Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Not important enough for the BBC

You would have thought it merited the top spot on the 10 o’clock Radio 4 News, but the BBC was still running its UNICEF story, which it has been running all day. This is a scare the UN children’s agency is running – fears that "criminal elements" may be trafficking in orphans.

"May be" are the operative words, with the Indonesian authorities dismissing the story, saying that there was "no evidence" of it happening and UNICEF backing off, saying it was a "possibility". But it still made the lead story on the BBC.

Oh, and the story that missed the top slot – in fact didn't make it at all into the news bulletin: the Pentagon has announced that it is to double the number of helicopters being provided for the disaster relief effort.

This was revealed by Admiral Thomas Fargo, head of the US Pacific Command in a press briefing this evening, in a bit that the BBC digital channel did not even bother to cover.

Fargo confirmed that about 45 US military helicopters currently were involved in relief efforts, and more helicopters were being sent from South Korea as well as other helicopters from Guam. The USS Fort McHenry a Whidbey Island class dock landing ship and the USNS Niagara Falls, combat stores ship, have been despatched to the region carrying the additional helicopters.

The US, we were told, had more than 1,400 military personnel on the ground in the region for the relief effort, with another 11,600 U.S. service members aboard ships in the area, including the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and the helicopter carrier USS Bonhomme Richard.

In addition to the helicopters, the Pentagon has sent 29 airplanes for disaster relief roles, including 16 C-130 cargo planes that have been carrying tons of supplies into a military base in Thailand that the U.S. military has used as a hub as well as reconnaissance and refueling aircraft.

More than 20 U.S. ships are now deployed in the relief effort. Fargo said it cost about $2.5 million a day to operate each of the Bonhomme Richard and Abraham Lincoln groups.

None of this was important enough to get into the BBC bulletin. What the BBC did manage to tell us that the UN had put out an urgent call for more ships, helicopters and landing craft – a "call" that was put out after the US had announced it was providing just these assets.

Just remember this when the BBC covers the EU-inspired donor conference scheduled for later this week. While the EU gabs, the US is stacking up naval assets, with just two of the groups costing $5 million a day – day, after day, after day.

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