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Leading Journalists Examine Media Coverage Around the World

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


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Christiane Amanpour, in London. Welcome to CNN'S INTERNATIONAL CORRESPNDENTS, where bring together leading journalists to examine media coverage around thew world.
Laughable and not worth a single consideration. That's what North Korea is branding the new U.S. proposal to end the growing tension between the two countries.

At the APAC summit in Bangkok, U.S. President George Bush said that the United States would give some sort of security regime, this in exchange for Pyongyang abandoning its nuclear program.

We rarely get a glimpse at what's going on inside North Korea itself, but two journalists have just returned from that country, and they join me now to discuss their experiences. They are Mark Seddon, here in London with me, editor of the "Tribune" magazine. Mark was there for 10 days and got some extraordinary footage, including interviews with government officials; and photographer Gary Knight. His pictures were published in "Newsweek" this week and he will join us on the phone from Japan. And in New York, Philip Gourevitch, writer for "The New Yorker" magazine, who recently wrote a story on North Korea for "The New Yorker" magazine.

So, firstly, let's talk to the two journalists who were inside there - - and you need to know that I and just about every other serious journalist is terribly envious, because we really, really want to get in. It's so hard to do so.

Mark, firstly, how did you get in? That's an obvious first question.

MARK SEDDON, "TRIBUNE": I went in with a couple of European parliamentarians, which is what I did before. It seems that any journalist who wants to get in has to go in as part of a party or a tourist or whatever.

I was interested, because here we have what is seen as the last Stalinist bastion, Communist country, really hard line. I went in there the first time, I wanted to go a second time because I could see actually there was a mixture, a sort of Confucianism, idolatry, deeply paranoid leadership -- they've got every right to be paranoid in many respects, too.

But a country that is on the cusp of possible dramatic change and also a country on a peninsula, where if it was the focal point for war would make the Iraq War look like a tea party.

So it's seeing a country in a sort of aspect, seeing something very different, that people might have witnessed in East Germany, but also the cusp of change.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, you did interview officials, I believe. And obviously the big question is the nuclear question there and what is going to happy. I mean, did you get anywhere close to that issue? Did you get any answers? Did you get any serious views from the officials you talked to?

SEDDON: Absolutely. We got answers. We went to see the premier, whose the No. 2, Kim Jong Il's No. 2, and he was clear they are going to embark on a nuclear program unless they get some sort of security deal with the United States, a non-agression pact.

But most direct was the commander of North Korean forces as the border of Panmun'jom, Commander General Li Chan Bok (ph), who said, yes, we are proceeding. It's not a bluff. And I think the best estimates are, the North Koreas perhaps have three to four nuclear bombs. If they turn the reactor on, they could be producing that number every three to four months.

But I think this is a country that is desperate for a deal. Don't forget that everybody said it was going to collapse in the late-90's. It didn't, and yet 2 to 3 million people starved. When I went around with aids, assessors from the European Union, they were saying to me the country could be on the verge of another mass starvation. There's been an outbreak of malaria. 300,000 people are ill.

So it's a highly trained, highly educated work force. As many people say, they want to get on. They're being held back. And I think that any country wants to try to avoid getting sucked into military conflict.

AMANPOUR: This is very dramatic, what you told us about what those top leaders said about their nuclear program. You also talk about the people.

I want to ask Gary Knight, a photographer who is joining us from Tokyo, Gary, you mostly spent your time amongst the people and your pictures are of ordinary people doing ordinary things on any given day. What attitudes did you find amongst them? Are they the paranoid citizens of the hermit kingdom that we've been led to believe? What is it that they think about the United States, about the rest of the world?

GARY KNIGHT, PHOTOGRAPHER: Well, I didn't get to spend as much time with the people as I would have liked. I mean, I was kept at some distance from them by and large and photographing them was something I really had to do from, you know, moving vehicles.

