Ministers complain to BBC over Iraq news

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT has admitted trying to exert pressure on the BBC to toe the line in its coverage of the bombing of Iraq.

Robin Cook, Foreign Secretary, George Robertson, Secretary of State for Defence, and the Prime Minister's spokesman have all contacted the BBC informally to express their "disquiet" about the corporation's reporting of the conflict.

The Government's behaviour echoes similar Conservative complaints about Kate Adie's coverage of the 1986 bombing of Libya. It has been criticising the BBC for a lack of "health warnings" on news reports coming out of Baghdad.

The corporation, the Government felt, could have done more to tell viewers its reports from bombed sites in the city were subject to Iraqi government censorship.

A Downing Street spokesman said yesterday: "There hasn't been a formal complaint and, if there was one, it wouldn't come from the Prime Minister in person. But there has been disquiet. Alastair Campbell, Robin Cook and George Robertson have had conversations with the BBC."

The BBC's chief executive of news, Tony Hall, is believed to have been the target of the Government's pressure.

The government spokesman noted that Sky's reports from the Iraqi capital had made clear they were sent under Iraqi restrictions.

A spokesman for the BBC denied any pro-Iraq bias and said all of its bulletins had made clear that reports from Baghdad were subject to restrictions on where reporters could go.

Meanwhile in Washington the National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger, said the Clinton administration would keep economic pressure on Iraq unless it gets rid of its remaining chemical and biological weapons.

"The sanctions regime that has already cost Saddam $120bn [pounds 73bn] will stay in place without change until there is verified compliance," Mr Berger said in an address at the National Press Club.