Murdoch helped start war on Iraq, says Turner

Ex-CNN owner blames Fox News for urging invasion, while BBC chief says US media no longer impartial

SAN FRANCISCO - ( Reuters) News Corp Ltd's Fox News Channel, owned by media baron Rupert Murdoch, has come under fire for its coverage of the war in Iraq and the run-up to it.

Mr Ted Turner, founder of the Cable News Network (CNN), said that Mr Murdoch helped start the American-led war by using his News Corp media outlets, such as Fox TV, to advocate an invasion.

And in slamming US broadcasters' coverage in general for being unquestioningly patriotic and lacking in impartiality, the head of the BBC singled out Fox and Clear Channel Communications Inc, the largest operator of radio stations in the United States, with more than 1,200 stations, for special criticism.

BBC director-general Greg Dyke said on Thursday that such coverage threatened the credibility of America's electronic media. Fox News was the most popular US cable news network during the conflict.

Mr Dyke criticised it for its 'gung-ho patriotism', saying: 'We are still surprised when we see Fox News with such a committed political position.'

A spokesman for Fox News declined to comment on the charges.

In a speech in San Francisco on Thursday night, Mr Turner said Mr Murdoch promoted the war because 'it's good for his newspapers and good for his television stations'.

'I call it Murdoch's War,' he said.

Media ownership in the US is too concentrated, with five companies, including News Corp, controlling '99 per cent of what you see and hear', Mr Turner said.

The biggest media companies 'don't have the public's interest at heart', he added.

Mr Turner is stepping down next month from his position as vice-chairman of AOL Time Warner, the world's largest media company. He sold Turner Broadcasting System to Time Warner in 1996.

Mr Turner likened Mr Murdoch to William Randolph Hearst, publisher of newspapers which included the San Francisco Examiner in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Hearst advocated the Spanish-American War of 1898.

'Hearst used to like to boast that he started the Spanish-American War with his newspapers,' Mr Turner said. 'It's not hard. All you have to do is fan the flames of hatred.'

Bloomberg said News Corp could not be reached for comment on Mr Turner's speech.

In general, US broadcasters had been accused of 'cheerleading' during the Iraq conflict, with what some critics saw as gung-ho reporting and flag-waving patriotism.

In one example, a US network described US soldiers as 'heroes' and 'liberators'. Mr Dyke suggested the problem stemmed from the recent fragmentation of media, with no single network having the clout to stand up to the US government.

'This is particularly so since Sept 11, when many US networks wrapped themselves in the American flag and swapped impartiality for patriotism,' he said.

'Personally, I was shocked while in the United States by how unquestioning the broadcast news media was during this war.

'If Iraq proved anything, it was that the BBC cannot afford to mix patriotism and journalism. This is happening in the United States and if it continues, will undermine the credibility of the US electronic news media.'

Mr Dyke defended the BBC in the face of accusations - some from the British government - that the broadcaster had been soft on Saddam Hussein's government.

'In times of war, British governments of every persuasion have sought to use the media to manage public's only a problem if the BBC caves in,' he said. -- Bloomberg,Reuters


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