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INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

Aired November 15, 2002 - 19:30:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CHRISTIAN AMANPOUR, CNN SR. INTL. CORRESPONDENT: I'm Christiane Amanpour. Welcome to INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS.
In this edition, it's Britain's turn to sound the terrorist alarm, but are journalists creating unnecessary public panic, or are they just doing their job?

Plus, a story too good to miss, but too hot to handle. Are the media stepping over the fine line in the latest British royal scandal?

But first.

OSAMA BIN LADEN (voice-over) (through translator): Why is it acceptable for us to live with fear, murder, destruction, displacement, the orphanage of children and widowing of women, but peace, security and happiness should be for you? This is not fair. Now is the time to become equals. Just like you kill us, we will kill you.

AMANPOUR: This voice is chilling new evidence that Osama bin Laden may indeed be alive.

The tape was delivered to the Qatar-based (ph) television network Al- Jazeera on Tuesday. For the first time, there are warnings not just to America, but to America's allies. It also praises some of the most recent attacks, including in Bali, Tunisia, and the killing of a U.S. marine in Kuwait.

United States officials say they are 95 percent sure the voice on the tape is that of Osama bin Laden.

Joining me now to discuss this are Ahmed Zaidan, the Al-Jazeera correspondent who was given the tape in Islamabad, Pakistan, and from Washington, Glenn Kessler, "Washington Post" correspondent.

Thank you both for joining us.

First of all to you, Ahmed. How does this work? I mean, does somebody call you up, say I have Osama bin Laden on tape; come and collect it?

AHMED ZAIDAN, AL-JAZEERA: Yes, Christiane.

In fact, the night of Tuesday, around 10:00 at night, Pakistani local time, somebody called me on telephone, and he told me that, look, I have something for you.

In the beginning, I was never told that it was Osama bin Laden tape or something important. I told him, OK, call me tomorrow, day after tomorrow, and we can see you tomorrow or day after tomorrow. But the man, the guy, was very much insisting that I have very much urgent for you and please come.

And then he specified a place in Islamabad. I rushed to that place, and I waited there for maybe two or three minutes, and somebody approached me. And he gave me the tape, and he said that, you know, he was half- scarfed -- half covered his face with scarf or something, and he said this is tape, bin Laden tape.

And I tried to ask him some questions, and he said that, look, I don't have answer for that. He disappeared, skipped away, and I rushed to my car.

So I was very much interested to check this, you know, this tape, if it is bin Laden voice or if it is, you know, if it is something else, something different. So I played it in my car, and became sure that it is bin Laden -- kept it pressed to my ear, at my house, and you know, starting to perform my journalistic mission.

AMANPOUR: Let me turn to Glenn in Washington. Ahmed is saying that he pretty much recognized the voice from basically what amounts to a car stereo, a tape in a car. What are the Americans saying? High technology, voice matching, all of that kind of stuff -- are they saying that they're sure now?

GLENN KESSLER, "WASHINGTON POST": They're reasonably confident that this is Osama bin Laden. There were all sorts of test that they put it through, but, you know, most of the experts immediately recognized that this was quite clearly something that could be authentic.

AMANPOUR: And was it at all a question, or has it been commented on, that this has got quite a lot of play in the United States? I ask you, because the last time around, you know, big warnings from the American administration, don't put these things on the air, they could cause terrorist attacks, wake sleeper cells, contain coded messages. Any of that going on in America right now?

KESSLER: Well, they haven't made that argument this time around, but I do think that -- I don't think the tape has been played extensively in its entirety in the American media.

But certainly the reaction has been rather dramatic, both in terms of the terror warnings here in the United States and elsewhere. I was in Canada yesterday with Sect. Powell, and I was struck by the fact that the lone mention of Canada in that tape has caused banner headlines across all the Canadian papers, with rather scary photographs of any potential targets that the Canadians now feel could be attacked by terrorists.

AMANPOUR: And indeed, the same is happening in Europe. Some specific countries, such as Britain and France, they were mentioned as well.

Ahmed, how does this differ -- I mean, to me, having listened to this tape and listened to previous televised interviews with bin Laden, it did not sound the same. It was much more staccato. It was more angry. It was less monotonous, less referential, in terms of to the Koran.

ZAIDAN: Exactly. In my view, this is the same tone, the same style of bin Laden, you know, talking. But you know, Christiane, I received a cassette only, just a tape cassette only. And I, you know, transferred on the telephone. So, you know, definitely the quality will be much less than what maybe I have.

