Blair tells Murdoch: 'gloating' BBC is 'full of hatred for America'

Extraordinary attack on corporation's coverage of New Orleans disaster
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Indy Politics

In an extraordinary disclosure that will acutely embarrass Mr Blair, the world's most powerful media mogul revealed details of a private conversation that took place in New York on Thursday.

Addressing a conference of influential media figures in the United States, Mr Murdoch said the Prime Minister had told him he had been shocked at the way the BBC had handled the disaster.

"Tony Blair... told me yesterday that he was in Delhi last week and he turned on the BBC World Service to see what was happening in New Orleans, and he said it was just full of hate at America and gloating about our troubles," the chairman and chief executive of News Corporation said.

Mr Blair's criticism drew a withering response from the BBC last night and plunged its relationship with the Prime Minister to a new low. Opposition politicians and respected journalists also rounded on Mr Blair for siding with Mr Murdoch against his commercial rival.

Greg Dyke, the BBC former director-general forced out in the wake of the Hutton report, last night said Mr Murdoch had provided a telling insight into his relationship with Mr Blair.

"If it's an accurate record, Mr Murdoch has provided a fascinating glimpse of his private relationship with Mr Blair," he said. "It may not come as a great surprise that the Prime Minister aims to please Murdoch but it comes as a bit of a shock he goes this far." He added: "Mr Blair, it might be said, is hardly the best judge of the impartiality of news coverage, given his behaviour in the run-up to the Iraq war."

Theresa May, Tory culture spokeswoman, said: "If that is Tony Blair's view of the BBC's coverage, he should be giving it to the BBC, not to the head of a rival news organisation."

Anger over Mr Blair's comments will be heightened by a claim made in a diary kept by a former Downing Street spin doctor that Mr Murdoch was allowed to veto any change in UK policy towards Europe.

An entry in a diary kept by Lance Price, who worked for the PM between 1998 and 2000, said: "We have promised News International we won't make any changes to our Europe policy without talking to them."

But, according to today's Mail on Sunday, that diary entry was altered on instructions from the Cabinet Office.

Mr Murdoch revealed Mr Blair's private remark as he took part in a New York seminar hosted by Bill Clinton on Friday night. The former US president also took the BBC to task, saying it was "stacked up" to criticise the federal government's slow response.

The BBC said in a statement last night: "The BBC's coverage of the Katrina devastation was committed solely to relaying the events fully, accurately and impartially, an approach we will continue to take with this and other stories." Some of the BBC's most distinguished correspondents leapt to its defence. Charles Wheeler said: "If one looks back at what was said compared to what the federal authorities were saying, then and now, it becomes clear that it was first-class accurate reporting." Sir Christopher Bland, a former chairman of governors, called Mr Blair's reported remark "nonsensical". Martin Bell added: "If Mr Blair is really siding with Murdoch against the BBC, many will despair."

Downing Street last night declined to comment.