Blair savages BBC over 'hateful' Katrina coverage

Tony Blair has savaged the BBC by disclosing to the corporation’s chief commercial rival Rupert Murdoch that the coverage of the Hurricane Katrina was “full of hatred of America.”

The Prime Minister allegedly told the chairman of News Corp that the BBC was “gloating” at the slow response to the disaster during a private conversation held in New York on Thursday.

His comments reopen the debate about the broadcaster’s impartiality in delivering news, which first surfaced in the Hutton report, while they also cast a shadow of doubt over the PM’s allegiances.

Responding to Murdoch’s claims, Theresa May, Tory culture spokeswoman reportedly told one Sunday newspaper: “If that is Tony Blair’s view of the BBC’s coverage, he should be giving it to the BBC, not to the head of a rival news organisation.”

But Bill Clinton, former US president, and Sir Howard Stringer, head of Sony Corporation, added weight to the Prime Minister’s view, by questioning the tone of BBC coverage during a media seminar at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) in New York.

The ex-President said although the corporation’s coverage was factually accurate, it had been “stacked up” to crticise the federal government’s slow response to rescuing survivors, at the expense of acknowledging the scope of the disaster and neglecting other relief efforts.

According to the Business, Sir Howard Stinger said he had been “nervous about the slight level of gloating” in the BBC coverage, but later noted the tone changed once the magnitude of Katrina became apparent.

Speaking at the CGI about US foreign aid and the role of private philanthropy in world disasters, Rupert Murdoch took the podium to make disclosures that will cause embarrassment for both the PM and the BBC -regardless of their accuracy.

Acknowledging at the start, “I probably shouldn’t be telling you this,” the world’s most powerful media mogul went on to reveal how Tony Blair was shocked at the way the BBC had handled the coverage of Katrina and its aftermath, when he viewed it on television in India.

“Tony Blair… told me yesterday he was in Delhi last week and he turned on the BBC World Service to see what was happening in New Orleans, and he said it was just full of hate at America and gloating about our troubles,” the chief executive of News Corp said.

Greg Dyke, the BBC’s former director general, has responded to Murdoch’s comments by pointing out the extraordinary relationship it implies he conducts with the British Prime Minster.

“If it’s an accurate record, Mr Murdoch has provided a telling insight into his relationship with Mr Blair,” he told the IOS.

“It may not come as a surprise that the Prime Minister aims to please Murdoch but it comes as a bit of a shock he goes this far.”

The former head of the BBC, who was ousted by the Hutton report, added that Mr Blair is “hardly the best judge of the impartiality of news coverage, given his behaviour in the run-up to the Iraq war.”


19th September 2005

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