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INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

Aired January 24, 2003 - 19:30:00   ET

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

FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Fionnuala Sweeney, in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS.
In this edition, a meeting of two minds. We look at how these two world leaders are finding common ground in their views on Iraq.

And is the private life of politicians fair game for the media? German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder thinks not, and he's made a case of it, and won.

But first, it's coming hard and fast. Tough talk on Iraq, resonating across the international political arena. With the tone heating up in the Bush camp, toned down a touch in the Blair camp, and a very different tone for France and Germany as they unite against a possible conflict while it seems every politician is trying to get their message across the media in what is seemingly an endless flow of information and news conferences.

I'm joined here in the studio now by Bill Emmott, editor of "The Economist," who's new book, "20-21 Vision: The Lessons of the 20th Century for the 21st," is just being released. Also here, Warren Hoge, London bureau chief for "The New York Times," and in Washington, D.C. Patrick Cockburn, correspondent for Britain's "Independent" newspaper.

Patrick, first of all, let me ask you, based on Washington, what are you making of all -- what appears to be mixed messages coming out of the White House? One side talking about possible exile, the same time President Bush ratcheting up the diplomatic and indeed practical pressure in terms of sending troops out to the Gulf. Is it that there are mixed messages in the White House camp? Or is a carefully orchestrated campaign by the White House that we, the media, are failing to pick up on and differentiate between?

PATRICK COCKBURN, "INDEPENDENT" NEWSPAPER: I think it's a pretty carefully coordinated campaign, but it's also all directed towards a war at the end of the day.

But there's also a mixture of propaganda in there. The whole question of would Saddam go into exile when you think of the personality of Saddam is not very likely. But probably helps to worry them in Baghdad.

We had the same sort of story just before the Gulf War, when it was said in London that Saddam's wife had fled to Mauritania and he might follow.

So I think a lot of the lack of coordination in fact comes from this mixture of real policy and propaganda mixed in with it.

SWEENEY: Bill Emmott, is this something with which you'd agree? Are we being bombarded by messages? And is it our responsibility, as being part of the media, to distinguish between what is actual more rhetoric and what is actually the policy plan?

BILL EMMOTT, "THE ECONOMIST": It's a very difficult task, because there's a lot of disinformation at this sort of time.

One thing I think we're not so good at is distinguishing between threats of war and inevitability of war, and I think I disagree with Patrick Cockburn when he says that there's definitely war at the end of it.

A lot of the threats are designed, I think, to try to bring about some sort of overthrow of Saddam without a war, as was the case in 1990.

SWEENEY: Warren Hoge, let me ask you, being based in London for "The New York Times," and watching what's coming out of France and Germany this past week, is this the real thing or are the Americans going to be relying on France to come onboard at the end of this? Are the French and Germans giving mixed signals? Or is the media taking them at their word?

WARREN HOGE, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, the German and French signals are different. Germany is saying it will not approve war in any case at all. The French have been saying they might, if the information were there to justify it.

I think there's been a change in the French position, though, in recent days. At least perceived from Washington by the Bush administration, the French have changed. And I was struck by the fact that Colin Powell, who is something of a hero to the Europeans, who want to see this thing go slower and more multilateral than the United States going alone -- I was struck by the fact that Colin Powell had almost a sense of betrayal in his voice in recent days at what the French and Germans had done to him.

And I think what's going on there is that I think he feels a little exposed as the American official who persuaded Bush to go to the United Nations and go multilateral, and now suddenly what Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld said the French and the Germans would always do, they've done.

SWEENEY: Patrick, you believe that war is inevitable. If one were to be so cynical, is it possible to predict the kind of timetable in the coming weeks in statements that might come out of the various world capitals that will bring war to a head, in your opinion?

COCKBURN: Well, I think war is inevitable unless something happens in Baghdad beforehand, and there are a number of things which could happen, like there could be some form of military coup.

In the past, conventional wisdom has been that Saddam was coup proof and he's very excellent at stopping them, but it is possible that this might happen before an actual conflict begins.

SWEENEY: Bill Emmott, let me ask you -- you said in your thoughts that war, in your opinion, is not inevitable. How divided is the media, here in Britain, for example, on that point?

EMMOTT: I think the media finds it difficult in these circumstances inevitably to separate reporting and opinion.

