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INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

Aired September 12, 2003 - 19:30:00   ET

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

SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Sheila MacVicar, in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we bring together leading journalists to examine media coverage around the world.
This week we have a special show dedicated to one topic, the legacy of September 11. We no longer have to say that 9-11 changed the world. We see those changes everywhere. But more than events, policies and attitudes, it's forever altered, it seems, the way we in the media operate, and especially our relationships with governments.

We've assembled a panel of international journalists to discuss this.

Here in the studios, Stryker McGuire, London bureau chief for "Newsweek," Khairallah Khairallah, syndicated columnist for numerous Arab newspapers, Ian Buruma, journalist, and Nick Fielding, senior correspondent for Britain's "Sunday Times." He's also co-authored the book "Masterminds of Terror." And in Paris, Sylvie Kauffmann, senior editor at "Le Monde" newspaper.

I think the first place we want to start is, we know what happened. We know -- we've seen what the aftermath has been. We've seen the wars. We've seen a shift in policy on the part of the government. Do you think that government is dealing with -- especially the U.S. government -- dealing with us differently now -- Stryker.

STRYKER MCGUIRE, "NEWSWEEK": Dealing with journalists differently?

MACVICAR: Yes.

MCGUIRE: I think so. I mean, I think, in a way -- I think in a way they are. I guess the first thing I would say, which is probably the least controversial thing that one could say about this, is that once September 11, 2001 happened, it was -- journalists were thrown themselves into a very different environment.

It reminds me a bit of the way it was in the 1980's when suddenly business coverage became so important. And we weren't -- many of us -- accustomed to covering terrorism, especially the sort of financial side of terrorism, which is still the least covered side. And I think we all had to get educated pretty quickly. And I think that, in a way, on the one hand, was a bit of a problem for us, because very few of us were truly experts in the field. And, secondly, I think it also did in some ways allow governments to sort of play with us a little bit, because they knew more than we did.

MACVICAR: Well, Nick, you're someone who writes extensively on this subject of terrorism and dealing with intelligence agencies. You deal often, it's clear, with intelligence agencies.

How difficult is it to avoid the manipulation which seems to have been endemic at times?

NICK FIELDING, "THE SUNDAY TIMES": I think it is quite difficult. I think we constantly have to be aware that there are tremendous political agendas on this kind of issue, and we need to be very, very careful.

And I think for reporters, it means that it's been an extremely steep learning curve over the last two years. We've had to suddenly, very, very rapidly, become experts, not just on al Qaeda as an organization, but on the terrains in which they work, and that is now literally dozens of different countries, and we need to know the subtleties and the small details, which can give us an edge and allow us to hold on to something, and that's a huge change, I think, that's taken place.

MACVICAR: Is there also, do you think, Ian Buruma, do you think, in terms of the propaganda value of this kind of reporting -- obviously we've had now two wars, two hot wars, and the declared war on terrorism, which, as Stryker has talked about, also includes the financial war.

Do you think that governments have in a way tried to continue their manipulation of the press? Have they been successful? Have they needed to manipulate us more, do you think?

IAN BURUMA, COLUMNIST AND AUTHOR: Yes, of course governments manipulate us, but they always have done, in every issue, and it's our business to try and see through that.

Have governments succeeded? I think it depends a bit on the medium and a bit on the country. I think if you take certain television networks in the United States, and I don't mean this one particularly, it's fairly obvious that they've been rather willingly, perhaps, manipulated. Other publications, networks, perhaps less so.

I think it's perhaps less evident in Europe than it is in the United States. But again, I think this is something that any journalist always has to cope with in any circumstance, and in some ways, journalists have had more access, even though in that strange "embedded" way, quote/unquote, than they did in the first Gulf War, in which I think people were even more manipulated by the military.

MACVICAR: By not having as much access.

BURUMA: By not having any access at all.

MACVICAR: Sylvie Kauffmann, obviously in the current war in Iraq, France has made it very clear that it's not going to play a role. That's something that we may be talking about more over the course of this weekend as the foreign secretaries of the permanent five meet in Geneva to talk about a new U.N. resolution.

How do you think that the story of France's relationship -- changed, perhaps, relationship -- with the United States is playing out? Is the relationship really changed, fundamentally changed?

SYLVIE KAUFFMANN, "LE MONDE": It is. It is, I think, yes. It has gradually deteriorated over the past two years.

If you want to go back to September 11, you have to remember this tremendous outpouring of sympathy on this side of the Atlantic towards Americans. To me, the amazing thing is how this sympathy evaporated and vanished over the following months, and then since the Iraq War, turned into open hostility sometimes. Not so much in the media, of course, at political level, at diplomatic -- there was this huge diplomatic rift.

Now there's obviously determination at government level to mend fences and go back together to build something in Iraq, but I think the damage to the French-American relationship is definitely very deep, yes.

MACVICAR: Khairallah Khairallah, you're a columnist for a number of different newspapers. You write extensively in the Arab and also the English language both.

