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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 September 2005, 16:08 GMT 17:08 UK
BBC takes a battering over Bush
George W Bush, with General Russ Honore, inspecting the Emergency Operations Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
President Bush's response to the disaster has been widely criticised
As the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina continues to lead many news bulletins and programmes, the BBC has received a number of complaints about its coverage.

A recurring theme is the allegation that the BBC is biased against US President George W Bush and his administration, and is using the disaster as an excuse to attack the Republicans.

Some complainants have asked why - as they see it - the BBC is intent on blaming Mr Bush for the failings of the relief effort, instead of questioning roles of the state and local governments.

Others have accused correspondents of editorialising, commenting on the story with a lack of the objectivity they expect from the BBC.

I was waiting for the point at which the BBC would claim that Bush had caused the hurricane itself to form
Ken Sommers, US

But world editor Jonathan Baker has staunchly defended the BBC's handling of an "astonishingly difficult" story in "extremely difficult" conditions.

"I think your reporting of the events in New Orleans is as bad as it gets," e-mailed John Howson, of the UK.

"Your reporters appear to be totally unaware of the US Constitution in the relationship between the federal government and the states.

"All they wanted was to knock Bush and the republicans and again just showed how anti-republican the BBC is."

'Appalled'

The complaints have been made about both television and radio reports, although it is the TV coverage which has attracted the most criticism.

Ken Sommers, of the US, e-mailed in to say he was "not surprised at the degree to which the BBC's television coverage focused on President Bush himself, blaming him personally for the US federal government's slow response to the disaster relief effort".

George W Bush comforts Kim (left) and Bronwynne Bassier, who lost their home in Biloxi, Mississippi
Offering comfort: Has Bush been unfairly attacked?

He added: "I was waiting for the point at which the BBC would claim that Bush had caused the hurricane itself to form, and caused it to veer to the right into New Orleans rather than to the left and on into the state of Texas."

One "appalled" complainant alleged the corporation was "manipulating its reports into a vitriolic attack on the Bush administration".

And Lucy McGrath e-mailed to accuse the BBC of hyperbole in its use of reporters' commentaries on the devastation in the southern US states.

"Report the facts and do not feel the need to add these meaningless words, nigh eulogizing on a truly horrible situation. Such editorialising is offensive in this situation," she said.

If things are not going well, he [George W Bush] is there to be criticised
Jonathan Baker,
World editor

World editor Jonathan Baker said that if viewers and listeners considered the coverage Mr Bush was receiving in America, they would think "the BBC commentary was pretty mild by comparison".

"George Bush has put himself as the head of this operation as he did after 9/11, the response has been unacceptable - that is something he has said himself on more than one occasion - and he has made himself, as it were, the figurehead.

"In America the president is the person who is expected to lead the response to this kind of thing.

"If things are not going well, he is there to be criticised, and if they were going much better he would expect to take the credit."

Correspondents' experience

He said most of the BBC's reporting on the hurricane was "absolutely down-the-line straightforward reportage" of what crews were seeing and hearing from people in the affected areas.

"Clearly there is a fine line between a reporter's judgement, if you like, and what some people might regard as editorial comment, and I'm sorry if people think that we have occasionally overstepped that line," he said.

But he argued that while the BBC's "primary role" was to report on the news, the word "correspondent" implied "something a little more than that".

Viewers and listeners expected to get the benefit of correspondents' experience, putting the story into context with a sense of how it fitted into the history and politics of a situation.

"We expect them to give that extra value, which not only shows you what's happening, but gives you some means of interpreting it, assessing it understanding it and putting it within a wider picture," he said.

"That's very much what we encourage people to do without stepping over that line of going too much into their own opinions."




SEE ALSO
Fair comment or no comment?
09 Mar 05 |  Notes
Katrina aid response prompts row
07 Sep 05 |  Americas
Weathering the storm
07 Sep 05 |  NewsWatch

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