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INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

Critique of Worldwide Media Coverage

Aired April 17, 2004 - 19:30:00   ET

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


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Christiane Amanpour, in London. Welcome to CNN'S INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories.
It has been dubbed historic, the new Balfour Declaration by some in the Israeli press, but in the Arab world and the Arab media, just anger and outrage at U.S. President George Bush's dramatic policy shift towards the Middle East.

In Washington on Wednesday the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was all smiles and so was President Bush as he got Bush to agree to all of his demands. Bush praised Sharon's plan to pull out of Gaza, but he also endorsed Sharon's plan to keep significant settlements in the West Bank and he agreed that Israel need not respect fully the 1967 so-called Green Line border. Bush also endorsed Sharon's plan that Palestinian refugees give up the right of return forever.

This, as you can image, has produced howls of protests, not just from the Palestinians and other Arabs but also from the European Union. Here to talk about the Israeli and Arab media reaction and also what this all and the developments in Iraq mean for British Prime Min. Tony Blair, I'm joined by William Shawcross, the journalist and author, and Maher Ahmad (ph), columnist with "Al Hayat," and from Tel Aviv, Arik Bachar, foreign editor of the "Ma'ariv" newspaper.

Maher and Arik, let me first turn to you because of the significance and the drama of what's just gone on. I would like to talk to Arik first, because it is a bit true, isn't it, and it's been portrayed as such for your prime minister. How are you in the press seeing through the lines, if you like, of what's just happened?

ARIK BACHAR, "MA'ARIV": Well, in the first 24 hours after this dramatic announcement from Washington, Israelis were literally gloating over this, thinking that this was a major coup and indeed it was.

Since then, Israelis have been reading the fine print of some of those statements, and they see that there is a price to pay for this coup. Namely, a freeze, an effective freeze on the Israeli settlement activity for now, major changes to the root of the security barrier that Israel has been building along the West Bank.

But generally speaking, I think most Israelis agree that Sharon has pulled a major achievement in Washington, especially with regard to the question of right of return.

As you recall, some of the major attempts over the last few years to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have floundered on that particular point. Israelis feel quite secure that it won't come up again.

AMANPOUR: Well, how secure can they be because, let's face it, we've had several different plans. The so-called Camp David Principles back in 2000, now we have this. Is this -- do Israelis really believe that these are now set in stone or that they are as transient as an American administration may be.

BACHAR: Well, it's the first time that this thing has been set in paper with a White House letterhead. Israel has never had this before from the Americans and this is a major point.

If there is a consensus among Israelis, and as you know it's very difficult to get consensus among Jews, this is, on that particular point, no acceptance of any refugees returning to pre-1967 Israeli.

AMANPOUR: Let me turn to Maher (ph). I mean, obviously this has produced predictable anger and outrage in the Arab world and, of course, from the Arab media.

Saeb Erakat, a former Palestinian negotiator, famously has just been quoted as saying "Bush and Sharon can cancel Ramadan for all I care, it doesn't mean that Muslims are not going to fast."

So the question is, is this going to fly? Are the Palestinians going to sit back and accept this, or what? What is going to happen?

MAHER AHMAD (ph), "AL-HAYAT": I don't think they will accept it. Obviously they will not. They are very angry, they are very shocked.

They have known all along that Sharon is a man of war. He has committed several massacres against them. Now the big disaster has started really by the U.S. administration accepting Sharon's theory that there is no Palestinian partner in peace.

In fact, the Palestinians have been crying out for peace and for a just settlement, and now comes along President Bush, and he disappoints, he shocks and he makes people very angry by accepting illegal settlements built on Palestinian lands which were supposed, according to his own vison, Bush's vision, to form the Palestinian independent state.

Now he says contradictory things that really wipe off the old map by accepting the settlements and accepting changes in the roadmap and by canceling unilaterally the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about your role and your responsibility as respected columnists, and in general the Arab media. You know, the Palestinians have essentially been almost refusniks (ph) for the last several years. I mean, they rejected what many people say was a historic opportunity at Camp David. Arafat is now essentially out of the game.

What are you saying to your Arab readers that -- listen guys, we've got to get serious and have a proper team of negotiators and address realities? Or is it all outrage and fire and brimstone?

