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INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

Aired November 29, 2002 - 19:30:00   ET

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

JON SNOW, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Jon Snow, in London. Welcome to INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS.
In this edition, tarred by the same brush; are the press perpetuating Islamic stereotypes?

Plus, a post-Saddam scenario, we look at why the media are not debating this subject.

But first, the chaos between contest and Koran.

Nigeria's supreme Islamic body has ordered Muslims to ignore a fatwa issued against the Nigerian journalist accused of insulting Islam.

The council says the Zamfara state government had no authority to issue the Islamic decree calling for the death of Isolma Daniel following her article about the Miss World Pageant.

The contest was due to be held in Nigeria. In her piece, Daniel suggested that had the prophet Muhammad been alive today, he would have considered marrying one of the beauty queens.

Well, the article sparked riots between Muslims and Christians in the north of Nigeria resulting in the deaths of more than 200 people.

The Nigerian daily "This Day," which published the story, has subsequently made a public apology.

I'm joined now from South Africa by the editor of this newspaper, Nduka Obaigbena.

Nduka, are you on the run down there in South Africa?

NDUKA OBAIGBENA, EDITOR "THIS DAY": No, I'm not on the run. I'm here to do some job. I want to finish up and get right back to Nigeria.

SNOW: Now, is the press to blame for the deaths of 200 people in Nigeria?

OBAIGBENA: Well, that's a difficult question.

Nigerian society, as you well know, is divided over a number of issues. If you add that to poverty and a number of other issues, you can see that there are riots from time to time in Nigeria. People are exercising different freedoms, not necessarily through violent means.

So we cannot say that the press was directly to blame for the riots in Nigeria. As you well know, on the very first day of this action, protestors went to "This Day" office in Kaduna where they burnt the office down. We took it in our strikes. There were no killings. There were no violence beyond the burning of our office, and the next day it somewhat escalated, because it was taken over by elements that went beyond the issues.

SNOW: On the other hand, you, as the editor of a newspaper in a country with a strong Islamic tradition in the north, you must have known that in the festival of Ramadan, in the period of Ramadan, the beauty queens could be a problem.

OBAIGBENA: Well, as you well have said, we are reporters in a community in a society that is multi-ethnic and multi-religious. We are very conscious of that fact. We were not the organizers of the beauty contest. We are only reporters.

But I must say, the particular phrases or references to the holy prophet Muhammad that caused the confusion was actually edited out by the editor, but it was then suddenly failed by technology.

We accepted responsibility. Immediately we write that we realized it had been published -- we thought prudent -- we reached out to Muslim leaders, telling them what we had done. We went out and apologized, as responsible people. We reached out to everybody to insure that we explained our position. We even sent SMS Messages through the mobile phone network to about 1 million readers, apologizing for the article and retracting the story.

Because, as you must know, Nigeria is a multi-ethnic and multi- religious society. We are very conscious of our community and we would like to have peace, unity and good governance.

SNOW: On the other hand too, you yourself have been in trouble before. You got on the wrong side of the former-President Sani Abacha and had to lie low for a week or two. I mean, you're not un-used to controversy.

OBAIGBENA: Well, if it comes to battling injustice or battling military rule, then yes, we are ready to be counted.

In Nigeria media, as you know, we have a tradition for fighting for democracy in Nigeria, and we are very happy to be part of it.

SNOW: Do you think after the Miss World incident, you will have to restrict even more what you do, given the sensitivities of the Muslim faith?

OBAIGBENA: Already we have a process. We are very conscious of the process. We are very responsible journalists, and we have a process.

As I will say, the report was written by a young journalist who just came back from England, who had British training and had not practiced journalism in Nigeria before.

Ordinarily, you put her in the style and society pages. You would not think that she would offend sensibilities.

The editor did spot the offending article, edited it to reflect that Nigerian Muslims are accommodating and they will accept, you know, that beauty contest. But unfortunately the corrections he made were not reflected because he did not save it properly. And we were very sorry when it was published. We reached out to everybody to explain our position and to apologize for the sensitivities that we have hurt.

SNOW: Nduka Obaigbena, editor of "This Day," thank you very much for joining us.

When we come back, are the media alienating mainstream Muslims? We talk to two Arab journalists about their experiences.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SNOW: Welcome back.

An international manhunt is going on following terrorist attacks targeting Israelis this week in east Africa.

