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Friday 25 April 2003
The BBC director general, Greg Dyke, yesterday laid out the case for the impartiality of broadcast news in Britain as against the "unquestioning" attitude of US networks, and warned the government not to allow the "Americanisation" of the British media.
In characteristically blunt fashion, Mr Dyke said he was surprised at the "committed political position" of Rupert Murdoch's Fox News Channel, and "shocked" to discover that the biggest radio group in the US was using its stations to organise pro-war rallies.
He urged the government to think carefully about its proposals to liberalise media ownership laws in Britain. "We must ensure that we don't become Americanised," he said in a speech at Goldsmith's College in London yesterday.
Mr Dyke directed much of his ammunition against the global media giant Clear Channel, which owns 1,225 radio stations in the US, many of which took a staunchly pro-war line.
"We are genuinely shocked when we discover that the largest radio group in the United States was using its airwaves to organise pro-war rallies," said Mr Dyke, who is also the BBC's editor-in-chief. "We are even more shocked to discover that the same group wants to become a big radio player in the UK."
In the communications bill currently going through the House of Lords, the government plans to deregulate ownership laws, allowing foreign companies like Clear Channel to own commercial radio licences in Britain.
Clear Channel is known for syndicating much of its output between its stations, and concerns have been raised about the threat to diversity.
Mr Dyke warned that deregulation also raised questions about impartiality: since the September 11 attacks, a gap had opened up between the definitions of impartiality on either side of the Atlantic.
"Maybe it was always like this and the requirements of impartiality in the UK were always different to those in the USA, but that's not how I remember it," he said. "Personally, I was shocked while in the United States by how unquestioning the broadcast news media was during this war."
He criticised Fox News for its pro-Bush stance, which has helped it overtake CNN as the most popular news network in the US.
"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. If, over time, we lost the trust of our audiences, there is no point in the BBC," said Mr Dyke.
He speculated that the patriotism of the US networks had been driven by the fragmentation of the US media.
"Many of the large television news organisations in the States are no longer profitable or confident of their future. 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.
Mr Dyke rejected accusations that the BBC, which has spent between £7m and £8m on the war, had been soft on Saddam Hussein, insisting the corporation's commitment to "independence and impartiality" was "absolute." He said it was "absurd" to suggest journalists in Baghdad were "Saddam's stooges", and singled out correspondents Andrew Gilligan, Rageh Omaar and John Simpson for having brought home the "reality" of war.
"Governments have as much right as anyone else to put pressure on the BBC," he said. "It's only a problem if the BBC caves in."
Turner Calls Rival Media Mogul Murdoch 'Warmonger'
By Duncan Martell
Friday 25 April 2003
SAN FRANCISCO - Ted Turner said on Thursday too few people owned too many media organizations and called rival media baron Rupert Murdoch a warmonger for what he said was Murdoch's promotion of the U.S. war in Iraq.
"He's a warmonger," Turner said in an evening speech to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco of Murdoch, whose News Corp. Ltd. owns the fast-growing Fox News Channel. "He promoted it."
Fox News Channel has been the most popular U.S. cable news network during the conflict, trumping AOL Time Warner Inc.'s CNN, which Turner started more than two decades ago and came to prominence with its blanket coverage of the 1991 Gulf War.
Asked by an audience member for his thoughts on Fox's larger ratings share than CNN's, Turner said, "Just because your ratings are bigger doesn't mean you're better."
"It's not how big you are, it's how good you are that really counts," Turner said, drawing hoots from the audience.
Turner, who has pledged to give $1 billion to the United Nations and is a vocal proponent of population control and nuclear-arms elimination, criticized the concentration of ownership of the vast majority of U.S. television networks, radio and TV stations and newspapers in a few corporations.
"The media is too concentrated, too few people own too much," Turner said.
Asked whether he would again try to launch a new network, Turner, who is the vice chairman of AOL Time Warner and has been critical of the merger of AOL and TimeWarner, said: "No. I think the space is filled with the people already there.
"There's really five companies that control 90 percent of what we read, see and hear. It's not healthy."
Earlier on Thursday, BBC Director General Greg Dyke said U.S. broadcasters' coverage of the Iraq war was so unquestioningly patriotic and so lacking in impartiality that it threatened the credibility of America's electronic media.
Dyke singled out for criticism Fox News Channel and Clear Channel Communications Inc., the largest operator of radio stations in the United States.
"Personally, I was shocked while in the United States by how unquestioning the broadcast news media was during this war," Dyke said in a speech at a University of London conference.
After Turner's initial remarks, the moderator for the question and answer session noted that Turner would not be able to comment on the ongoing federal investigations into AOL Time Warner.
The moderator had scarcely finished her statement when he leaned into the microphone and said: "I can say one thing. As the largest shareholder and the biggest shareholder (of the company), it's been brutal."
Turner said he also liked bison.
"I got 35,000 of them," Turner said in response to a question about bison. "I do eat them. You've got to eat."
The final question of the evening to Turner: What will be his epitaph.
"I have nothing more to say," Turner said. "And that's what it is."
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