BROOKE GLADSTONE: Last weekend, Osama bin Laden's organization released another taped statement, but chances are you didn't see it. The U.S. cable news and broadcast networks were complying with a request from national security advisor Condoleezza Rice to review the tapes and to reconsider broadcasting them. On Monday the British government called a meeting with the heads of that nation's largest news outlets -- the BBC, ITN and Sky News. At that meeting, Alistair Campbell [sp?], the prime minister's communications director made the same request that Rice presented to the U.S. networks. Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian in London joins us now to discuss the British media's reaction. Hello there.
ALAN RUSBRIDGER: Hello.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now the three networks issued a statement that went like this: as responsible broadcasters we are mindful of national and international security issues and the impact reports can have in different communities and cultures, but we will retain the right to exercise our own independent, impartial editorial judgment. So was that a no or is that a "trust us?"
ALAN RUSBRIDGER: Well I think it was saying we, we hear what you say; we understand your concerns; now get lost. We're, we're the broadcasters. This isn't - we, none of these are state broadcasting institutions, and-- do us the credit of acknowledging that we have some experience in these fields and we'll take the decisions.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Now do you think one of the reasons why the networks refused in a body to consider the guidance of government in this matter is because they faced similar issues in the past? Back in 1988 Margaret Thatcher put a mediawide ban on showing any member of the IRA on television in England!
ALAN RUSBRIDGER: They could show their faces but they weren't allowed to listen to their voices, so the voices had to be dubbed by actors, and I think in truth it had absolutely no impact at all beyond perhaps turning them into rather mysterious and glamorous figures.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I'd still find it a little peculiar that she would permit the faces and she would permit the words-- [LAUGHTER] she simply wouldn't permit the faces to speak the words!
ALAN RUSBRIDGER:Well it was a ridiculous restriction, and I think many people felt so at the time, but--she couldn't stomach it personally. She, she had friends that were blown up by the IRA and murdered by the IRA, and-- she found it personally deeply offensive to find these people speaking on the news. The most hopeful thing about the last 5 years has been that we can now engage with Sinn Fein on a level where there is a political dialogue. In, in the end, argument is the only thing that's going to win and that, that is certainly what has transpired in Ireland, and we have to understand where the Irish nationalists are coming from in order to be able to talk to them and negotiate with them. And I personally feel the same about bin Laden - that, that he is a man who understands us better than we understand him, and it is nothing but good to be exposed to him so that we can at least see where he's coming from!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How much control does the British government have over the British media? Can it impose bans if it wants to now?
ALAN RUSBRIDGER:I think-- governments now are alert enough to realizing that it, that it just looks bad if you try to come down heavy handedly on news organizations. I mean there, there's a strange thing in Britain called a Denoters Committee which is a voluntary system by which journalists can ring up this admiral and say we're thinking of publishing this, this or this. Can you advise me on whether it's going to be harmful to the national interest.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: National interest or national security?
ALAN RUSBRIDGER:Either. And the, the admiral will give a view and-- it's a sort of slightly antiquated, potentially sinister process which has probably seen its day, but that is the nearest that we have to any kind of official government control.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:During the Falklands war I understand Mrs. Thatcher again asked the BBC and the other networks to refer to British forces as "our forces." How did that fly?
ALAN RUSBRIDGER: I don't think that played well at all, and that, and I'm not sure that any broadcasting institution abided by that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I could go on and name a variety of other times when the British government has complained or criticized about reporting, especially international reporting, but these are all criticisms. Do you think that the British government has pretty much kept hands off?
ALAN RUSBRIDGER: I, I sense it's, it's a kind of weary ritual that they feel obliged to go through in the hope that it will concentrate the minds of the editors. I, I don't think they ever think it's going to have any real effect.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well thank you very much.
ALAN RUSBRIDGER: Okay. I hope that was useful.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Alan Rusbridger is editor of The Guardian.