Do you see -- one of the things we talked about in the immediate aftermath of 9-11 was not understanding what was the root of the anger, not understanding the root of the hostility. Do you think that the media -- primarily the English-language media at this point -- is showing any better understanding of some of the issues, the root issues.

KHAIRALLAH KHAIRALLAH, ARAB COLUMNIST: Some are showing that they can understand the root, and some believe that they are part of the American root (ph) and this comes first. This is a big problem.

We can't talk about (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and then journalists. They are two different things. You have to understand the Arab world in a better way, and also I believe that they have also to learn the Arabs, because they want (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to show that they have a case and they are not part of these -- they are not part of this act of terrorism that hit New York and Washington.

Both parties need to, I believe, to have a profound dialogue, to make these things change, and as soon as they can face these problems, I think it will be better for both parties, for the Americans and for the Arabs.

MACVICAR: There's been a lot of continuing criticism from the U.S. administration of Arab media. "Al Jazeera" is an example, obviously, of that. I think Donald Rumsfeld has been beating the drum the loudest on that and talking about how "Al Jazeera" is sort of telling, you know, only one side of the story.

Do you see that in the Arab media, or do you see that picture kind of broadening out?

KHAIRALLAH: I believe that the Americans are -- they can't blame "Al Jazeera." They can't criticize "Al Jazeera," as a whole. I believe "Al Jazeera" actually reflects what's going on in the Arab world, and it helps the Americans understand the Arab world in a better way.

It's not a question of "Al Jazeera." "Al Jazeera" is actually an island in this Arab world. It's the only place where people can say whatever they want. I believe this is -- the Americans should help "Al Jazeera" instead of continually criticizing it.

MACVICAR: Ian, have you been surprised by the vehemence of the criticism directed by the Blair government towards some parts of the media here over the course of the last year? I mean, look at the scandal -- the Hutton Inquiry, if you will.

BURUMA: Surprised? No. Because there's a strong streak of both manipulation and self-righteousness, a rather lethal combination in this Labor government, and so it's not at all surprising. And the more they feel that they've got something to be defensive about, the more self- righteous and manipulative they tend to become.

MACVICAR: We'll take a short break. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MACVICAR: You're watching INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS.

We're back with our panel of journalists to discuss the legacy of 9- 11. "Newsweek's" Stryker McGuire, syndicated columnist Khairallah Khairallah, journalist Ian Buruma, "The Sunday Times'" Nick Fielding, and from Paris, Sylvie Kauffmann, of "Le Monde."

Let me begin now with you, Sylvie, and talk to you some more about the Franco-American relationship and how bad that relationship is. Is it something that can be repaired in a nice weekend meeting between Colin Powell and Dominique de Villepin or is this something that's going to take more than that?

KAUFFMANN: I guess it depends at which level you are talking. Yes, I think Colin Powell and Dominique de Villepin are diplomats. They can talk again. They can probably get some sort of agreement together. Maybe not right away, but they will work it out.

I think the biggest damage, the deepest damage, has been done to the heart of our relationship. Something I think very revealing or significant is the number of comments we've been reading recently about the value's gap, for instance. We seem to be discovering we are different. And in fact, it seems that in our relationship, there was always this illusion -- I think it is an illusion -- that we were part of the same community of values, that we shared the same ideas, the same values, and now suddenly we realize, you know, we have been growing apart. We're not so close.

We're not so -- we're fairly different. You know, we don't share the same values after all, basic values, like religious, attitudes toward immigration, the way our societies are organized. We now realize this is not -- we don't have the same conception of our societies.

And I think that's common awareness now, which in fact, it's not a discovery. I mean, people who were already looking into it closely, knew that, but it was kind of hidden, and we didn't want this to be brought to the surface. And now we don't mind this being brought to the surface. So maybe this is where we should focus and see if this is something which is going to keep us apart. Maybe it's something we can build on, actually, if we take a different look at it. But I think it's a fairly new focus of our relationship.

MCGUIRE: A lot of people would think it's actually really good that these differences have been brought to the surface. At a time when there isn't any single challenger to the United States in military terms or in economic terms, a lot of people would argue that you need some kind of counterbalance, and I think that the French have been playing, you know, if you look at it -- devil's advocate, if you look at it from an American point of view.

But I think it's -- it's not a bad thing, really.

MACVICAR: It's almost a role that you would expect to see, to a certain extent, the British government playing, that this government has not played that role. This government has pretty much marched right alongside every step this U.S. administration has taken, to the point of even causing rifts amongst the European Alliance.

BURUMA: This government -- on this, I am with this government. This government thinks that it should still play the role as a bridge to the United States, because it feels that we do share fundamental values, and I hope that Ms. Kauffmann is wrong about this.

I think if by fundamental values we mean adherence to liberal democracy, I think we do share that with the United States. And of course there are differences, but there are difference within European countries as well, even inside European countries.

