The key, BBC News Director Richard Sambrook says from London, is "not having a particular country's agenda or values at the forefront of what we're doing. We try to take an international approach to the news, to a greater extent than any of the U.S. nets. We try to build in a perspective from other Arab countries."
This cover-all-sides style, even as British troops are under fire, has brought the BBC a steady fusillade of criticism.
"The Beeb is a mandatory government-run service staffed with the usual people who go into government-run media, i.e. left-wing hacks," British expatriate Andrew Sullivan writes on his Web site. "The BBC is increasingly perceived, even by sympathetic parties, as the voice in part of the anti-war forces. . . . How the Beeb ceased to become an objective news source and became a broadcast version of The Nation is one of the great tragedies of modern journalism."
At the same time, says Sambrook, some British officials have fired off faxes, saying that "we need to point out more strongly than we are the history of human rights abuses under Saddam Hussein. They don't think we give enough emphasis to the wrongs of the enemy."
The stark contrast of the understated British tone makes the American broadcasts seem flag-waving and patriotic. The underlying assumption in these broadcasts seems to be that the U.S. of A. is fighting for a just cause, and the embedded correspondents, while providing unvarnished reports, are openly sympathetic to our fighting men and women...
Katty Kay, a Washington correspondent for the BBC, says there's been no shortage of criticism in this country "that the American media has been trying to sell the war. Perhaps the BBC all along has been questioning both sides on whether the war was justified.
"British journalism has a culture of being quite critical and quite aggressive in our interviews of politicians and officials," Kay says. When Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush's closest ally on Iraq, took questions at the White House, "the toughest questions to President Bush all came from British journalists, not the White House press corps."
This attitude permeates the BBC's sober coverage, which does not feature a parade of retired generals or emotional interviews with families of injured soldiers. On "Breakfast News," a morning show seen only in Britain, anchor Natasha Kaplinsky began a discussion with her "defence correspondent" by saying: "Let's talk about the politicians and how they're manipulating public perceptions."