'Out of touch' Blair angers reporters with BBC slur

By Caitlin Pike

BBC journalists who covered Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans are
mystified and angered by reports that the Prime Minister told Rupert
Murdoch he thought the corporation’s coverage was “full of hatred of
America” and “gloating”

in the US Government’s failure to provide a rapid response to the disaster.

A
front line BBC journalist who was on the ground in New Orleans after
the hurricane told Press Gazette: “It shows just how out of touch Blair
is and how obsessed with America he is. We reported the situation as it
was – the American response to the disaster was pathetic, people were
stranded for days in one of the biggest cities in the US.”

The
insider admitted that the coverage of the disaster had been, in some
parts, opinionated, but said: “If Katrina had taken place in Manchester
or Liverpool and people had been stranded like that, for that long, it
would have been the right of the press to criticise the Government. The
American media coverage was not that different from ours – there was
failure on the part of the federal government, the state government or
the city government, or a combination of all three. People were
outraged and we reported that. We were mystified by Blair’s comments.”

Murdoch,
who revealed the contents of his private conversation with the Prime
Minister at a media seminar hosted by former US President Bill Clinton
in New York last week, is reported to have said: “I probably shouldn’t
be telling you this” before telling the audience what Blair had said
about the BBC.

NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear also responded
angrily to Blair’s comments, condemning what he called the Prime
Minister’s “craven devotion to President Bush”, which was “only
eclipsed by his craven devotion to Rupert Murdoch”. Dear said he was
“sickened” by Blair’s bid to curry favour with Murdoch. Dear also said
the comments exposed Blair’s contempt for public service broadcasting
and the BBC in particular.

Dear concluded: “Tony Blair’s
criticism of the BBC for exposing the divide between rich and poor in
the US andthe slowness of the emergency services to provide relief to
the poor of New Orleans is beyond contempt. He has deregulated
broadcasting to serve the interests of Rupert Murdoch. His latest
attack on the BBC shows he is still doing Murdoch’s bidding.”

The
BBC said it would not comment on Blair’s private conversation and that
it had not received a formal complaint from Downing Street.

The
corporation added: “It would appear opportune to underline the fact
that the BBC’s coverage of the Katrina devastation was committed solely
to relaying the events fully, accurately and impartially: an approach
we will continue to take with this and other stories.”

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