'Don't take good relations for granted,' warns Tait

Pollard: "easy bit" is over

Current good relations between the media and the Government following a meeting with Alastair Campbell will be the first casualty if public opinion turns against the US and British attacks on Afghanistan, according to ITN’s editor-in-chief, Richard Tait.

Speaking at a Royal Television Society conference discussing how the major broadcasters responded to the terrorist attacks in the US, Tait said broadcasters were in "uncharted territory reporting a war that is already difficult and going to get more so.

"The war is going well, so relations with the Government are going well," he added. "But so far there has been relatively little evidence of inaccuracy in its targeting or significant levels of civilian casualties. But this is a Government known for its control, and the moment that this isn’t the case, then the first casualty is likely to be relations with the media."

Nick Pollard, head of Sky News, said that, in television terms, reporting the tragedy of 11 September was "the easy bit".

"The story has become harder and will get harder still," he said. "It will become more politically controversial and as the West’s policy is undermined and more under pressure from public opinion it will get harder."

Richard Sambrook, BBC director of news, said news organisations had already "had to learn fast" about reporting the crisis, particularly when it came to Islam.

"There were some mistakes early on, with religious terms like ‘fundamentalist’ but I think we have improved."

Sambrook also welcomed the role that Middle East satellite channel al-Jazeera has played in the conflict.

Yosri Fouda, presenter on the channel’s current affairs programme, Top Secret, said he was disappointed that al-Jazeera had "become part of the story".

Questioned about the satellite channel’s relationship with the Taliban and its securing of footage of Osama bin Laden, Fouda said al-Qaeda was "not going to go to a Western news organisation".

"But the Taliban doesn’t like the fact we interview Western leaders. They despise us for that," said Fouda.

He added that staff at al-Jazeera were "surprised" that there were no Western news organisations stationed in Afghanistan before the crisis. "Osama bin Laden wasn’t created last month," he said

Tony Maddox, editorial chief of CNN’s European operation, said that US news networks had been "shaken up" by events of 11 September.

"International coverage on the whole was pathetic and had been for some time," said Maddox.

"Now they are having to rethink it. Unquestionably they have been shaken up by what’s happened."

Tait said before 11 September people were saying foreign news no longer mattered but: "Now audience figures show that people are interested in what’s happening in the world, and the media will have to reflect that."

By Julie Tomlin

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