At least 13 people were killed, three of them Israelis, when three suicide bombers blew up a hotel in Mombassa, Kenya. A short time before this, two missiles were fired at an Israeli charter flight. They missed the intended target, a plane which departed from Mombassa carrying 271 people. No one was injured.

With terror attacks like this one dominating international news and the subject of radical Islamism continuing to grab the headlines, are the media adequately distinguishing between mainstream Muslims and radical factions?

I'm joined now by Faisal Bodi, editor of UmmahNews.com, and in Washington, D.C., Hisham Melhem, U.S. bureau chief for the Pan-Arab daily "Al-Safir."

Hisham Melhem, do you see an adequate distinction between the sort of people who have been at work, if you like, in Kenya this week, and the ordinary Muslim in the street?

HISHAM MELHEM, "AL-SAFIR": Well, of course Islam is one of the greatest religions in the world. It created the great open civilization, a tolerant culture that flourished in medieval times.

It taught tolerance, openness to other societies, although today we've seen some groups within the Muslim world trying to hijack this great religion, this great culture, having -- trying to impose their own atavistic, narrow, parochial interpretation of Islam, which is very xenophobic, very anti-Western, very anti-openness and modernity, if you will.

And that's why we have a struggle within the world of Islam, among this tiny, vocal, bloody minority and the majority of Muslims who are, in many place, unfortunately, being intimidated by these groups as well as by their autocratic and dictatorial regimes.

SNOW: It's an eloquent description, but is it what you read in the Western media?

MELHEM: I think most of them are professional and they do a very good job, and they try to do a very good job. Sometimes they make mistakes of omission and laziness, because they have to deal with deadlines.

So I don't have a problem with their coverage on the whole, and they're learning.

The problem that we find in terms of coverage of Muslim issues is to be found in the editorial pages, with the editorial writers and the columnists. These people, many of them have either a certain political agenda, or they rely on the writings and quotations and opinions of a number of a new breed of so-called "scholars" -- I stress "so-called "scholars" -- in the United States in particular.

Those people who flourished with the demise of the Soviet Union, with the demise of the so-called "red menace," and now they are looking for a new menace called the "green menace" or the "menace of Islam." These people are self-appointed experts on Islam, and many of them don't know much about Islam, and for them, the distinction between the radicals and the zealots, on the one hand, and mainstream Islam, or the ethos of the Islamic civilization, is lost and diminished.

SNOW: Is that how you see it -- Faisal?

FAISAL BODI, UMMAHNEWS.COM: Yes, in many ways, although I think the atavistic, very violent manifestation of Islam that he refers to is very much a function of Western foreign policy, and a reaction to that.

I think if you look very closely at bin Laden's statements, or purported statements, you'll find that he has a list of grievances which will feature very, very highly on the list of every single Muslim -- most Muslims, in the world.

SNOW: That is where it's difficult, surely, for the Western journalists to work their way through this, because without being atavistic, as our colleague in Washington was suggesting, there is obviously a lot of tolerance, shall we say, at least, if not active support, in a place like Mombassa, for what bin Laden stands for.

BODI: Well, the support and sympathy draws on a, you know, long- standing, long-established well of grievances, Iraq being one of them, Palestinian another, and with bin Laden again is the presence of United States troops in the holy land.

There's a tendency on the part of Western journalists to actually treat the whole issue from a very Western pro-government stance rather than looking at the root causes of the violence within Muslim countries and trying to explain the policies and the protests of Islamists and actually separate these strains within Islamist factions, is to lump them all together and demonize them.

SNOW: Hisham, that is one of the problems, that there are all sorts of worlds and factions that we, as Western journalists, have never really had to look at very strongly in the past.

Suddenly, we have bin Laden. It's not so sudden for you. You know all about him. But there he is, and we're having to sort out how much support he really has in moderate Islam, if you like.

MELHEM: The problem with bin Laden, and the generous, unfortunately, of that -- evil genius -- is that he is exploiting issues that resonate with every Arab and Muslim, be they secularist or religious or pious or not.

He talks about Palestinian. He talks about Iraq. He talks about the Western support for autocratic dictatorial Arab and Muslim regimes, and these issues resonate with the average Arab and Muslim from Khartoum to Cairo to Karachi.

The problem is that Osama bin Laden and his henchmen and those Islamist extremists from Pakistan to Sudan to Egypt to Lebanon and other places are hijacking a great culture and they are appointing themselves for the only spokespersons for this culture.

