Monday, April 28, 2003

BBC official, U.S. reporter criticize
war coverage on cable

By David Bauder
The Associated Press

NEW YORK - The chief of the British Broadcasting Corp. and NBC News reporter Ashleigh Banfield criticized U.S. cable news networks for overly patriotic coverage of the war in Iraq.

BBC Director-General Greg Dyke said U.S. broadcasters had undermined their credibility by supporting the war. He singled out Fox News Channel's "gung-ho patriotism."

"Personally I was shocked while in the United States by how unquestioning the broadcast news media was during this war," he said in a speech at the University of London last week.

None of the American cable news outlets would comment on Dyke's statements.

Meanwhile, NBC's Banfield said in a speech Thursday that cable news operators had wrapped themselves in the flag.

"It was a grand and glorious picture that had a lot of people watching and a lot of advertisers excited about cable TV news," Banfield said at Kansas State University, in comments reported by the Topeka Capital-Journal.

"But it wasn't journalism, because I'm not sure Americans are hesitant to do this again - to fight another war, because it looked to them like a courageous and terrific endeavor," she said.

Banfield said American television viewers didn't see what happened when the Marines fired their weapons.

"There were horrors that were completely left out of this war," she said.

Banfield used to have her own prime-time show on MSNBC, but lately she has been reporting for NBC News. An NBC News spokeswoman said the network is "deeply disappointed and troubled by her remarks" and that NBC is proud of its war coverage.

The BBC's Dyke said U.S. broadcasters' coverage of the conflict had prompted some Americans to turn off homegrown TV news in favor of an outside view - such as the BBC's.

"What we have found since Sept. 11 is an increasing demand for the BBC's news output in the United States," he said. "During the war, we were literally getting hundreds of e-mails from people in the United States saying 'Thank you for trying to explain events. Thank you for being impartial."'

The BBC's own impartiality has been called into question, however.

Some conservatives nicknamed it the "Baghdad Broadcasting Corp." And one of the BBC's own correspondents, Paul Adams, accused the network of downplaying British military achievements in Iraq and exaggerating the impact of casualties.

BBC reports on the war were shown four times a day on the cable network BBC America, available in about a third of U.S. television homes. BBC America also ran about 100 hours of continuous news coverage when the war broke out.

The network can't say whether Dyke's anecdotes about U.S. interest are reflected in a larger audience; it has no ratings information for its news shows.

BBC World News coverage is also available on 220 public television stations in the United States. Ratings for its newscast increased by 28 percent during the war, according to the program's distributor.

During the war, viewership for Fox News Channel jumped by 207 percent, for CNN by 250 percent and for MSNBC by 294 percent, according to Nielsen Media Research.

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BBC, U.S. reporter criticize cable war coverage