They take positions and then find the facts to support their positions. The military buildup in the Gulf is being reported in some papers in Britain as meaning that war is inevitable, that it is planned, that it cannot be pulled back from.

SWEENEY: And of course, the military build up is a very easy thing to cover, relatively speaking, for journalists. It's a physical presence, right.

HOGE: Absolutely, yes. But I think, as Bill is saying, that part of our job is to try to get at the motivation why people do things and say things, and I think that's when you get into the area that war may not be inevitable if this military buildup is all a pressure tactic to somehow bring down Saddam without actually crossing his borders with an invading force.

SWEENEY: This point about war being inevitable or not, is this because we the media are just reporting the facts as we see them? You know, today in the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld said this, Colin Powell said that, and France (UNINTELLIGIBLE) said this. Or is it because we're not analyzing it as well as we should be?

HOGE: Well, I think analysis is really important to analyze why they say it and why they do it is the purpose to go to war, and I think there's some people in the administration who very much want to go to war, seemingly eager to go to war.

But I think there are others, and I think Tony Blair may be one of them, who believe that this immense pressure being brought to bear might force Saddam out before any invading forces actually go into Iraq.

You'll note that he said last week we have massive new intelligence that Saddam is weakening, that there is dissention within Iraq. That could be a tactic itself, or it could be some indication that Britain, at least, is hoping that this application of so much force will cause the thing to implode.

SWEENEY: Against the background of what appears to be a growing anti- war movement, and if there is this intelligence, as Tony Blair suggests, isn't it incumbent of the media to demand of Washington and London that this intelligence be published for public consumption?

EMMOTT: I think the media has been doing that, always with the sensible caveat that intelligence needs to be used at the right time and not as a way as to get (AUDIO GAP) and lives are at stake, so we have to -- governments have to be responsible about it, and the media should be responsible in writing about it.

I think that pressure has absolutely been there. I think one thing I would criticize in the reporting of the anti-war movement is that it very often, particularly on television, it's been reported in Britain as being, as it were, a massive opposition to war itself, and the crucial distinction that actually there's a majority still in favor of or willing to accept war if there's a second United Nations resolution mandating it is usually not given.

It's more opposition to unilateral war or war as it were without evidence or without the right degree of support rather than opposition to war itself. And we find it difficult, I think, in the media, to distinguish between those.

SWEENEY: Patrick Cockburn, in Washington, thank you very much for joining us, also Warren Hoge and Bill Emmott, here in London.

And coming up on the program, the alliance that's causing a split, not just in the political arena, but in the media as well.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SWEENEY: Welcome back to INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS.

While United States President George W. Bush notches up the pressure on Baghdad, it seems these two world leaders are going quite the other way, and the international media are eating it up.

As President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder marked 40 years of reconciliation on Wednesday, they also came out with a united stance against military action on Iraq.

I'm joined in Parish by Christian Malar, senior foreign analyst for France 3 Television, and here in the studio by Michael Sontheimer, who's London correspondence for Germany's "Der Spiegel."

First of all, Christian, let me ask you about the European reaction to this in the media. Is this a knee-jerk reaction? Have we blown it out of proportion? Or is there really as serious a rift as there would appear to be in the media?

CHRISTIAN MALAR, FRANCE 3 TELEVISION: Right now, today, Fionnuala, I think it's very serious. I think for the first time in the history of the relationship between France and the United States, we are in total disagreement on the way we should handle this Iraqi story and the possibility of launching a new attack against the regime of President Saddam Hussein.

But at the same time, I think it's a matter of style. Let's put it this way. I think President Chirac is like President Bush. He doesn't trust Saddam Hussein. He doesn't think he is the kind of person you can trust and deal with. And at the same time, before going too much further away, he would like first to have the United Nations legitimacy respected, the international rules.

But at the same time, he says let's go -- let's have inspectors more time on the ground to make sure that we get the proof that Saddam Hussein has been fooling the whole occidental world, the United States and France, Germany, Russia, China, whoever. And if such is the case, everybody will be united. All of us, we will go, we will vote the second resolution, and Saddam Hussein might be in serious trouble.

SWEENEY: We need to look at the media's reaction to this, though, because -- let me ask you, Michael, the United States media seems to be shrugging off this apparent disagreement or rift between the United States and France and Germany. How has the German media been reacting to it?

