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Nation continues to turn to BBC during war and crises

LONDON - Despite losing the 24-hour rolling news battle to Sky News, the BBC claims that independent research showed BBC One to be the most trusted and most used news by audiences during the war with Iraq.

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The BBC said the research demonstrated that more people have used BBC News than any other news service, with record audiences online and for its international news service BBC World.

The BBC was the only main UK terrestrial channel to show the dramatic pictures of Saddam Hussein's statue toppling on Wednesday after clearing its schedules to show the jubilant crowds in Iraq.

A Mori poll revealed that BBC One is the most watched and most trusted channel and an ICM poll showed that 78% of respondents opt for the BBC's coverage of events and the dominance of BBC Radio.

On a typical day in the third week of the war, 46m hours of TV news coverage was consumed in the UK, and BBC television had 52% of time spent watching news on television, compared with 30% for ITV, 14% for Sky, 3% for Channel 4 and 1% for Five.

Figures for this week showed that 61% of the UK population or 34m people, watched BBC News 24's coverage on the channel itself or on the simulcasts on BBC One and BBC Two, which is an increase of 6.6m people on the previous week.

Overall, 49.6m people, or 89% of the UK population, turned to the BBC since the start of the war and BBC News Online hit a record 400m page impressions.

The BBC also saw a massive surge in international web users, particularly from the US, where it recorded an increase of 40.6% and 9.9% jump in traffic from Canada.

Coverage of the war by US networks has often been cited as being inward looking and giving viewers a less international appreciation of the war in Iraq.

CNN, for instance, has seen a divergence between the US version of CNN and CNN International. While the two looked the same during the first Gulf War in 1991, this time around viewers outside the US saw a far more global view of the conflict, which was often anchored from Kuwait and London by British and Australian presenters, while in the US it was mostly live from Atlanta centre.

Earlier this week, BBC released figures that showed BBC World audiences increased by 77.4m to reach 300m homes in 200 countries.

On the breakfast news front, the weekday audience tuning into BBC Breakfast News was up 38% year-to-date to 1.4m as GMTV fell 2% to 1.2m.

However, while the BBC was up in just about every category it fell back during lunchtime. Audiences to the weekday BBC 'One O'Clock News' were down 14% on the year to date to 3m. Similarly, ITV's lunchtime news was down 12% to 1.6m. The BBC said this was because of increased news output across daytime schedules.

Audiences for the 'Six O'Clock News' increased on the previous week by 0.4m to reach 5.8m, which was also down year to date, this time by 6%. ITV's early bulletin at 6.30pm was down even further, falling 10% in audience terms, and level in year-to-date share at 4.8m.

In the evening, the BBC lost out to ITV, which benefited from audience hammocking in the schedule with programmes such as 'Coronation Street'. Hammocking is the industry term for viewers who fail to switch channels after watching soaps and other high-scoring programming.

The BBC's 'Ten O'Clock News', although up by 11% year to date to 6m, was soundly beaten by ITV's 9pm news, which had an average 6.8m audience.

In the first week of the war, ITV News scored its highest news audience since the death of Princess Diana six years ago, attracting more than 9m viewers, vindicating its decision to move its news to 9pm for the duration of the conflict.

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