Straitjackets and flak jackets: the BBC, ‘boundary work’ and the failed 2009 DEC Appeal for Gaza


  • Patrick McCurdy University of Ottawa
  • Jiska Engelbert Erasmus University Rotterdam



1)British Broadcasting Cooperation, Disaster Emergency Committee, Middle East, humanitarianism, journalism, public controversy


This article, which is part of larger research project, considers the justification discourse of BBC Executives following the public outrage over the BBC’s decision not to air the 2009 DEC Appeal for Gaza. The BBC’s justification is characterised by a recurrent conceptualisation of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza as embedded in an ‘ongoing news story’. The article analyses media interviews with BBC Executives together with relevant BBC documentation is applied to consider three affordances used to justify the controversial decision. We argue that the discourse of ‘ongoing news story’ allows the BBC to situate itself as a key agent in the Middle East conflict which necessitates invoking journalistic impartiality to all BBC output; facilitates boundary work between journalism and humanitarianism and thus allowing discourses of impartiality to unfold strictly in journalistic terms. This leads, we argue to the construction of ‘journalistic inviolability’ whereby the pursuit of principled journalism is presented as a greater humanitarian achievement than airing the DEC appeal.

Author Biographies

Patrick McCurdy, University of Ottawa

Dr. Patrick McCurdy is Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Ottawa, Canada. He is interested in the representation of politically contentious issues and correlating actions of political actors in an age of mediation. Patrick completed his PhD thesis, ‘I Predict a Riot’ – Mediation and Political Contention: Dissent!’s Media Practices at the 2005 Gleneagles G8 Summit, in May 2009 at the London School of Economics, England. His work has been published in the International Journal of Communication, Critical Discourse Studies, Journal of Media Practice and Communications – European Journal of Communication Research. Email:

Jiska Engelbert, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Dr. Jiska Engelbert is Assistant Professor in the Department of Media & Communication at Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands. She is interested in how (media) discourse features in political and public controversies. Jiska completed her PhD thesis, Defining New Labour. The Nature, Potential and Accessibility of Rhetoric in a ‘New’ Labour Party, in April 2009 at Aberystwyth University, Wales. Her work has been previously published in Critical Discourse Studies with a forthcoming publication in Media, War & Conflict. Email:




How to Cite

McCurdy, P., & Engelbert, J. (2012). Straitjackets and flak jackets: the BBC, ‘boundary work’ and the failed 2009 DEC Appeal for Gaza. Observatorio (OBS*), 6(2).