So maybe you can, you know, may think about the quality or the voice or the style or the tone. But according to my, you know, best information, best knowledge, that this is a tape, it is his style, his tone. Maybe it is, you know, difficult to understand the person from their voice only.

I mean, if he had appeared on a videocassette, maybe you can judge his personality, his situation, his circumstance, much better than audiotape.

AMANPOUR: And what did your experience and your gut instinct tell you about where bin Laden is, and, more importantly, what this statement may signal for the future?

ZAIDAN: Definitely, when I got this tape I thought -- I was thinking, the first thing that come to my mind, it is the biggest scoop, maybe, in my journalistic life, and you know, the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, it is a matter of $25 million. And nobody, I think, now, has been able to answer that question.

But in my view the important thing is that this man is alive, and he tried to, you know, to present himself as a challenge to the United States, a challenge to the United States why it is going to Iraq, to attack Iraq. Or, you know, that look, he wants to tell the United States that, look, still I am alive, and still I am presenting a threat, and still that problem which is in Afghanistan still is not finished. Your agenda in this region is incomplete, and while you are going to enter that area.

AMANPOUR: Exactly, and I'll put that to Glenn. Is there any heightened media criticism of the Bush administration for concentrating so heavily now on Iraq while there clearly is a job that is undone, unfinished, in regards to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden?

KESSLER: Certainly. This was a quite unwelcome reminder for the Bush administration, which is they demonized Osama bin Laden last year until they couldn't find him, so they kind of put him into a closet and brought out a new public enemy and that was Saddam Hussein.

And it has reminded Americans that there is a two-front war here and that the Bush administration has not completed that first front, and in fact the leader of the Democrats in the Senate was highly critical of the Bush administration for failing to do the job and to capture Osama bin Laden.

AMANPOUR: One last quick question to Ahmed -- do you think we're now going to see a new series of tape messages, as we have done in the past?

ZAIDAN: I don't think so. I think, you know, Osama bin Laden told us, at least for the last one year, he used to give a tape not regularly, if you remember, the last cassette, which Al-Jazeera received, it was two months, audiotape.

After this audiotape, if you remember, Bali happened, Moscow happened, Amman (ph) happened and Failika (ph) happened, and you know, now I think, when he threatened in this tape, I think he will, you know, do the same thing what he has done before. When he threatens something, I think that Osama bin Laden will execute it, will implement it.

AMANPOUR: Very, very worrying stuff. Ahmed Zaidan, thank you from Islamabad, Glenn Kessler from Washington, thank you for joining us.

And up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, terrorist attacks, anywhere, anytime. That's what the British media are saying, but should they be?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: Welcome back.

This past week, Britain has been put on a state of high alert. The government has issued new warnings of possible terrorist attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MIN.: At the moment, barely a day goes by without some new piece of intelligence coming via our security services about a threat to U.K. interests.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: But the government is trying to defuse the panic, saying it has no specific information about targets or timing.

Joining me here in the studio are Jimmy Burns, the social policy editor of the "Financial Times" and Martin Bright, home affairs editor of "The Observer" newspaper.

Can I start with you first, because your paper has sort of been in the vanguard of what might be termed inflammatory reporting on this. Headlines such as "Massacre of Civilians," this and that. I mean, are you going too far? Are you having to pull back? What's going on here?

MARTIN BRIGHT, "THE OBSERVER": Well, we had to ask ourselves this question very seriously, obviously, at the weekend, when we ran this story.

And what we did was took every single piece of information that we had in that story from government documents. This was information already in the public domain that hadn't been reported. Perhaps we're at fault for that, rather than being inflammatory.

But every single piece of information was contained either in cabinet office or home office papers, and we thought that it was entirely responsible to tell the public what was being prepared on their behalf.

AMANPOUR: You, your newspaper, is also covering this. It's a legitimate security issue. Do you feel that some of the other press, Martin Bright's newspaper, is going too far? Or do you think not?

JIMMY BURNS, "FINANCIAL TIMES": Well, I'm not going to get into sort of dog-eats-dog, but I do think that in this whole issue of terror and our responsibilities as journalists and how we cover it, one has to sort of reach some kind of balance between clearly informing the public as to what's going on, but doing it in a way that doesn't unnecessarily create panic.

I think it's very easy to say, you know, that your story is being based on government documents. I mean, as journalists, we all know that there are various degrees of government documents, some early drafts, others very general assessments.

