Financial Times April 25, 2003
By Tim Burt, Media Editor
Greg Dyke, BBC director-general, has condemned US media coverage of the Iraq war and accused American broadcasters of “swapping impartiality for patriotism”.
Mr Dyke said yesterday that the corporation had been surprised and shocked by the tone of war reporting from leading US television and radio networks.
In a speech defending the BBC’s reporting of the conflict, Mr Dyke warned that the proliferation of US tele-vision stations had weakened the country’s political coverage.
“The effect of this fragmentation is to make government, the White House and the Pentagon all- powerful, with no news operation strong enough or brave enough to stand up against it,” the BBC chief said.
“This is particularly so since September 11, when many US networks wrapped themselves in the American flag.”
Although the BBC’s own coverage has been criticised by some ministers, Mr Dyke claimed the corporation was winning record audiences in the US.
Speaking at Goldsmiths College, part of the University of London, the director-general said BBC World Service radio was attracting 4m US listeners every week, while almost a million were watching BBC bulletins on cable and public broadcasting networks.
Recalling a recent trip to the US, Mr Dyke told media students: “I was amazed by how many people just came up to me and said they were following the war on the BBC because they no longer trusted the American electronic news media.”
Executives at US television networks such as Fox News and NBC declined to comment. But Clear Channel, the country’s largest radio group, denied BBC allegations that it was orchestrating pro-war rallies in the US.
The company, which is regarded as a likely bidder for British radio stations, admitted that one talk-show host had urged demonstrations to support US troops. Executives, however, said the group had not endorsed the rallies.
Mr Dyke cited the case to warn of US broadcasting standards affecting British coverage of such conflicts.
“The communications bill currently before parliament will, if it becomes law, allow US media companies to own whole chunks of the electronic media in this country for the first time,” he said. “In the area of impartiality as in many other areas, we must ensure that we don’t become Americanised.”
While conceding that BBC reporters had made mistakes during the Iraq war, Mr Dyke insisted that its overall coverage was more balanced than that of US rivals.
He said: “Commercial pressures may tempt others to follow the Fox News formula of gung-ho patriotism but for the BBC this would be a terrible mistake.”