Blair ‘shocked’ over BBC Katrina coverage
Tony Blair was shocked by the BBC's coverage of Hurricane Katrina's devastation of New Orleans, describing it as “full of hatred of America”, Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corporation, revealed on Friday night.
Mr Murdoch, a long-time critic of the BBC who controls rival Sky News, said the prime minister had recounted his feelings in a private conversation earlier this week in New York.
Blair calls BBC coverage 'full of hate of America': Murdoch
NEW YORK (AFP) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair has complained privately to media tycoon Rupert Murdoch that the BBC's coverage of Hurricane Katrina carried an anti-American bias, Murdoch said at a conference here.
Murdoch, chairman of the media conglomerate News Corporation, recounted a conversation with the British leader at a panel discussion late Friday hosted by former president Bill Clinton.
"Tony Blair -- perhaps I shouldn't repeat this conversation -- told me yesterday that he was in Delhi last week. And he turned on the BBC world service to see what was happening in New Orleans," Murdoch was quoted as saying in a transcript posted on the Clinton Global Initiative website.
"And he said it was just full of hate of America and gloating about our troubles. And that was his government. Well, his government-owned thing," he said of the publicly owned broadcaster.
Murdoch went on to say that anti-American bias was prevalent throughout Europe.
"I think we've got to do a better job at answering it. And there's a big job to do. But you're not going to ever turn it around totally," said Murdoch, one of three media magnates who spoke at Clinton's "Global Initiative" forum on peace and development.
The former US president, who held his conference to coincide with the United Nations summit in New York, agreed that the BBC's coverage was lacking.
While the BBC's reports on the hurricane were factually accurate, its presentation was "stacked up" to criticize President George W Bush's handling of the disaster, Clinton said.
"There is nothing factually inaccurate. But ... it was designed to be almost exclusively a hit on the federal response, without showing what anybody at any level was doing that was also miraculous, going on simultaneously in a positive way," Clinton said.
Blair's remarks, as reported by Murdoch, are sure to aggravate the already difficult relations between the prime minister's government and the BBC.
A government weapons expert, David Kelly, killed himself in 2003 after he was revealed as the source for BBC allegations that intelligence on the Iraqi threat was exaggerated to secure public support for the US-led war.
The BBC's director-general, Greg Dyke, and chairman, Gavyn Davies, were forced to resign following an official inquiry that found the BBC at fault.
A former BBC foreign correspondent and MP, Martin Bell, defended the BBC's coverage of the hurricane and alleged that Blair was trying to curry favor with a powerful media owner who controls important British newspapers.
"Tony Blair was telling Murdoch what he wanted to hear because he needs Murdoch's support," Bell was quoted as saying by British media.
Blair attacks BBC for 'anti-US bias'
Sunday September 18, 2005
Tony Blair has denounced the BBC's coverage of Hurricane Katrina as 'full of hatred of America' and 'gloating' at the country's plight, it was reported yesterday.
Blair allegedly made the remarks privately to Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corporation, which owns the rival Sky News.
The comments threatened a new rift between the government and the BBC following the Andrew Gilligan affair over events leading to the Iraq war and recent criticisms of ministers Today presenter John Humphrys, which were controversially leaked to the press.
Downing Street said last night it had no comment on the report in the Financial Times. The BBC said that its coverage had been 'committed solely to relaying the events fully, accurately and impartially'.
Murdoch, a long-standing critic of the BBC, was addressing the Clinton Global Initiative conference in New York. Chuckling, he said: 'I probably shouldn't be telling you this' before recounting a recent conversation with Blair. He said the Prime Minister was in New Delhi when he criticised BBC coverage of the catastrophe in New Orleans: 'He said it was just full of hatred of America and gloating at our troubles.'
Bill Clinton, the former US President who was hosting the conference, also attacked the tone of the BBC coverage at a seminar on the media. He said it had been 'stacked up' to criticise the federal government's slow response.
Sir Howard Stringer, chief executive of Sony Corporation and a former head of CBS News, said he had been 'nervous about the slight level of gloating' by the corporation.
The disapproval will come as a blow to BBC executives, who had declared themselves delighted with the hurricane coverage, led by Matt Frei. They believed they had learnt the lessons from the Boxing Day tsunami in Asia, when the BBC was regarded as being slow off the mark.
Blair's reported comments were strongly criticised last night by Martin Bell, the former BBC war correspondent and former MP.
Bell said: 'Assuming it's accurate - it may of course be that Tony Blair was simply telling Rupert Murdoch what he thought he wanted to hear. If he really does have a gripe with the BBC coverage, there is no shortage of forums in which he can say so publicly. But the last time he picked a fight with the BBC, as I recall, the government came off rather badly.'
He added: 'I think Matt Frei's reporting was absolutely immaculate and reflected the fact that one of the things the BBC is there for is to report events as they happened rather than as politicians may want them perceived to have happened. If Tony Blair does want to confront the BBC over this, I'd be surprised - because he would find absolutely zero support, except perhaps among his usual henchmen.'
Charles Wheeler, the veteran former US correspondent for the BBC, said: 'I don't believe Murdoch actually said that. It doesn't sound like Blair to me. The coverage I saw was extremely good and got better and better. Matt Frei was very good. He got quite angry, which is what might have annoyed people.
'I don't see why people should be unemotional; I never was. You have to tell people what you feel and what you hate - that's part of legitimate reporting.'
A spokesman for the BBC said last night: 'We have received no complaint from Downing Street, so it would be remiss of us to comment on what is reported as a private conversation.'