MICHAEL SONTHEIMER, "DER SPIEGEL": I mean, I think it's much more serious than my colleague from Paris does -- was pointing it out. I think there's a growing value gap between the Bush government and not only the French and German governments, but also the people.

And the Americans have got no idea how much people hate them in the rest of the world. I mean, they will come to the point where more and more will understand it, I think. And this is going on, and the comments from Donald Rumsfeld were so stupid. I mean, you have the leading French and German intellectuals writing really interesting articles against (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

So, this is, I mean, a sort of escalation, which.

SWEENEY: He himself, I think -- Donald Rumsfeld may not be the most diplomatic person in the White House administration. He actually himself also has said that the United States hasn't been very effective in public diplomacy, and then of course he came out with the statements of Thursday.

What I'm interested in asking is, Javier Solana of the EU, the EU foreign policy chief, has just come out saying that he wants to see this cool down. There needs to be a cooling off period. Is this something that the media is going to let drop in the coming days while the diplomats try to heal this rift?

SONTHEIMER: Yes, well, I mean, the media is following it very closely. It depends now on the politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, if they cool it down, like (UNINTELLIGIBLE) has said as well, or if they just put some more oil on the fire.

I think there are basic differences between Britain and the United States and France and Germany, and they can't be overcome by some friendly phrases.

SWEENEY: Let me ask you, Christian, what is the view in Paris and among the French media about the comments Donald Rumsfeld said, about how France and Germany are old Europe and, basically, if you look at the Eastern European countries -- is it the case that the United States may be beginning to see that the Eastern European countries are more relevant, and this is why the French media is put out as well? That France perhaps is not considered as relevant as it has been to date?

MALAR: I think the French media and the French president and government have been shocked by the purposes held by Donald Rumsfeld, and I think the answer to Mr. Rumsfeld saying Germany and France are old Europe, the answer is Germany and France is brand new Europe, brand new start, brand new axis.

And at the same time, let me put it this way. In France, I think President Chirac, and probably German Chancellor Schroeder, and my colleague might confirm -- we do think that President Bush is mixing two things. You have the struggle against global terrorism, against al Qaeda networks, Muslim fundamentalist networks that we are facing all over -- Great Britain, Germany, Italy, France -- all over -- and Saddam Hussein.

You cannot put Saddam Hussein and bin Laden in the same bag. Even if Saddam Hussein is not reliable, he is not bin Laden.

And the French, when you talk to the spokesperson of President Chirac, they say as long as we don't have the proof that Iraq is stuffed with nuclear warheads or whatever, we cannot move forward so quick, because the consequences of the war might be terrible for our common struggle on global terrorism, and on the Muslim fundamentalists at worst.

SWEENEY: Christian, a very final one-word answer: is this a storm in a teacup? Will it blow over in the French media? Yes or no.

MALAR: It's not a storm in a tea -- it will be -- we will find out after the report is handed over to the United Nations after the 27th if it's a storm in a teacup or not. Right now, it's not a storm in a teacup.

SWEENEY: OK. Michael, I beg you, as a German, yes or no?

SONTHEIMER: It's no storm in a teacup, definitely not.

SWEENEY: All right, there we must leave it.

Christian Malar, in Paris, Michael Sontheimer, here in London with me. Thank you very much indeed.

SWEENEY: Now still ahead on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, strictly politics and no pillow talk. How German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is taking the media to task.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SWEENEY: Welcome back.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is taking the media to task. Mr. Schroeder scoring a legal victory over the German press on Tuesday after a court in Berlin imposed an injunction against a journalist.

The journalist in question is barred from repeating a story he's reported concerning the chancellor's private life and rumors about his marriage.

Well, joining me now, from Berlin, are Sarah Oliver, senior writer with the "Mail on Sunday," and Jo Groebel, director general of the European Institute for the Media.

First of all, Sarah, publishing this story in Britain, was it possible for you to publish this story for a British newspaper and then have it -- know that it would not be pursued by the Germans as vigorously as it could be, had it been done by a German publication?

SARAH OLIVER, "MAIL ON SUNDAY": Well, we knew that we could publish in Britain certain stories that, for example, would never be allowed to be published in Germany, because they have very different privacy laws to us, quite apart from which we have a possibly more active press.

We have a press with far sharper teeth. We like looking at politicians. We believe that they should be -- their private lives should be held up to scrutiny. And so we decided to take a look at Gerhard Schroeder, who had injuncted a very small, provincial newspaper in Germany and seemed intent on using the law to squash rumors about his private life.

