What the foreign papers are saying.
March 7 1998 3:30 AM

Canadian tycoon Conrad Black's Daily Telegraph of Britain expanded its campaign against Rupert Murdoch Wednesday by accusing him of censoring coverage of China in his London newspaper (and Telegraph rival) the Times. In a front-page lead story, the Telegraph quoted the Times' veteran China specialist, American academic and journalist Jonathan Mirsky, as saying that the Times "has simply decided, because of Murdoch's interests, not to cover China in a serious way." His comments were taken from the transcript of a forum on press freedom that took place in London in January. For three months after the hand over of Hong Kong to China last June, readers of the Times "would have thought that Hong Kong had been airlifted up to Pluto, that it had simply vanished," Mirsky said. "We have here what is arguably the traditionally most famous newspaper in the world, and it has just decided--it has taken not an executive decision, but an owner's position--to leave China and Hong Kong alone," he added. The beleaguered editor of the Times, Peter Stothard, replied in a statement that "the China coverage of the Times is wholly and solely in the hands of the editor," adding: "I have never taken an editorial decision to suit Mr. Murdoch's interests. Nor have I ever been asked to." The next day, in a signed op-ed piece, Stothard asked Times readers "to accept the Editor's word" that none of Mirsky's accusations against him were true.


Meanwhile, the Times--already under attack for failing to cover Murdoch's cancellation of a book contract with the former British governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten --had tracked down Murdoch, in a car on his way to a British airport. The interview ran on Wednesday's front page under the headline "Our people screwed up in Patten row, says Murdoch." Murdoch lashed out in the interview at senior executives of his London publishers, HarperCollins, saying they had "chickened out" and left him "in a completely inexcusable position." Murdoch admitted he had asked HarperCollins to drop the book but said the executives should have been forthright about it, instead of inventing nonsensical reasons. (They claimed that Patten's manuscript wasn't up to the mark, when its editor at HarperCollins, Stuart Proffitt, was already on record as finding it the most lucid and intelligent book he had ever received from a politician.)

Thursday, the Telegraph returned to the fray, reporting on its front page that HarperCollins Chairman Eddie Bell was "very low" and contemplating resignation after Murdoch's attack; and on an inside page that "outrage is bubbling to the surface in America" over Murdoch's dumping of the Patten memoirs. The Telegraph quoted New York Times and Los Angeles Times attacks on Murdoch and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as saying Murdoch was China's "willing accomplice" in suppressing the truth about human rights: "His action to kill Christopher Patten's book is not isolated and is part of a pattern."

In Paris, Le Monde's editorial Thursday, titled "Kosovo is our affair," said Europe should tell Serbia forcefully that it would not be reintegrated into the international community unless there was a negotiated solution "taking into account the legitimate aspirations of the Albanians of Kosovo." Its main op-ed feature was about China's new yearning for international respectability. On its front page, Le Monde ran a piece about the "the most important homosexual event in the world"--the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Recalling that the first such event 20 years ago had ended with 53 arrests, Le Monde pointed out that this year there had been only one arrest--of a person possessing two grams of cannabis--and that 30 uniformed policemen had crossed the security barriers to join the party. It also boasted on its front page that France was "in a good position" in the international cloning war and would be putting on show Friday, March 6, a cloned heifer called Marguerite.

Le Figaro of Paris carried an interview Thursday with Prince Talal bin Abdel-Aziz al-Saud, brother of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, in which he said that the United States had got its policies wrong throughout the Middle East. "Their position is bad because it doesn't rest on justice," he said. Asked if he also opposed sanctions against Iraq, Prince Talal said that sanctions didn't work: "Look at Libya and Cuba--there are sanctions against their peoples, but their regimes survive." In an interview with El País of Spain, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the Europeans understood nothing about the Middle East. "Our problem with Europe is that you all have a colonial past and believe that the hills of Jerusalem ... are like those which were occupied by the French in Algeria and the Spanish in the Philippines," he said. "Only the United States understands us, and not, as many people think, because there is a big Jewish community there, but because they see us as the new promised land, like their own America."

Having been caught worshiping alone (with bodyguards) in the Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral in London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair was reported in all British newspapers Thursday as denying that he was about to leave the Church of England and become the first Catholic British prime minister since the Reformation.

The Times of London reported that Tony O'Reilly, former chairman of H.J. Heinz Co. Inc., was about to achieve sole proprietorship of the London newspaper the Independent by buying out the Mirror Group's 46-percent stake.