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U.K.: British Media War Coverage Both Criticized, Praised

The debate continues in Britain over media coverage of the war in Iraq. Some government officials, in particular, have criticized the coverage for being, they say, slanted and too negative. But there has also been some praise.

London, 8 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Air Marshal Brian Burridge, the commander of British forces in the Persian Gulf, recently sounded very unhappy with the British media in an interview with "The Daily Telegraph" newspaper.

He said: "The U.K. media has lost the plot. You stand for nothing, you support nothing, you criticize; you drip. It is a spectator sport to criticize anybody or anything, and what the media says fuels public expectation."

Burridge was commenting on what some in Britain have said is biased coverage in favor of emphasizing the casualties and difficulties of the war in Iraq while minimizing the successes.

John Reid, chairman of the ruling Labour Party -- and now the new leader of the House of Commons -- singled out the British Broadcasting Company (BBC). He said the BBC was acting like a "friend of Baghdad" because of what he said was negative reporting on the war.

A correspondent for "The Daily Telegraph" in Eritrea similarly claimed, "Listening to the [BBC] World Service, I thought we were losing."

A less critical observation came from Prime Minister Blair's chief of communications, Alastair Campbell. He said part of the reason Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein may be "winning the propaganda battle" in the media is because "his dictatorship is free to tell lies, while a democracy, such as Britain, has to tell the truth and her journalists must pay attention to statements coming from both sides of the conflict."

Alex Nicoll, assistant director of London's International Institute for Strategic Studies, said that he is satisfied with the British media. "Well, my impression is that there has been some terrific reporting in the British newspapers and also British broadcast media, of the war. Because we have, for the first time really, 'embedded' correspondents with some of the units and also we have correspondents in Baghdad, we are seeing firsthand, really, to an unprecedented degree, exactly what is happening in this war and to me it is a good thing. It is making the war vivid for people, of course, it is not pleasant, but it enables people to see exactly what is happening," Nicoll said.

Nicoll said, however, that small picture that emerges from the embedded correspondents needs to be balanced by editors outside of the battlefield who can see the bigger picture.

"I think what one needs is both, the small picture and the big picture. The embedded correspondents, naturally, can only report what they see around them and I think everybody appreciates that they are being -- many of them -- very brave in doing so. At the same time, of course, one needs to see the big picture. And this is responsibility of editors and other correspondents to draw together the thread of what they are seeing around them and try to draw conclusions about the bigger picture," Nicoll said

Perhaps significantly, Donna Tipping of the Press Complaints Commission told RFE/RL that her office has received only a handful of complaints as far as the print media are concerned. Other complaints on TV/radio coverage have been forwarded to the appropriate broadcasting authorities.