by Ian Burrell – The Independent (London)
LONDON (25 April 2003) — Greg Dyke, director general of the BBC, attacked American television and radio networks for their “shocking” and “gung-ho” coverage of the Iraq conflict yesterday. He also issued a warning against US companies being allowed greater ownership of British media.
Dyke said that changes to legislation proposed by the Government would allow American media companies to take a greater share of British television and radio, which could lead to a loss of impartiality in news coverage.
“We must ensure that we don’t become Americanized,” he said. Dyke also accused the Government of trying to “manage public opinion” and “apply pressure” on the BBC.
In his first public comments since the war, Dyke said America had “no news operation strong enough or brave enough to stand up against” the White House and Pentagon. He said: “Personally, I was shocked while in the United States by how unquestioning the broadcast news media was during this war.”
Dyke said that since the 11 September terrorist attacks, many American networks had “wrapped themselves in the American flag and swapped impartiality for patriotism.”
He said: “I think compared to the United States we see impartiality as giving a range of views, including those critical of our own Government’s position. I think in the United States, particularly since 11 September, that would be seen as unpatriotic.” Dyke said that on a recent visit to America he was “amazed by how many people just came up to me and said they were following the war on the BBC because they no longer trusted the American electronic news media.” Dyke reserved some of his strongest criticisms for Clear Channel, the largest operator of radio stations in America. The company is likely to be a beneficiary of government plans to open up ownership of commercial radio in Britain.
He said: “We were genuinely shocked when we discovered that the largest radio group in the US was using its airwaves to organize pro-war rallies. We are even more shocked to discover that the same group wants to become a big player in radio in the UK.”
Mr Dyke attacked Fox News and CNN for what he described as “gung-ho” coverage. In contrast, the BBC was an “800lb gorilla” that was capable of holding off the Government’s attempts to interfere in editorial decisions, he said.