But there were two or three occasions where I did get to spend time with them. Notably on the train, which is this long 24 to 26 hour train ride from Beijing where there are no guides and so with the use of Chinese businessmen who speak English and Korean and with Koreans themselves who speak English, I was able to talk to them, and I was really quite surprised because, you know, I'd been led to believe that these people were brainwashed and were, you know, didn't have any thoughts or aspirations that we might recognize and I really -- you know, most of the small cross- section of people I did talk to, I found that to be untrue.

AMANPOUR: Do they express any fears? I mean, we've heard many times from people inside there, from their own people, that they fear that the United States is going to attack them.

KNIGHT: Oh, yes. I mean, I think there's a certain victim complex amongst the Korean people anyway, which is shared with Koreans in the south. And that's not altogether unjustified given the history that they've had over the last 100 to 200 years.

But, yes, they are terrified of an invasion from America. They're terrified by America. And I think they don't know -- they have no reason to believe anything other. They don't have access to information. And, you know, there's a hugely fortified border. You know, America has a very aggressive posture towards North Korea so there's no reason for them to believe otherwise.

AMANPOUR: And just give us an idea of how difficult it was for you to get in and how difficult or otherwise it was for you to be able to take pictures.

KNIGHT: It's very difficult to move around. You know, I had two guides and a driver with me on all occasions. You know, one day when I went for a massage they were sort of sitting outside the room.

It's extraordinarily difficult to move around. There is no freedom of access. There really isn't. And the only time when I was free was on the train. To get in, it took months for me to get the vias, but you know, it came in the end, and it was actually much simpler. The process of getting into North Korea once I knew I had the visa was much, much easier than I anticipated.

And working was easier than I anticipated, but that being said, it was very difficult, and I think you can see in the pictures, you know, there is a distance between me and the subject that is never removed, which is frustrating, but you know, it's not impossible to work under those circumstances.

AMANPOUR: Gary, thank you for your rare vision from there. That was something very interesting certainly for readers of "Newsweek" to see, and again, I mean, it bears saying again how little anybody gets to see out of North Korea.

I want to turn to Philip Gourevitch, in New York. Philip, even though you couldn't get in, what did you glean about North Korea politically, socially, all of the things that you wrote about in "The New Yorker"? Give those who haven't read that piece an idea of what you were able to find out and how.

PHILIP GOUREVITCH, "THE NEW YORKER": Well, I actually decided to try and make the -- the fact that I couldn't get in, into a strength by saying, well, I know that when you get in, as Gary Knight was describing, one doesn't have a freedom of movement or freedom of access. So I decided to talk to North Koreans who'd gotten out.

And what's interesting is, as he describes the train ride in from China, along the Chinese border over the last decade, largely as a function of the famine and of some of the internal breakdown within North Korea that followed the famine of the mid-90's, literally hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have come out of the country, and for the first time, through them, one is able to get a bit of a sense of what daily life and ordinary life and expectations are inside the country and what conditions are.

And of course, they're terrible. They're -- it's been known for a long time that this is an extremely restrictive regime and that it does seek to brainwash people, but the level of social control is really unparalleled and in that sense it far exceeds even the Stalinist system.

And one of the things that I think is important to understand in terms of trying to understand how is it that this regime has succeeded in maintaining such a grip both on power and on its people for 50 years now is by realizing that this is really unique for a number of reasons.

It's unique amongst Communist states in that Korea never went through any exposure to modernity. It went directly from total futile repression, first under Korean kings and then under Japanese colonialists in the first-half of the 20th century to a complete dynastic Communist Confucian structure. So in fact, North Korean society is really quite medieval and it's continuous with its old medieval roots.

And so what you felt was -- one of the most interesting things I found was, for the people who lived in North Korea and began to get a glimpse of what it was like outside, they got a hold of a radio and tinkered with it and started to pickup South Korean radio signals, the first thing they realized was, "Well, I've been suspicious of the propaganda that I'm being fed and the indoctrination lessons that I'm given every day from the regime," but that distrust translates so that they assume that the news they're hearing from the world is also equal propaganda.