The truth of the matter is that, you know, we know about as much as the government knows about what's going on, and what the government knows is actually very little, in terms of very specific intelligence.

So to suggest that very specific attacks are going to take place, and to actually go on further than that, and to try and speculate as to how those attacks are going to take place and the kind of civilians they're going to cause, I think verges on irresponsible journalism.

AMANPOUR: Are you going to do that again, after last week's pretty sensationalist coverage?

BRIGHT: Well, I think, I mean, I wouldn't describe it as sensationalist.

I think that we acted entirely responsibly, and my feeling is that where the criticism should lie is in fact with the government, and what we need now is a new compact with this government, where journalists and government press officers, administers, work together in order to manage what's going on, because if it's the case, if it's the case that as we're told we are in face involved in a war with terrorism, then I think we need to take a new step towards a new way of approaching how we deal with this news, and I think that there has to come a point when we're talking in much more serious terms at the most senior levels of newspapers and the most senior levels of government about exactly how we do manage this information.

AMANPOUR: And that does present a quandary. I mean, we've seen, all of us who've been trying to report this whole war on terrorism since September 11, how difficult it is to get anything out of government, and how government, not only here but in the United States, and other countries, have essentially shutdown on the basis of national security and all sorts of things like that.

How does one get a sort of a pact, some kind of relationship going, with government, in order that we can better do our job and that we don't unnecessarily inflame, while at the same time making people aware that there may be a danger? How do we do that?

BURNS: Well, I think it's a very, very difficult balance to strike, and I think, you know, every professional journalist has an innate instinct about words like "compact with government."

I mean, clearly, our role is to be as objective as possible and, above all, to try and get at the truth, however unpleasant it might seem.

I insist that, you know, this shouldn't be contradictory in terms of actually portraying a sense of what's going on that does not exaggerate the threat. Quite clearly, the threat is present, it's out there, it's extremely serious, and none of us would disagree with that. It's a question of presentation, and it's a question of not over-egging your case based on spurious evidence which clearly is not there.

AMANPOUR: Very important topic. Thank you both very much for joining us, Jimmy Burns, Martin Bright. Thanks very much.

For the past week, students have been demonstrating on campus at the Tehran University, protesting the death sentence on their popular professor Hashem Aghajari. He was convicted after he questioned the role of the clergy in government. The case highlights the growing tensions between the Islamic Republic's hard-line rulers and the forces of reform. And how is it playing out in the press there?

Joining me now on the phone from Tehran is Shirzad Bozorgmehr, editor of the English-language daily "Iran News."

Shirzad, what is the latest -- today, Friday, a day of rest. Have the protesters been on the streets?

SHIRZAD BOZORGMEHR, "IRAN NEWS": Well, actually, it was a protest of a different kind.

Today, at the Friday prayers, after the meeting, there were about 1,000 conservative supporters that protested against Aghajari and declared that the sentence was just and the verdict was fair.

AMANPOUR: So what we have now is essentially dueling public demonstrations. You've got the reform-minded students, some of the hard- liners being dragooned into counter-protests. How is it playing out in the press, where there is also a sort of more hard-line press and a more reform-oriented press?

BOZORGMEHR: Well, naturally, the more reform-oriented press was up in arms, criticizing the court's verdict and calling for its reversal, but the conservative press, again naturally, was praising the verdict and saying that this was a just verdict, and they also added that the judicial process is not over, and they accused the reformists of jumping the gun and not waiting for due process to be completed before they come out on the street and demonstrate.

They said that you should wait and Aghajari has every right to appeal, but Aghajari has indicated to his lawyer that he is not going to ask for a pardon or for an appeal, or appeal to the Supreme Court.

AMANPOUR: This is becoming more than just a judicial case, isn't it? Isn't it becoming sort of a political turning point?

BOZORGMEHR: Well, the analysts here in Tehran are mostly of the opinion that this is the result, the direct result, of the recent passage of the bill that would enhance the powers of President Khatami. And they're saying that the conservatives are kind of reacting to that this way.

But the judge in the case -- and they actually are saying the -- the reformists are of the belief that this was a political verdict, but the judge who actually handed out the death sentence to Aghajari was on television three nights ago, and he said that his verdict was not politically motivated.

AMANPOUR: Well, Shirzad, this has such enormous implications, we'll be following it, and hopefully we'll be talking to you again. Thank you so much for joining us.

BOZORGMEHR: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And still ahead on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, is Queen Elizabeth's golden jubilee year just a sequel to her infamous annus horribilus?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: Welcome back.

