what action we can in protest at this decision by stating, like our fellow actor Samantha Morton, we will never work for the BBC again unless this disgraceful decision is reversed. We will urge others from our profession and beyond to do likewise.
“We will also not pay our TV licence fee in protest and encourage others to do likewise. It is time for the people of Britain to take a stand on this issue by demanding the BBC reverse this decision and by supporting the call from Palestinian civil society for a complete economic, academic and cultural boycott of Israel until it ends its pitiless violence against the long-suffering people of Gaza and the whole of Palestine.”
The decision not to broadcast the appeal has also attracted a chorus of condemnation. The Charity Commission said it was “very disappointed” with both Sky and the BBC. Dame Suzi Leather, its chairwoman, said: “Emergency appeals of this nature rely on publicity to ensure they are well supported by the public, and without the funds that result from that publicity, the work of the member aid agencies of the DEC could be severely hampered.”
The Labour peer Baroness Uddin, the first Muslim woman in the House of Lords, told Mr Thompson yesterday that the BBC’s decision had been a “gross misjudgment”. She said: “We should all be demanding that BBC governors intervene in this matter and reconsider its position.”
Angus Robertson, MP, the SNP’s Westminster leader and a former international affairs reporter with the BBC, said: “With every day that passes, the BBC’s defiance becomes more and more ridiculous.”
John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, also criticised the corporation, saying the money the appeal was raising was for those who were hungry, sick, wounded or in need of shelter.
Avi Shlaim, the professor of international relations at the University of Oxford, said Sky and BBC management were behaving in a “cowardly” way.
Mohammed Shafiq, the chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, a UK Muslim youth organisation, also urged the broadcasters to reconsider.
Judith Robertson, who chairs DEC Scotland, has called for Scots to donate to the Gaza appeal: “Clearly, the DEC is disappointed that the BBC has decided not to broadcast the appeal film. However, what matters most is that the public make a donation.”
– Donate to the DEC Gaza Crisis Appeal at www.dec.org.uk, by calling 0370 60 60 900, or at any Oxfam, Red Cross, Save the Children or Islamic Relief shop, high-street bank or post office.