So to see Europe as a kind of block of one set of values and the United States as another, I think, is a big mistake, and I think we should emphasize what we have in common here, and not look at the differences.

MACVICAR: But that's what Sylvie is saying, that is emerging in France, is that the differences now are what is coming to the fore, sort of the attitudinal differences, the perceptions of Americans.

BURUMA: Then I think we should be a bit more specific, because if she talks about attitudes to immigration, for example, this is a matter of huge debate inside European countries, and I'm not sure how I would differentiate the United States from Europe in this respect. If anything, the United States would be more.

MCGUIRE: Actually, I think one way in which you would differentiate between the two is that in general Western Europe is less accepting of immigrants than America has been for quite some time, and I think that is a difference.

You know, as to how fundamental it is, I guess that's another thing, but I think it's an important difference. Also, the whole issue of religion, where religiosity in particular in America seems to play such a big role. Here, you know, you ask Blair about religion, and he wants to crawl under the chair.

BURUMA: Not Blair.

MCGUIRE: Blair.

(CROSSTALK)

MCGUIRE: No, I mean, I've asked Blair. You cannot talk to Blair about religion.

BURUMA: But he loves sort of holding his hands up and talking about God.

MCGUIRE: He loves morality, but he doesn't.

(CROSSTALK)

MACVICAR: Khairallah, from the point of view of the Arab press, I mean, what are -- what is being written in the Arab press about views of the United States, beyond simply that it has gone to war in Iraq and.

KHAIRALLAH: The problem with the Arab press is very simple. Arab journalists have never been educated to cope with this new situation, to understand -- few of them understand what is the United States. Few of them understand what is Europe.

The only thing for them now is to please the Arab street, and this is very, very dangerous. I believe that the responsibility here is the responsibility of the governments, of the Arab regimes, who are unable to accept the free press. Only a free press, with time, can produce real journalists.

These journalists are unable, actually, to understand what's going on in the world, even in the Arab world. So the only thing they do is they try to please the Arab street and in fact they are unable to reflect what is going on in the Arab world, or they are not able to bring something really which can be useful for the Arab people by making them understand what is the American policy or the European policy.

MACVICAR: Nick Fielding, I'm wondering if we're all in danger sometimes, as Sylvie has been talking, as Ian has been talking, about sort of essentially creating stereotypes. Whether we're talking about stereotypes of people or a nation, or stereotypes of organizations or even terrorist organizations, and we then find very difficult to move off of them. We get stuck with something.

FIELDING: I think that's absolutely true, an it's, actually, it's part of the role of journalists to try and challenge those stereotypes as much as one possibly can. It is very difficult indeed.

As soon as you mention al Qaeda, you have an immediate set of values now which have been created through massive media coverage and so on. It's very difficult now to shape people's ideas and the extraordinary thing, in a sense, about al Qaeda, for example, is that the organization that we're dealing with today is probably quite a different organization than what it was two years ago. It's rapidly changing. It's changing the operation, the space in which it operates, the kind of people that it's using, the kind of operation that it's doing, and we have to be very aware that these things change all the time.

So it is vital that we stay one step ahead. And obviously, our job is to shape public opinion. That's what we do as journalists. We shape public opinion, but we need to be very clear that we're not just reinforcing the stereotypes that you've mentioned.

MACVICAR: And it's really difficult to turn -- when you talk about covering or reporting on organizations like al Qaeda or other sort of organizations which swim in the same sea, if you will, if you don't understand how they're mutating. If you can't quite see what the picture is until it's too late -- the next bomb has gone off, the next thing has stuck, the next set of demands has been reached.

I mean, Stryker, this is something I know that you have struggled with at "Newsweek" as well, in trying to discern what the pattern is and how best to communicate the pattern beyond one, two, three or four individuals who we can all identify.

MCGUIRE: It is difficult to do. I mean, it's -- I think in America, especially right after September 11, if you were to go back and look at the journalism that was produced during that time, it's pretty striking. You know, even from just two years, from a two years distance.

You go back and you take a newspaper like "The New York Times," obviously a fairly sober, austere, serious publication, from September 12 right through the end of the year. They produced a special section every day which was called "A Nation Challenged." Now, that seems fairly anodyne, but still, even that, even just to say "A Nation Challenged," it means that there's a kind of sense of what's going on and of a country under threat from some dark force.

MACVICAR: Well, thank you all very much for joining us.

Sylvie Kauffmann, of "Le Monde," in Paris; Nick Fielding, "Sunday Times," in London; Stryker McGuire, of "Newsweek"; Ian Buruma, journalist; and Khairallah Khairallah, columnist. Thank you all very much.

That's our show for now, but on the next edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, we look down the lens of the Russian media and how far President Vladimir Putin will go to keep it under control. Plus, their vows are called off, but can they really blame the press for that.

All that and more, coming up. For the moment, I'm Sheila MacVicar, in London. Thanks for joining us.

END

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