And it takes them a while, as they emerge out into the world, to start to be able to determine what's real, and I think that's a very interested and complicated condition.

AMANPOUR: So the people you talked to, who are out of North Korea, what did they view as, for instance, America's view of them, you know, the current political situation, what might happen to relatives and friends left back in North Korea?

GOUREVITCH: They were very consistent about one thing, that they hated Americans, and they said this with real passion when they spoke. They would say, "You don't know how I hated Americans when I lived in North Korea, and how much I've come to trust and like Americans since I've come out."

And one of the things, when you're asked about this, was the sort of foundational lie of this kingdom of lie's that the Kim's, father and son, Kim Il Son and Kim Jong Il, have created, is that American attacked Korea, North Korea, and started the Korean War in 1950, when in fact Kim Il Son sent his armies across the border and invaded an undefended south. And when these North Koreans come out and learn that, it's a deep disillusionment for them.

And it's a deep sort of disorientation. They feel that they've spent their whole lives in some way in service to a lie.

AMANPOUR: Philip, thank you. His perspective, Mark, from people outside. I'll give you the last word since you're sitting here and you were in there. Do you think, given that there is a certain amount of sort of hermetically sealed character about North Korea, that the officials there can see a way out of the current stalemate and can get out of the current confrontation?

SEDDON: I think there are new technocrats coming forward, people who have been in Europe, who have got diplomatic missions in Europe, and there's a North Korean embassy here in London, who have actually been exposed to the outside and are taking ideas back in.

I mean, the BBC is now available -- very small things -- is available in some hotel rooms. How long can it be before people can perhaps get hold of satellites, perhaps they can access the Internet, perhaps they can get hold of radios that work. These things will happen.

I think the worry is, is if you push too hard, you actually shore up the hard liners. You make the military the tough guys. It's the same with Syria. It's the same with many of these other countries.

I would think that the best way is carrot-and-stick. The Europeans, I think, have got the right way. They're offering humanitarian aid. They're saying "If you go back to the negotiating table, perhaps we can help you with your energy sector." But all of the time, coaxing, coaxing gently. That's what the south wants too, and that's what China wants. China is the key.

AMANPOUR: I wish we could go on. It's so interesting. Thank you all so much for joining us, Mark, here in the studio; Philip, in New York; and Gary, out there in Tokyo.

And now it's time for a quick break, but when we come back, we will talk to Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Thomas Freedman about war, peace and public perceptions in the Muslim and Arab world.

Stay with us.



Has the U.S.-led war on terror radicalized more Arabs? A new report suggests that it has. This was one of the major findings of the latest Arab Human Development Report, commissioned by the United Nations.

It identified three major challenges: women's rights, freedom of expression and access to basic knowledge.

One journalist very familiar with this region is three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Freedman of "The New York Times." He has just made a documentary on these very issues, and he joins us now from Washington.

Tom, thanks so much for joining us.

The latest Arab Human Development Report, did it contain any bombshells?

THOMAS FREEDMAN, JOURNALIST: Well, you know, it was the follow- up, as you eluded, Christiane, to the first Arab Human Development Report that came out in 2002, which asked a very basic question: How could it be that 22 Arab states combined -- that the combined GDP of 22 Arab states is less than that of a single country in the European Union, Spain.

How could it be that Greece, you know, translates in an average year far more books from English to Greek than the whole Arab world combined from English to Arabic? It asked some basic, hard questions like that.

The second Arab Human Development Report, which just came out, really explores more deeply an issue raised more deeply an issue raised in the first report, and that's the deficit of knowledge in the Arab world. The Middle East, the Islamic world, has a long and rich history of being a great knowledge absorber and exporter certainly during the Middle Ages, but obviously it's gotten off that track in recent years, so much so that this Arab Human Development Report notes that a quarter of all B.A. graduate students in the Arab world in one year emigrated, that in a two year period 15,000 doctors left the Arab world.

