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Critique of Worldwide Media Coverage

Aired November 30, 2003 - 19:30:00   ET


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Fionnuala Sweeney, in London. Welcome to CNN'S INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we bring together leading journalists to examine media coverage around the world.
On Wednesday, a cease fire between India and Pakistan took effect, this in a renewed attempt to end the two country's decade long dispute over Kashmir. Both countries agreed to observe a halt to all military activity by their official forces. That doesn't include individual militant groups on the ground.

The media on both sides are fairly optimistic about the latest move, but should they be?

I'm joined now by Shahed Sadullah, editor of "The Daily Jang" and Vijay Dutt, London bureau chief of the "Hindustan Times."

Vijay, why do you think that the newspapers in India, for example, have been cautiously optimistic about this?

VIJAY DUTT, "HINDUSTAN TIMES": I think one of the realities of the geopolitical situation in the region, I think, gives a lot of encouragement about the cease-fire lasting long, giving enough chance for peace negotiations to start.

What I hear is that both General Musharraf and Mr. Vajpayee are very keen. They smooth everything so that when the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) meeting takes place in January they could enter into some serious dialogue and they will see each other. And this is one reason.

And the other reason, I think we all know there is a lot of international pressure now for the two countries to resolve their differences. That's why we are very optimistic.

SWEENEY: And pressure meaning presumably the United States?

DUTT: Well, let's say that, but it's a globalized world now and nobody can live in isolation. Everybody needs everybody else. Pakistan is needed for Afghanistan. India is needed for trade. So it's a mutual thing.

I suppose America would like, even Britain would like, to have peace in the region so that the trade can prosper and they don't have to worry about, although I never believe that there will be a nuclear conflagration ever between these two countries. But the West has always thought that way.

SWEENEY: Shahed, this optimism has also been reflected, so far at least, in Pakistani newspapers. For the same reasons?

SHAHED SADULLAH, "THE DAILY JANG": Well, yes, that is correct. I mean, you see the sort of undeclared war along the line of control was something that had caused a great deal of misery to people living on the other side of the line of control, in terms of loss of property, in terms of loss of life, and therefore it had a great potential for deteriorating relationships between the two countries.

Now if that can be kept out of the way for a meaningful period of time, I think this will be an excellent preview of future peace talks between the two countries.

I feel that, you know, it would have been better if there had been a monitoring mechanism to ensure that the cease fire is maintained. Such a mechanism was there in the form of the United Nations military observers group for India and Pakistan, which many people call (UNINTELLIGIBLE), but unfortunately, in the sort of convoluted political values of the subcontinent, the Indians can't agree for the United Nations to come in because that is a third party, so that cannot be utilized.

But I do feel that if this cease-fire, if any peace moves are to be maintained and lead to something meaningful, it has to be based on the basis of one realization, and that is this, that the violence on the ground has to be disassociated from any peace process, and to that extent, I think the situation in Kashmir is very similar to the situation in Palestinian.

In both places, the same applies, and if this is a first step towards that, I think the future could be very bright.

SWEENEY: And this is something that actually newspapers in India are focused on quite a bit in the editorials, saying that the infiltration across the lines has to stop.

DUTT: Well, that was the stand the very first day by the government of India as well, and that we all understand, that the infiltration has to stop, because, you know, if there is an infiltration, the Indians will retaliate, and then it will be said that you have violated the cease-fire. And the Pakistanis feel that if India wants to break the cease-fire, they will say, OK, infiltrators are coming and we are retaliating.

But that's not -- I mean, what I feel is the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) situation is such that the trust has to be built between the two countries, and that trust can only come because of negotiations between themselves and measures that they take in agreement with each other.

And I think the situation is -- you know, for example, the Rangers giving sweets to Indian soldiers. Our paper has carried a number of pictures of that. We have hailed it as a very, very good gesture.

SWEENEY: And on that note, the good gestures, there does seem a difference I how the newspapers are covering this. Is it the job of newspapers in India -- and I'll ask about Pakistan in a second -- do you feel, to give Indian people hope, if you feel there really is hope this time?

DUTT: Well, because there is hope, and sometimes papers also reflect what the people are feeling, and in this case, for example, we said that the religious near the line of control are enjoying the sound of silence. This is the sentence which we used.

Another paper has said that everyone is relaxed, but nobody is jumping. There is that skepticism about what the future holds.

