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BBC director rips U.S. war coverage

Dyke sez pols not interrogated on Stateside TV

LONDON — BBC director general Greg Dyke on Thursday lambasted U.S. news networks for “swapping impartiality with patriotism” since 9/11 and most recently during the war in Iraq.

Dyke singled out Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Channel for its pro-President Bush and -America stance.

“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,” Dyke said at a journalism symposium at Goldsmiths College, London. “If, over time, we lost the trust of our audiences, there is no point to the BBC.”

In the U.S., Fox News has rejected the accusation that it is more conservative politically than other news orgs. CNN and MSNBC also dismiss the suggestion that they are flag-wavers .

But Dyke revealed during the symposium that there had been a huge increase in demand for BBC news in the U.S. since Sept. 11, which he said reflected concerns about the U.S. broadcasting news media.

“Many U.S. networks wrapped themselves in the American flag and swapped impartiality for patriotism,” he said. “What’s becoming clear is that those networks may have misjudged some of their audience. Far from wanting a narrow, pro-American agenda, there is a real appetite in the U.S. for the BBC’s balanced, objective approach.”

Dyke complained that on U.S. television, politicians do not face the same level of interrogation that the BBC delivers. He cited a recent interview with American Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld by David Dimbleby. “When excerpts were played in the States, many commentators agreed that American interviewers wouldn’t have taken such a robust approach.

“The aim certainly wasn’t to win some intellectual battle of wills or to trip Mr. Rumsfeld up. It was all about testing his arguments and not letting him gloss over difficult issues.”

Foreign influence

He also urged the U.K. government to ensure that new media laws did not allow U.S. companies to undermine the impartiality of the British media. The Communications Bill, currently being debated in Parliament, would allow U.S. businesses to own Blighty media companies for the first time if it is approved.

“In the area of impartiality, as in many other areas, we must ensure we don’t become Americanized,” Dyke said. “(U.S. networks) must be clear that the rules are different here. What is now defined as impartiality in the U.S. is different.”

Dyke’s comments came as the BBC is smarting over blistering criticism of its war coverage — from both sides.

Anti-war advocates have said the Beeb favored the military action, and protested at the pubcaster’s offices.

On the other side, conservative ministers and other public figures criticized the BBC for favoring the regime in Baghdad. One BBC exec noted that it might be wrong to use the word “liberation” in describing the arrival of U.S. and British troops in Baghdad.

(Pamela McClintock in New York contributed to this report.)

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