Laboring under government restrictions even more heavy-handed than those faced by Americans, European tv news services in the Persian Gulf were outmaneuvered by CNN in the race to report on the war.
And although Big Brother is keeping an eye on commercial and staterun webs in Britain and France, nothing compares with the situation in Italy.
On Thursday, RAI director-general Gianni Pasquarelli banned nonstop broadcasts and live hookups with correspondents, saying special editions should be brief and focus only on “very important events.” This despite record ratings for RAI newcasts Wednesday night.
“An excess of information is equivalent to no information at all,” said RAI vice-director Corrado Guerzoni.
Earlier, Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti reportedly told RAI network chiefs that coverage should not be alarmist nor deviate too strongly from the government’s pro-interventionist policy.
Several government ministers accused the media of exaggerating the dangers of war and unnecessarily provoking tension, and called on RAI to report “with more sobriety, seriousness and respect for truth.”
One minister criticized RAI for doing nothing to prevent a rash of hoarding that left shelves empty in central and southern Italy earlier in the week, suggesting the pubcaster should exert moral influence over the population’s behavior.
The Communist party, which runs RAI-3 and has been a lone voice against war, decried that as blatant censorship.
Elsewhere, the BBC warned its producers to be wary of using “retired military people” as commentators – they might inadvertently help the enemy – or showing dead or wounded soldiers.
Under Ministry of Defense rules, Brit webs have been grouped into four pools, so-called media resource teams, accompanied by liaison officers who have the right to censor copy in the field. The regulatory Independent Television Commission also has warned ITV broadcasters to monitor ads for insensitive copy.
The BBC and ITN, news providers for the U.K.’s ITV web, called government guidelines “so blanket it would be almost impossible to report a war with them,” according to an ITN spokesman.
French journalists, long inured to operating under government constraints, were advised by their army’s Information and Public Relations Services that “one elementary rule of decency imposes that the wounded and dead are not shown before we have informed relatives.”
Meanwhile, U.K. viewers had to rely on live feeds from CNN (via ITV, Channel 4 and, later, on BBC) and NBC’s “Nightly News,” carried on BSB’s Sky News. In Italy, the three Berlusconi webs all relied heavily on CNN reports. So did La Cinq in France, Tele Monto Carlo and regional stations in Spain, where translators struggled to overlay the running commentary in Spanish.
As U.S. networks carried live audio reports from Baghdad throughout the opening wave of air attacks, the first live British report from the Iraqi capital wasn’t logged till several hours after the launch of Operation Desert Storm. Ditto from Saudia Arabia, where live British newscasts lagged several hours behind the U.S. webs.
Sky News topper John O’Loan said he couldn’t explain why British reporters were so slow off the mark compared to U.S. rivals. He said that it was “just a question of luck in getting telephone links” out of Baghdad.
Contributing To This Report Were Jeremy Coopman In London, Jennifer Clark In Rome, Michael Williams In Paris, Peter Besas In Madrid.