And I think moderate Muslims have the duty and the obligation to speak up against them as well as criticize as loudly as possible America's policies in the Middle East, Israel's practices in the occupied Arab territories.

SNOW: Faisal, thank you very much indeed, and Hisham Melhem, thank you, in the United States.

Still ahead on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, a post-Saddam scenario, is it a subject newsrooms should be reporting -- when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SNOW: You're watching INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, here on CNN.

Back in Baghdad and back in business. United Nations weapons inspectors have begun searching for weapons of mass destruction.

After their first day of work in Iraq in nearly four years, the inspectors say they were pleased with the cooperation of the Iraqi government, but how pleased are the media with the type of access they're being given to the sites undergoing inspection?

I'm joined now by CNN senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, in Baghdad.

Nic, how easy has it been for the media?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTL. CORRESPONDENT:: It's been easier then it was under the UNSCOM inspectors back in the 1990's.

At that time, we could only ever watch the inspectors leave their base and try and guess the sites they were headed to, apart from perhaps early in the 90's when inspectors alerted journalists to certain problems they were having at certain sites.

The access now is good. We're able to follow the inspectors to the periphery of the sites that they're visiting. We're not able to go in and that's a rule that the inspectors are laying down. They're freezing the sites. We cannot follow them in. They want to do a professional job, they say, and if we're in there then it perhaps throws a shadow over the credibility of the work they're doing.

Hans Blix, the head of UNMOVIC, has said that he doesn't want a circus atmosphere to be created.

So right now, and this is early days, the access that the Iraqi officials are giving us to get to the site is certainly giving us more access than we has in the past.

SNOW: That is a surprise and of course they don't exactly have a record for the most open access to anything, and therefore one wonders whether you sensed you are being used by the Iraqis to harry the inspectors?

ROBERTSON: The Iraqis have said that they are giving us this access because they have nothing to hide. That's obviously something they've said to the weapons inspectors as well. They said that they have nothing to hide, they have no weapons of mass destruction.

The official information that we're being given here is that the Iraqi government wants to show the world that it has nothing to hide, and we're the mechanism to do it.

Are we harrying the inspectors? We're certainly driving behind they're vehicles as they approach the sites. We're not going onto the sites with them. I don't thing that constitutes harrying them as they go about their very detailed inspection procedures.

SNOW: Nic Robertson, thank you very much, from Baghdad.

While the eyes of the world's media remain fixed on the finding or not finding of weapons of mass destruction, there is one very thorny subject that is getting little, if any, press attention and debate: what would Iraq look like after military action is taken?

Joining me now to discuss this are Jim Fallows, correspondent for "The Atlantic Monthly," and here in the studio, Bill Emmott, editor of "The Economists."

Jim Fallows, you are the exception in that you have written a significant piece for "Atlantic Monthly." But, on the other hand, in writing it, you must have been conscious that there actually was very little out there.

JAMES FALLOWS, "THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY": Well, it's -- I guess it's a compared to what question.

I found myself looking for people who had run past occupations, and while there's little out there in the sense that there are many great uncertainties, we don't know whether a war is going to happen, we don't know how many countries would be allied with the United States if it happened. We don't know how quick or long a victory might take.

But there is a fairly substantial knowledge base of about the relevant issues that would come up after a victory, from re-starting the oil industry to holding the country together to humanitarian issues.

So, I was actually surprised after a while by the abundance of occupation and post-war-type experts with whom one could talk.

SNOW: But, on the other hand, Bill, those sources are not being tapped very much. I mean, given that people have to take a line on whether they support the war or not, having a bit more information about what would happen after such a war would help them, wouldn't it?

BILL EMMOTT, "ECONOMIST": I absolutely agree.

I think that in the eyes of most media editors, really the bell started ringing on November 8, when the Security Counsel voted unanimously for the US resolution.

Before then, we were all preoccupied with arguing for or against whether it was going to be unilateral or multilateral, and all those kinds of issues.

Really, it's now that it looks real, but also when we've got some sense of the shape of a military action, probably a broad coalition that we should start looking at what can happen afterwards.

SNOW: I noticed, Jim, that you really did go back even to sort of the occupation of Germany and all sorts of lessons over the last 60 years. But in the end, there is no direct parallel, and aren't we, as journalist, bound to end up with an awful lot of speculation?

FALLOWS: Sure.

