The Media Column: The Daily Telegraph is taking on the BBC, 'the greatest menace facing the UK'

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It took almost two months. It was on 26 July that Conrad Black wrote to The Daily Telegraph with his fascinating views on British broadcasting. The BBC, he declared, is "pathologically hostile to the Government and official opposition, most British institutions, American policy in almost every field, Israel, moderation in Ireland, all Western religions, and most manifestations of the free market economy."

Lord Black, The Daily Telegraph's proprietor, went on to add that the BBC "benefits from an iniquitous tax, abuses its position commercially, has shredded its formal obligation to separate comment from reporting in all political areas...and is poisoning the well of public policy debate in the UK." The corporation's "virulent culture of bias" has rendered it "the greatest menace facing the country".

Worse, in other words, than heart disease, al-Qa'ida, the IRA and You've Been Framed. Probably combined.

It was on 9 September that Charles Moore, the editor of The Daily Telegraph, responded. That was the day that the paper proudly trumpeted on its front page: "Beebwatch - starting today, we track BBC bias."

One cannot help worrying that Lord Black might consider a 45-day wait a little long. If you are taking on the Greatest Menace Facing the Country, it will not do to sit on your hands. You'd be reading this column in German if Churchill had taken that attitude in 1939.

Anyway, back to Mr Moore. His campaign will be looking to challenge the BBC's "mental assumptions". In an introductory piece, he quoted a list of them: "That American power is bad, whereas the UN is good; that Palestinians are in the right and Israel isn't; that the war in Iraq is wrong..." I could go on. (Mr Moore did.) But suffice to say, The Daily Telegraph editor's list was rather similar to that of The Daily Telegraph's proprietor.

So what has Beebwatch unearthed so far? On the Today programme - where else? - Michael Meacher was given "an easy ride" for his (bonkers) theory that the United States had colluded in the September 11 attacks to spark a war for oil. James Naughtie "referred to the American embassy's statement that the theory was 'monstrous', but even this was not quoted in full." A report on Newsnight, by Peter Marshall, "left a nasty taste in the mouth", after he suggested that France and Germany were showing reluctance to send troops to Iraq to serve alongside the Americans. Today's Angus Stickler was biased for reporting "cracks are starting to show in the united front on the war on terror".

No doubt there will be occasions when the column does stumble across moments when the BBC's impartiality has not come up to scratch. But Lord Black's viewpoint - the one in which America can do no wrong - is just one take on the world (and one that gets an airing in his papers and Rupert Murdoch's). Another view that is getting increasingly frequent airings is Charles Moore's declared view, in an interview on LBC 97.3, that "I don't believe that the licence fee is any longer justified." Chip, chip, chip.

Meanwhile, the most arresting item of Beebwatch deserves a wider airing: "The BBC's lack of respect for the Catholic Church expresses itself in many ways: for example, in frequent references to the Pope's frailty." The Pope is 83.

When Carole Caplin signed up as a columnist with the Mail on Sunday at the beginning of the year, there were two questions being asked by the paper's rivals. Firstly, why did Cherie Blair's "lifestyle guru" choose to join the paper which had led the attacks against her during the Cheriegate affair? Secondly, how did the MoS manage to square its decision to offer Caplin space - and around £80,000 - with its previously published views about her influence on the Blair household?

The answer to the second question came this weekend - having Caplin on side provides the paper with brilliant access to stories about life behind the door of Number 10, and shines a light on the relationship between Tony, Cherie, Alastair Campbell and his partner Fiona Millar.

Thus this weekend, the paper was able to report the supposed rumours and innuendo it so despises about the "very sexy and physical" Ms Caplin's relationship with the Prime Minister - while pointing out that they are, of course, completely without foundation.

Christena Appleyard, the editor of the paper's Night and Day supplement, who bagged Ms Caplin by stressing that Night and Day is oh-so-different and separate from the main paper, must be happy. As might well be a trouble-making Ms Caplin, of whom the paper opined: "Her public humiliation is out of all proportion to anything she could possibly have done. It is as if someone were using a surface-to-air missile to kill a mosquito."

v.graff@independent.co.uk

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