So clearly there's a huge knowledge problem.

AMANPOUR: So, Tom, what does all of this mean in terms of where is the Arab street or as you've called it the Arab basement, wherever it is -- what are people thinking now about opening up, about interaction outside the Arab and Muslim world, and most particularly, what has this U.S. war on terror and the war in Iraq done to Arab thinking?

FREEDMAN: Well, I think it's done two things, Christiane.

On one level, and this is highlighted in the report, it certainly increased tension and suspicion between the United States and the Arab Muslim world, and one of the issues that the report highlights is that the problems of young Arabs aspiring to get educated in the United States, getting visas into the United States.

If your name is Mohammad and you're 21 years old and you want to go to American University in Washington, you're going to have a very difficult time now in the post-9-11 environment. We've shut down our borders in many ways to these kinds of young people. Some of it's understandable; some of it's clearly excessive. And we're shooting ourselves in the foot by not bringing the people most interested in what we have to say, our ideas, into the United States, and making them partners in those ideas.

At the same time, the Iraq War invasion and the prospect that sometime in the next couple of years Iraq will hold a free and fair election has, I think, triggered a real conversation in the Arab and Muslim world. It's beneath the surface for the most part, but people are asking, how could it be that the Americans sliced through the Iraqi government in three weeks, basically? How could there have been such rot, such weakness?

And at the same time, if in partnership with the Iraqis we're able to organize a free and fair election in 2005, won't that stand as a refutation of all the phony elections held in this region? So we'd better get ready for those kind of changes.

So we have this contradictory impact. On the one hand, it's really promoting more tension, more anxiety. On the other hand, it's started a real conversation beneath the surface, and I find that very healthy.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you this. You talk about phony elections. Saudi Arabia has just announced the first ever kind of elections that they plan to hold, and you've had many conversations with Saudis on all levels of society. What is going on there? What is that going to lead to and how honest a process will that be, or real a process?

FREEDMAN: Well, I think it's a good question, Christiane, because Saudi Arabia is really the perfect manifestation of what we're talking about.

On the one hand, if you took a poll in Saudi Arabia today, hostility towards the United States, I would guess, has gone through the roof since 9-11 and through the Iraq War, and in part because a lot of Saudis who traditionally came to the United States for education and for a vacation aren't able to get in any more or are uncomfortable getting in.

At the same time, the Saudi government is feeling that pressure to reform from within and externally, because of what's going on in Iraq, and as a result has decided that within the next year half of every municipal council will be appointed and half will hence forward be elected.

Now, they haven't decided whether women will be able to run or vote in these new council elections. My guess is they won't be able to run, but they probably will allow them to vote. Nevertheless, it's a start.

AMANPOUR: So you have just completed a documentary which is going to air on CNN and you've traveled through many of these Arab countries.

First of all, can you give me a quick outline of which countries they are? And what do you bring from your conversations with all of these people? Are they more radicalized since 9-11, or are they taking so-called a serious second look at reform in their nations?

FREEDMAN: We traveled to Indonesia, to the Persian Gulf, to Egypt, and also to Muslim communities in Europe, to do this documentary for New York Times TV and Discovery, and what we found basically was again this same contradictory result, Christiane.

We found that there are sort of three rivers of rage feeding 9-11 and the hijackers and the many people who passively supported them. One is how much they detest the United States for supporting Israel when it does the right thing and the wrong thing, not to mention Israel itself. Second, how humiliated many of these young people feel, going back to that Arab Human Development Report, for how far behind the rest of the world they are.

And the third river of rage is how much they hate their own governments for leaving them powerless, voiceless and really not empowering them to succeed in this world.

AMANPOUR: Tom Freedman, thank you so much for joining us. And you can watch Thomas Freedman's documentary, it's called "Searching for the Roots of 9-11," and it's on this weekend on CNN INTERNATIONAL.

And that's all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London. Thanks for joining us.



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