SWEENEY: Jo Groebel, how much of an upset is this for the German court system, but as well as the media in Germany? Is it going to be forced down a road where it's going to have to really tackle with and support the provincial newspaper, perhaps, against German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's attempts to gag it?

JO GROEBEL, EUROPEAN INST. FOR THE MEDIA: Well, there is a situation where I think the whole media situation and culture in Germany is changing to a certain extent for, traditionally, for many years, in Germany, you had a situation where journalists would know a lot about private lives of politicians and would not report on that because there was this notion that the private life, unlike in the United Kingdom or in other countries, doesn't have anything to do with the public life. You could call this a change in let's call it ethics or whatever.

But right now, also due to fierce competition, it suddenly is all that we see a certain let's call it convergence between the German media situation and the English one, and that's at this very moment a very interesting situation that many would accuse the British press for just picking up on gossip, not presenting facts, and yet the gossip alone is worthwhile enough to be presented in the headlines. And that's what it's - - why there is an accusation of the press here in Germany.

SWEENEY: And how is the Germany media reacting to what is happening to the "Mail on Sunday"? The fact that it is published I Britain and it can publish these details?

GROEBEL: Well, the point is the following, that the German press is not so much interested, quite honestly, in what's happening in Great Britain.

I think it's more a question of the overall development I Europe, whether we will see a certain similarity in the future. Certainly the situation is like the following, that on the one hand it would be a little funny if Schroeder is accusing the German paper and not at the same time accusing the British paper, but exactly the situation has now occurred, and of course the British press says now, wait a minute, who is going to interfere with our national situation?

So I think it has a lot to do, at least as much to do with different traditions, different cultures, than it has to do with a similar or different legal system.

SWEENEY: Do you feel, Sarah Oliver, by your newspaper, the "Mail on Sunday," taking a stand on this issue, that it's really doing a favor for the German media?

OLIVER: Oh, yes. Very much so.

I mean, that wasn't our original intention, but yes, I do think so, because it's pointed out to the German media that times are changing and that the gentleman's agreement to which the German media has for far too long enjoyed with its political elite has to come to an end.

We live in a modern context, and private lives and professional lives are becoming more and more blurred. And the German political elite should not be able to take recourse to the law, you know, especially at times of economic crisis and indeed international crisis. They should not be allowed to recourse to the law over really very minor matters.

SWEENEY: Talking about taking recourse to the law, Sarah, how far could this go? Do you foresee, for example, a situation where Brussels will be involved in deciding what cases should go to court and be upheld in court and in which countries these kinds of cases could be pursued?

OLIVER: Well, indeed. I mean, certainly, people, you know, leaders, such as Gerhard Schroeder, who are very keen on the idea of a big European federal super state, would love for that to happen, because they could then impose their laws on countries such as Britain.

And I do -- yes, there is a possibility that this sort of imposition of law by one country on another country could well come to pass, but I do think that it's something that we in Britain, who have a very free press and a very robust legal system honed down many centuries, I think it's something that we would defend, and we would not want to kowtow to Brussels ever.

SWEENEY: And of course, Jo, there's a lot to do with circulation here, and news paper sales. Does this issue really provoke more competition among the German newspapers rather than it being a fundamental case about being in the public interest? Will a newspaper jump because it believes it better because if it doesn't, another German newspaper will start doing these stories?

GROEBEL: I think that's true, and I'm not quite agreeing with Sarah, because, I mean, to always say it's about free press, I mean, let's take the facts.

What we are having in the reporting about the Schroeder case is pure gossip, and I'm not quite sure whether that's now the epitome of ethic free journalism. Of course, I would never opt for censorship here, but let's also make it crystal clear that there are journalistic criteria -- who, when, where, why -- that are not necessarily met when one is concentrating on the gossip, because then we gossip today about Schroeder's private life, tomorrow about any other ones.

And again, I think it's absolutely OK to probably do that, but to say this is in defense of free press, I'm not quite sure whether that's really ethically helpful.

SWEENEY: Jo Groebel, Sarah Oliver, thank you both very much indeed.

And that is all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS.

You can e-mail us your comments and suggestions at international.correspondents@CNN.COM.

I'm Fionnuala Sweeney, in London. Thanks for joining us.

END

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