As it is, you see, now winter is setting in. There cannot be much infiltration at all. All the passages are blocked, snowbound.

So what I feel is you have three or four months time, and if these two countries can come to a discussion on the practicalities. Like India is now insisting on permission for all flights. Possibly, this might be possible when General Musharraf and Mr. Vajpayee meet. All the papers, like for example "The Times of India" said that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) had been a great gain because (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is the area where you don't have to shoot anybody. People die because of the bad weather conditions.

So as casualties will go down, once you move a little bit away from (UNINTELLIGIBLE) because there is a cease-fire. So things are really looking up.

But of course, this has been going on for 55 years, so you can't solve the things in a day, but I think the papers are not only reflecting their own views or trying to tell the people that there is optimism, but I think it is picked up from the people itself. They are also feeling optimistic.

SWEENEY: And is the media in Pakistan trying to generate hope, or is it reflecting hope among the people?

SADULLAH: Well, I think it's likely reflecting what hope exists on the ground. I don't think it will be the media's task, really, to hype up the situation and create a sense of expectancy which later on cannot be realized. I don't think that sort of thing really serves any great purpose.

You see, the reason for skepticism here is I feel that the militancy is a feature which has to be recognized, that probably no government really has full control over it.

We like to pretend that governments have to say only "be" and it is, but I don't think that's the way things work. And as far as the situation of infiltration is concerned, yes, I mean, there is a physical problem in monitoring the line of control, which is something like 761 kilometers long and not through very friendly territory. It also has to be realized that in Pakistan there's a political problem involved here.

I mean, the Pakistan view of the situation is that there is a very basic and fundamental democratic right which the Indian government is not allowing to be exercised in Kashmir through the use of force. Now, Pakistan, being a party to that dispute, not only as to the U.N. resolution but even after (UNINTELLIGIBLE) accord, perhaps has a right to resist that use of force through force. When that use of force targets civilians, that is wrong, and that cannot be condoned. When it targets those who are using the force to deny that right, that then is fair enough.

Now this is the view in Pakistan, whether one agrees with it or not. So there is a political problem also for the government in coming around to this. That political problem is helped if there is a peace process on the ground which the government can present as an alternative and say the violent way is not the way to go around here. There is something else.

SWEENEY: What is that something else? Let me ask you that.

SADULLAH: Dialogue. That is what has to be something else.

SWEENEY: Gentlemen, thank you both very much.

Time now for a quick break, but when we come back, we take a look at the media mayhem surrounding Michael Jackson's arrest.

Don't go away.



Formal charges haven't even been filed against Michael Jackson, but many say some in the media have put him on trial already. This follows allegations of child molestation against the pop star.

Now Jackson's defense is going on the attack. It's determined to take every action against those trying to sully Jackson's name.


MARK GERAGOS, JACKSON'S ATTNY.: We will land on you like a ton of bricks. We will land on you like a hammer if you do anything to besmirch this man's reputation, anything to intrude on his privacy in any way that's actionable. We will unleash a legal torrent like you've never seen.


SWEENEY: To discuss whether the media have taken this one step too far, I'm joined in Los Angeles by Jane Velez Mitchell, correspondent for "Celebrity Justice." And in New York, ethicist Bruce Weinstein.

First of all, Jane, is this a free-for-all for the press now?

JANE VELEZ MITCHELL, "CELEBRITY JUSTICE": Well, it's a free-for-all in the sense that we're all discussing it. There are many issues to discuss, and this is not a rumor case. This is a real case.

Michael Jackson was arrested, he was booked, he was fingerprinted. The district attorney says he will file formal charges. So it's not only our right, it's our duty to discuss these issues, because it is about a very, very serious issue, the issue of alleged child molestation. And let's face it, children do not have the wherewithal to ask these questions for themselves. It is up to us as journalists to ask the tough questions for them.

SWEENEY: But would the media be as interested if it weren't Michael Jackson?

MITCHELL: Well, of course not, but Michael Jackson has brought this on himself, many critics and many observers would say.

Mark Geragos, his attorney, says that they will come down like a hammer and like a ton of bricks on anybody who will besmirch the reputation of Michael Jackson.

