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Rupert stable steps up BBC onslaught

London, July 23: A concerted campaign by News International newspapers to castigate the BBC in its row with No 10 sparked accusations yesterday that Rupert Murdoch’s titles were being used to damage his biggest broadcasting rival.

Murdoch-owned newspapers such as The Times, Sun and News of the World have been significantly more zealous than other newspapers in backing No 10 over the BBC.

A source on The Times said yesterday there was “unease” among its journalists about the paper’s recent coverage of the dispute.

Responding to a story in The Times, the BBC said it was considering legal action if it did not get an apology from an MP who told the paper that Gavyn Davies, the BBC chairman, had misled governors over the identity of the source for its Iraqi dossier story.

In a letter to the paper yesterday Lord Ryder, the deputy chairman, challenged Robert Jackson’s claim and said Davies had not known the source was David Kelly at the time of the meeting. While, under recent editors, newspapers like the Sun and The Times have rarely been slow to criticise the BBC, the ferocity of the attack intensified this week.

Speculation that someone above the level of editor had intervened was fuelled on Saturday when News of the World staff were surprised by a sudden switch in the paper’s editorial line over the row. Journalists had spent the day working on a piece critical of the government only to be told late in the afternoon they were now to write one that was sympathetic.

Sources on the paper claim the turnaround was ordered “straight from the top”.

While the Sunday Times was alone among the Murdoch stable in adopting a more measured approach, Murdoch’s two daily papers have spent this week leaving little doubt as to where their sympathies lie.

Monday’s Sun splashed with the headline “You Rat”, a reference to Andrew Gilligan, the BBC’s reporter. An inside piece was titled “Heads must roll at the BBC” while a leader asked “How can we ever trust the BBC again'” alongside a sympathetic piece about the Prime Minister.

The same day’s Times front page took a similar line, contrasting a story about the BBC “in crisis” with a touching tale about an exhausted Blair’s spirits finally lifting.

Tom Baldwin, the paper’s political writer, is a close friend of Alastair Campbell but has been allowed to write a string of virulently anti-BBC news and comment pieces. BBC insiders understand that Murdoch was furious after Greg Dyke, the BBC’s director-general, made a speech this year warning about the damage to British television news if American broadcasters took over stations in Britain. Murdoch owns the US news station Fox News.

Scientist tape

The BBC revealed today it had a tape in which an arms expert, whose apparent suicide sparked a political crisis for Prime Minister Tony Blair, voices concern at the government’s handling of intelligence to justify war on Iraq.

The Guardian newspaper said the state broadcaster believed the tape was a “smoking gun” that would back up a highly controversial BBC report in May, which sparked an ongoing row with Blair's office.

Murdoch has consistently denied interfering with his editors’ independence although some former staff have disputed this. A News International spokesperson said the idea of Murdoch or one of his deputies dictating his papers’ response was “complete nonsense. This is utterly down to the editors. It just doesn’t work like that. We don’t have company positions”.

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