Anything -- you know, that is an inevitable part of our business.

I think the Germany and Japan parallels actually will be of increasing importance as, as Mr. Emmott says, you know, the war becomes more likely because until the last couple of months, the administration in the US has been reluctant to talk, to entertain any post-war talk, because they thought, by definition, that weakened the case for war, since anything after the war would be messy.

Increasingly your hearing from the administration the argument that getting rid of Saddam Hussein is not simply removing a problem, but creating an opportunity to do for Iraq what Germany did for post-war Europe, what Japan did for post-war Asia, of creating a small island of democracy whose influence could spread.

So I think you're going to start hearing analyses about whether the Japanese and German examples are apt or not apt to the Iraq situation.

SNOW: Bill Emmott, can you in fact even limit what happens after a war to the issue of what happens to Iraq? Surely, there are many other ramifications. Does it become even less safe for Westerns to be traveling in Islamic countries, because they object to what's happened in Iraq? Are people doing enough work on that whole gamut?

EMMOTT: I'm sure they're not doing enough work on it. I think one of the problems is that there are so many different ramifications.

As Jim Fallows wrote in his article, when you start a war, you set a dynamic going that you just don't know where it's going to lead. We don't know what's going to help in Iran. We don't know what Osama bin Laden will do. We don't know what will happen in Israel.

We can see that there's going to be, at least at the start of the war, a relatively unified coalition, but we don't even know whether that will endure whatever difficulties are found, in capturing Saddam Hussein or in defeating the Iraqis.

So the problem is that there are so many variables.

SNOW: Jim Fallows, did you find people at all reluctant to discuss it on the basis they didn't think the media should indeed be attending to this end of the issue?

FALLOWS: Well, that concern didn't seem to keep people from leaking the actual war plans of, you know, how many tanks are going to be coming up the Euphrates Valley.

No, I found, actually, people with experience in post-war scenarios were quite interested in talking and sort of spinning out all the various implications.

And to follow up on a point that Bill Emmott just made, I think we've already seen, with sort of a dribbling of post-war coverage in the last say two months, a change in the US strategy, because what I found military officials in the US were most worried about was a non-allied, unilateral, or perhaps just US and British undertaking, with no Arab support, et cetera.

And there's been a change in the US policy, a dramatic change, in the last two months, of trying to get U.N. support, trying to get some at least Arab cover.

So I think some speculation about the effect of a unilateral strike has already changed the policy on the US side.

SNOW: You seem to agree - Bill.

EMMOTT: I absolutely agree with that.

I think that US thinking has changed.

One element of US thinking, or at least US talking, that we find difficult to deal with, as the media, is that there's actually a fair amount of dis-information going on, a lot of lines being spun, a lot of kites being flown, to change the metaphor, and it's quite difficult, as an observer, to separate which of the real lines being put out, which are the ones just designed to try to warm up the situation or to try to mislead Saddam Hussein or perhaps to just sort of make people warmer towards the general idea.

SNOW: And the greatest difficulty, which also emerges from your article, Jim, is that we don't quite have the characters we had in northern Afghanistan or indeed in waiting, people like Hamid Karzai, with whom to play, people who were charismatic and people we all had a bit of faith, even as media operatives in. There really is almost nobody to bank on as individuals for Iraq.

FALLOWS: And there's an interesting historical twist as well.

Not only do we lack obvious opposition leaders to roll in -- the equivalent of Mrs. Aquino in the Philippines years ago, or Karzai in Afghanistan. We also lack, in the US military, the equivalent of Douglas MacArthur in Japan or Lucius Clay in Germany, the great post-war leaders.

The US military, in the post-Vietnam era, has been concentrated on producing pure battlefield operators. They don't like the idea of doing things more than, as they put it, killing people and blowing things up.

And so there is -- one of the many items of the "to do" list of whoever occupies Iraq after this war will be how to find an actual central authority for the country in the transition time.

SNOW: And, very briefly, Bill, deprived of personalities around whom we can build pieces, it is always much harder for the media, isn't it?

EMMOTT: It is harder. We shouldn't forget that with Afghanistan, actually, there was a lot of skepticism as well.

The National Alliance was generally described as a rabble. So that there is some rewriting of history going on in our thinking about this. But it is harder, you're right.

SNOW: Bill Emmott, Jim Fallows -- thank you both very much.

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

I'm Jon Snow. Thanks for joining us.

END

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