Well, who has done more to besmirch the reputation of Michael Jackson than Michael Jackson himself? He's the one who dangled the baby. He's the one who said on a documentary he loves to have sleepovers with young boys and that there's nothing wrong with it, raising a lot of eyebrows. He's the one even in a civil trial in Santa Marina, California went like this as the jury was walking in. So who is besmirching his reputation?

SWEENEY: Bruce Weinstein, who is the besmirching it?

BRUCE WEINSTEIN, ETHICIST: Jane, Michael Jackson is a victim. He is a victim of this terrible media circus that has already tried and convicted him.

Now Jane is correct that we have not only a right, arguably a duty, to discuss this, but we have a duty to discuss it responsibly, and no one up until now has been doing so. People are likening him to a pedophile. They're making all sorts of wild allegations, and we have to take one big step back and wait until the facts come out, because in a democracy, we believe that people are innocent until proven guilty, and yet this feeding frenzy surrounding the case has subverted that very important principle, and it's just outrageous. It's outrageous and it's a miscarriage of justice.


MITCHELL: Well, I agree. Nobody knows at this point -- nobody is saying Michael Jackson is guilty of innocent. That has to be decided in a court of law.

But what we can tell you is that the district attorney says that he is investigating and he is planning on filing formal charges alleging lewd and lascivious conduct. So this is not just some wild rumor. These are authorities. They raided his Neverland Ranch with 70 investigators. They went to two other locations, the home of his videographer, where they handcuffed that person and confiscated videotapes. They also raided the Beverly Hills offices of a private investigator.

So this is a legitimate investigation. On top of that, Michael Jackson 10 years ago settled a lawsuit out of court with another boy who had accused him of similar things, accused him of molestation, and that law suit was settled out of court for an estimated $20 million.

So this doesn't come out of thin air.


SWEENEY: Bruce, bear with me for one second.

Jane, I think the question is, will he get a fair trial? We know all of this. It has the ingredients of a good story. But will Michael Jackson be able to get a fair trial?

MITCHELL: Well, he has a very, very high powered legal defense team. Mark Geragos, perhaps the white hot attorney of the moment, and let's face it, a lot of people are saying will this boy at the heart of this case be able to withstand the withering scrutiny.

Already there are already these reports coming out that his mother has been involved in a series of lawsuits. Yes, back when he was 8 he was stopped leaving a department store. There was a scuffle. He said his arm was injured. His mother sued. They settled for $137,000. That's not a nuisance lawsuit. I mean, a big department store would settle a nuisance lawsuit for a couple of thousand, maybe $10,000. If the mother got $137,000, maybe she had a good claim.

Michael Jackson, on the other hand, has been involved in 1,000 lawsuits.

WEINSTEIN: If I may get a word in, please. This is completely absurd, because the argument that you're making is where there's smoke, there's fire. This is a legal principle that does not wash. It is not an ethical principle. Where there's smoke, there's fire. It's completely preposterous.

You're being irresponsible and unprofessional by introducing this. And we have to, again, take one step back and wait until the facts come out.

MITCHELL: I didn't introduce it. Everybody's been talking about it.


WEINSTEIN: Well, you're introducing it by.


MITCHELL: What I'm introducing actually is criticism of the mother.

WEINSTEIN: Excuse me. If Michael Jackson is guilty of a crime, his crime is that he hasn't made a good record in 10 years. It's an artistic crime. He has not been convicted yet of any crime. In fact, if he's acquitted.


SWEENEY: Bruce, let me ask you the question that I put to Jane, which is do you believe that he can get a fair trial?

WEINSTEIN: It's going to be extremely difficult, because this media circus is going to make O.J.'s trial look like a trip to small claims court. With all of these wild allegations, rumors and innuendoes flying around, not just on the Internet but on reputably networks like this one, it's going to be very difficult to find jurors.


MITCHELL: There are plenty of allegations and rumors that are now being directed at the mother, and that's my point, by mentioning that lawsuit. There are a lot of critics now who are delving in the same amount, with the same amount of ferocious intent upon the history of the mother, and they're digging all sorts of things up about her.

WEINSTEIN: Everyone has dirty hands in this case. No one is coming up clean, I think. As a responsible journalist you, Jane, and CNN, should, again, take one step back and wait until the facts come out. And quite frankly, aren't there more important stories to be reporting on in the world than the Michael Jackson case? If people were really interested.


SWEENEY: On that point -- on that point -- let me bring you back to London here.