It's a story that just won't go away, or at least not in the British media.

The scandal consuming the House of Windsor keeps on growing, with allegations of sexual misconduct and claims of a royal cover-up. It all started with what the butler saw.

Paul Burrell has made a lot of hay with his story, even in the United States of America. But over there, the blabbermouth butler, as he's now being called, is no longer getting the sort of attention he had hoped.

And joining me to discuss all of this is Anne McElvoy, executive editor of "The Evening Standard," and in New York, Corky Siemaszro, reporter at the "New York Daily News."

Corky, I want to start with you -- youch! You guys are raining all over this guy's parade. What has he done?

CORKY SIEMASZRO, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": Well, he took money. I mean, if he hadn't, we'd be more likely to believe him.

AMANPOUR: Anne, is this just a culture clash between the U.K. press and the U.S. press? Here, checkbook journalism is the norm.

ANNE MCELVOY, "THE EVENING STANDARD": Well, it's not the norm across the whole of journalism, but I think when you get, you know, these sudden extraordinary revelations of the former butler in the palace, I mean come on, there's going to be some money changing hands.

And I think the idea that Corky refers to, that it can't be true because he got money for it, is not very well understood here. I mean, I think most of what he says probably is quite well-founded, and that where you can argue, it's about those areas of exaggeration or whether he misremembered something. And I think that's really where the debate is situated here.

AMANPOUR: In the states, Corky, the royals are endlessly fascinating, right?

SIEMASZRO: I think they're losing steam. I mean, I think Diana was one thing, but the inner-workings of Buckingham Palace is a different thing. I think people are just kind of tired of them.

AMANPOUR: Well, Anne, I'm going to ask you that too. I mean, who cares in the end? This last week, there was Iraq, there was Osama bin Laden's tape, there's terrorist threats being directed at the U.K., and yet, certainly on the British commercial channel, ITV, everyday this week, Burrell and the royals led. is it really that important?

MCELVOY: Well, you see, it is quite important, because, I mean, we do have a monarchy here, and this is, obviously, the queen is the head of state. And I think what has quite shocked people was, remember, this all came out of a trial against Burrell for allegedly stealing Diana's possessions, which then collapsed.

You know, there'd been a quite dramatic pre-history. It wasn't like Burrell got up one morning and said well, I just fancy making some money, I think I'll go and sell my story.

Now, as you say, you know, the international situation is very acute. We know that. We cover that, as well. But people can't, in the media, live, so to speak, by Osama bin Laden, terror, and the state of the world alone, and people do like a change of pace. And, you know, people are very fascinated by the monarchy.

We've had the Golden Jubilee in Britain this year. People had rediscovered, I think, some warmth towards the palace, and this is yet another reversal of fortune. It's the greatest drama going, come on.

AMANPOUR: And do we know the most dramatic point here, how the queen suddenly remembered that Burrell had told her the crucial information that led to his whole case being dropped?

MCELVOY: You see, we don't, and this is what doesn't look to good at all. I mean, the rest of it, which is, you know, household shenanigans, jealousies, rivalries, gay sex in the corridors, I think one could actually look and say I'm sure that's always gone on at the court, but I think there's this particular intervention or late intervention by the Queen, that after all, that man could have gone to prison, which of course raises a substantial issue, especially as, in our courts, it is the queen against, and then the defendant.

So there are some constitutional issues here. You know, one can't simply wipe them away. And no, we don't yet have absolute clarity on that. Lots of different versions.

AMANPOUR: And, Corky, beyond just the blabbermouth butler, as the press now calls him, is there legs, are there legs, to this royal story, in terms of what Anne has just been talking about? I mean, it's much bigger now than the butler.

SIEMASZRO: Well, I guess it depends where it goes from here. I mean, you know, just on the face of it, I would be surprised if a lot of people tuned in to see the ABC special on Monday.

You know, in New York, you have a lot of people who are interested in the goings-on in the royal court, simply because a lot of New Yorkers are people who used to live in British colonies, who follow the royal family.

But, you know, beyond New York, I don't see this as having a lot of legs.

AMANPOUR: All right, on that note, thank you both very much indeed, Corky in New York, Anne McElvoy here in London, thank you very much.

SIEMASZRO: Thank you very much.

AMANPOUR: And that is all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Join us again next week as we put the media in the spotlight.

I'm Christiane Amanpour. Thank you for joining us.

END

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