What the foreign papers are saying.
March 4 1998 3:30 AM

The war against Rupert Murdoch by Conrad Black's British Telegraph Group continued Monday after the confirmation of rumors that Chinese government officials have been trying to sell the organs of executed criminals to American doctors ($25,000 for livers, $20,000 for lungs of nonsmokers, $20,000 for kidneys, and $5,000 for pairs of corneas). In a scoop last Friday, the Daily Telegraph revealed the circumstances under which a Murdoch publishing company, the London subsidiary of HarperCollins, had canceled publication of the memoirs of Britain's last governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, for which it had already paid an advance of $200,000.


The paper found that Murdoch had personally intervened to get the book stopped, because he feared that its anti-Chinese slant might threaten his TV interests in China. After one ferocious editorial last Friday, the Telegraph published another Monday saying that "behind the machinations within HarperCollins is Mr. Murdoch's determination to suppress condemnations of a vicious and brutal dictatorship," which "allows its citizens to be shot, dismembered and sold in pieces." Murdoch and Black have long been locked in a British newspaper price war.

Murdoch's Times of London provoked much comment by failing to publish anything about the affair until last Saturday, when it carried a small story on Page 5 headlined "News Corp Puts Its Side in Row Over Patten Book." But it grew more evenhanded Monday when it said that HarperCollins was now "fighting a rearguard action to stop a threatened revolt by some of its authors." The writer of this story, the Times' media editor, Raymond Snoddy, was widely reported as having said in a radio interview that the lack of coverage in the Times had damaged his own reputation and probably that of the newspaper as well. "I agree entirely what has happened is unacceptable," he is supposed to have said.

The Financial Times reflected in an editorial Monday that the Patten-Murdoch affair had "brought forth a torrent of abuse from his newspaper rivals, of a kind that might make a lesser person feel faint." But it said that this scandal was "not nearly as shocking as his decision four years ago to drop BBC news from his Hong Kong satellite service to appease China," and concluded that Britain didn't need legislation to curb Murdoch's media power but needed "politicians with the guts to snap their fingers at bullies."

In an op-ed piece, FT columnist Philip Stephens wrote that those who fear Murdoch "should stop for a moment to savour the delicious irony of his latest obeisance before the Beijing gerontocracy." He concluded, "The frenzy with which he seeks to expand his empire betrays a realisation that it will not outlive him. The mogul has become a mouse." In the Guardian, Andrew Neil, Murdoch's former editor of the London SundayTimes, said his ex-boss had "shown neither integrity nor morality in his handling of Patten's book. It is a sorry tale from which he emerges a diminished, tarnished figure."


Most European newspapers led Monday with the anointing of Gerhard Schröder as Helmut Kohl's Social Democrat opponent in the fall election for the German chancellorship, though the British press made more of Sunday's "countryside march," which brought at least 250,000 country folk to London to demonstrate against proposed legislation to abolish fox hunting and other assaults on the country way of life. The Times described the march as "a public relations triumph" and attributed much of its success to one of its organizers, Chicago-born Eric Bettelheim, "a wealthy barrister who works for an American law firm in London," who was credited with supplying "much of the ideological drive and marketing expertise." Other British newspapers claimed that the U.S. gun lobby had helped finance the march.

El País of Madrid led on Schröder but devoted its main editorial to the "miracle" by which all European countries with the exception of Greece had met the economic criteria for taking part in a single European currency, which will now be launched on schedule next year. The Italian newspapers carried much comment on the visit of Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini to Tehran, generally praising him for his highly conciliatory posture, which included denying the existence of Iranian sponsorship of terrorism and refusing to criticize Iran's application of Koranic law. Quoted in La Stampa of Turin, Dini said the still-extant death sentence on British writer Salman Rushdie "will not be an obstacle to relations between the European Union and Iran because Iran is willing to discuss the whole question." London's DailyTelegraph quoted U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson as saying in Tehran Sunday that Iran had assured her that the death sentence on Rushdie would not be carried out, although the Ayatollah Khomeini's "fatwa" against him "cannot be revoked."

The Sydney Morning Herald reported Monday that the Australians had overtaken the Canadians to become the Western world's second-largest share owners, after the Americans. It also criticized President Suharto of Indonesia for trying to "have his IMF cake, and eat it," saying that "Indonesia doesn't want more Western advice--what it demands is more financial help."

Commenting on the Indian elections, the South China Morning Post of Hong Kong said in an editorial that it was "virtually certain that the people will again face a hung parliament of uncertain duration, cobbled together by the flimsiest of uneasy regional alliances." It blamed this outcome on the intervention of onetime Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's widow, Sonia, in the campaign. An editorial in the Pioneer of India said that "the polling, it is true, has not in all cases been as peaceful or free and fair as it should be in an ideal situation, but then nobody has ever suggested that Indian politics today even remotely approximated the ideal."

In Israel, the liberal Ha'aretz reported that Labor opposition leader Ehud Barak told President Clinton that a U.S. plan to resume the peace talks with the Palestinians would be well received by the Israeli public if put forward "without exaggerated pressure." The Independent of London devoted an editorial to the report, denied by the White House, that Clinton might be willing to admit that he kissed Monica Lewinsky without engaging with her in an "improper relationship." "It cannot be long now before the tissue of half-truths and leaks is stripped away and something resembling the truth is told," it said, accusing the president of "a pattern of slipperiness." The editorial concluded, "He smoked but didn't inhale. They had 'a physical relationship' but it wasn't sexual. He spoke but we couldn't hear. He is in office, but not in power."