On that point, it would seem that when this story broke here, U.S. President George W. Bush was on a visit to London, and that story died from U.S. television screens once this story in America broke.

WEINSTEIN: That's right. That's right.

SWEENEY: But yet the main networks, though, the three evening newscasts, did not lead with the Michael Jackson story. What does that tell us about the appetite for live news and live reporting -- Jane.

MITCHELL: Well, you know what I think? I think that perhaps international coverage could reinvent itself a little bit. I think it's gotten a little stale and a little bit antiseptic.

I mean, we all know reporter one covers the president, reporter two covers the protestors, and then you have three seconds, and that's full of chanting.

Why not cover it in a more live and interactive form? I never get a sense of where is the president vis--vis where are the protestors vis-- vis where is it all happening. It seems to me very compartmentalized.

Perhaps this is an opportunity for journalists everywhere to say if people aren't paying enough attention to important international issues, we need to look at how we're covering it and look at ourselves instead of pointing a finger at someone else. And perhaps there is a more imaginative way to cover these international events, to capture the public's imagination the way it's been captured in the Michael Jackson case.

WEINSTEIN: You know what this reminds me of? If I can get a word in edgewise, you know what this reminds me of? Remember during Princess Diana's funeral, we saw scrolling at the bottom of the screen for a few milliseconds, Mother Teresa dies.

Now if you had to compare saints, wouldn't you say that Mother Teresa had a slight edge on Princess Diana? But for days and days if not weeks, all we heard about was Princess Diana. It shows you where our priorities are, where our values are, and it's absurd. Jane is correct.


SWEENEY: Let me say, when we're talking about the media here, it should also be noted that while you're mentioning, Bruce, about networks such as CNN should maybe take a step back, it's also being strongly rumored that Michael Jackson's team will actually perhaps give an exclusive interview to one of the American networks.

So in a sense, he's going to do the same thing, take advantage of the media. Everybody is taking advantage of the publicity, isn't that the case?


WEINSTEIN: Well, perhaps so, but again, I think nobody is going to look.

MITCHELL: I don't understand this take a step back. Are you suggesting we not cover it, not ask questions?



WEINSTEIN: No. If you let me get a word in edgewise, that would be polite, wouldn't it?

It's how we ask the questions. It's whether we're asking responsible questions. And also, whether networks like CNN and FOX NEWS and all the rest have pundits on there who are making responsible statements.

Last week, I debated someone who was likening Michael Jackson to a pedophile because he met this criteria and that criteria. And it's completely irresponsible to come on a news network like CNN or FOX NEWS and say such things. It isn't censorship to say, "You know what? We're not going to allow you on." It's responsible journalism.


SWEENEY: One moment, please.


WEINSTEIN: We have a duty to discuss it responsibly.

SWEENEY: Jane, let me as you a question. When this goes to trial, when this goes to trial, internationally, of course, there are going to be many eyes around the world watching this trial, but how much of a trial do you think this might be of the U.S. media and how it covers it, vis--vis other systems around the world?

MITCHELL: Well, we're already doing it. We're already putting the media on trial because we're covering this issue so intensively. And frankly, I think that's sort of part of the circus too. Every time there is a big media convergence at a story like this, the next day in the paper you see the obligatory article denouncing the media circus.

In one recent article, they even said the big problem is that they allow cameras in the courtroom. That's where it all started going south.

Well, let's get rid of electricity and telephones while we're at it. I mean, the fact is the more you look at something the more light you pour into it, the more sunshine you pour into it, the better off we all are, and I think it's an insult to viewers, it's an insult to the people who absorb this news to say that we have to decide what they can hear and what they can see and they shouldn't be allowed in the courtroom. Only the elite should be allowed in the courtroom. Only the elite should be.


WEINSTEIN: But putting out rumors, lies, innuendos and gossip, that is not responsible journalism. That does not shed any light. All it sheds is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) as I think this debate is exemplifying.


SWEENEY: All right, Jane Velez Mitchell, Bruce Weinstein, you may talk amongst yourselves afterwards, but that's all the time we have for it. Thank you very much for joining us from Los Angeles and New York.

MITCHELL: Thank you.

WEINSTEIN: Thank you, Fionnuala.

SWEENEY: And that's all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. I'm Fionnuala Sweeney, in London, thanks for joining us.

The news continues on CNN.



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