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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Did You Know There Was A War On? (It's Over Now)

Television coverage of the Iraqi war was intense. Viewership was up. What does Prof.Krugman have to say about this?

A funny thing happened during the Iraq war: many Americans turned to the BBC for their TV news. They were looking for an alternative point of view — something they couldn't find on domestic networks, which, in the words of the BBC's director general, "wrapped themselves in the American flag and substituted patriotism for impartiality."

This article refers to comments made by BBC Director-General Greg Dyke, but lacks the specifc quote provided by the Earnest Professor. Are there any viewership figures?

BBC reports on the war were shown four times a day on the cable network BBC America, available in about a third of U.S. television homes. BBC America also ran about 100 hours of continuous news coverage when the war broke out.

The network can't say whether Dyke's anecdotes about U.S. interest are reflected in a larger audience; it has no ratings information for its news shows.

BBC World News coverage is also available on 220 public television stations in the United States. Ratings for its newscast increased by 28 percent during the war, according to the program's distributor.

During the war, viewership for Fox News Channel jumped by 207 percent, for CNN by 250 percent and for MSNBC by 294 percent, according to Nielsen Media Research.

So, an increase for the BBC of somewhere between "don't know" and 28%. Increases for the US outlets exceeding 200%. There was a war on, and a rising tide lifted all boats. Figures for Al-Jazeera not offered here.

As Prof. Krugman admits, and this story mentions, the BBC was, in the eyes of critics, less than impartial:

The BBC's own impartiality has been called into question, however.

Some conservatives nicknamed it the "Baghdad Broadcasting Corp." And one of the BBC's own correspondents, Paul Adams, accused the network of downplaying British military achievements in Iraq and exaggerating the impact of casualties.

Andrew Sullivan had some beauts about BBc reporting, but what is the point? Speaking of which, what is the point of this column? Privately held media may have an incentive to curry favor with the ruling administration - does the Times dare print this? Here is an odd hint of a possible direction for this column:

...Yet because the networks aren't government-owned, they aren't subject to the kind of scrutiny faced by the BBC, which must take care not to seem like a tool of the ruling party. So we shouldn't be surprised if America's "independent" television is far more deferential to those in power than the state-run systems in Britain or — for another example — Israel.

Hmm, a call for state ownership of broadcast media? Only a state run media can be truly free? Well, it is a pretty muted call. Maybe we should attempt to stabilize the regulatory regime? Well, it would be easier it we coul dstabilize the industry. Shouldn't this column mention the Capture Hypothesis? Here is a link to an article on business-government collusion, which I probably ought to read at some point. Feel free to tell me if you love it, or otherwise.

I suppose the Earnest Professor is warning us that bad things may happen under the evil Bush regime, or, hypothetically, any other. But I am not worried, not while Paul and Howell are on the job and Hillary! waits in the wings.

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