AHMAD (ph): If it were true, and it's not true, that really Ehud Barak at Camp David made a solid offer, then the Palestinians would have accepted it. He did not.

What happened now in Washington between Sharon and Bush is that Sharon came with a written plan and Bush accepted it. In Camp David, there was nothing written. There was nothing at all accurate or precise. That's why they rejected it.

AMANPOUR: I would respectfully sort of say to what you just said that Yasser Arafat himself in June 2001 told an Israeli newspaper that in fact he would now and should have accepted what's now called the Clinton Principles. So I guess my question to you was, what is next for the Palestinians? How do they react?

And my question to Arik is, what is next? Is this going to fly? Is the referendum going to be approved? What does this mean in real terms?

BACHAR: He's got a tough sell ahead of him, but I think he's going to see it eventually, because most Israelis want to get out of Gaza, regardless of the Bush statements. I think Bush's statements make it easier for a lot of people who had misgivings about Sharon's plan in Gaza to vote yes, and I think Sharon is going to do it.

The question is, of course, whether it's going to be implemented. You know, the Israeli government has been saying that it's going to take all the way until the end of 2005 to implement this map. Two years in the Middle East is just two years short of eternity. Anything can happen.

AMANPOUR: I want to turn now to William Shawcross, because you've been closely following not only these events but also particularly Blair and these events.

Prime Minister Blair is now in Washington. Some have described it as an awkward moment for him. This press conference, this meeting between Sharon and Bush that came before Bush and Blair has sort of pulled the rug from under him, hasn't it? I mean, already British papers, European leaders, are saying this is a bit of a slap in the face for Blair expected from Bush over Israel-Palestine.

WILLIAM SHAWCROSS, AUTHOR: Well, that's certainly what British and European newspapers are saying. I don't think it's what Blair believes to be the case.

They're in a process of movement now, and I think Blair would argue, an I think he's right, that look, this is a historic change. Who would have ever believed a year or two years ago that Sharon would be the man who took Israeli settlers out of any Palestinian area. By all means, let's agree that it's easier to take them out of Gaza than out of the West Bank.

But nonetheless it is a huge change on which we can build and on which further movement will follow, and I think it's far from saying this has driven a coach and horses through the roadmap, Blair would argue, look, it's actually put things into the right gear and we're moving forward now in a way which we wouldn't have expected before.

AMANPOUR: Really? And do you think Blair would agree that President Bush has expended the kind of political capital that he promised Blair on the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations?

SHAWCROSS: I think Blair realizes that actually all of the huffing and puffing of European Union leaders, it's actually only the United States that can make a difference, and that's why Blair has attached -- has pursued the special relationship so strongly on Israel and Palestinian and on Iraq, and I think he will say -- I don't want to speak for him, I'm in no position to do so, obviously -- he would say, look, Bush is making a difference. Not as fast as we would want, but things are changing.

AMANPOUR: Let me switch gears a little bit to Iraq, because obviously that's going to be a major focus and you've just been writing about Iraq. You visited Iraq recently.

You have been a very vociferous supporter of Blair and Bush in the Iraq campaign. But given what's happened over the last year, most particularly in the last couple of months, surely even the most devoted believers would have to now conclude that a lot of the certainly post-war reality there was based on false assumptions, under-estimating the reconstruction needs, the insurgent strength, and with no apparent vision of sort of accommodating and being flexible in strategy.

What are you thoughts and what are you writing about this now?

SHAWCROSS: Well, of course it's true that those of us who supported the war, as I did and I still do, the war to get rid of Saddam, expected Iraq to have been able to develop more of a civil society by now than it has, and that's tragic.

When I was there at the end of March, things were not nearly as bad as they have become in the last two weeks. The security situation has degenerated in a heart-breaking manner.

I should say that every Iraqi I met endorsed and agreed with the poll findings which were taken earlier in March, which said that well-over half of Iraqis were very glad that we had done this. We got rid of Saddam. And over 70 percent thought that their lives would be much better in one year's time than they are now. And they're better now than they were under Saddam. That was certainly the impression that I had from everybody I talked to.

AMANPOUR: Thank you very much. William Shawcross, Maher (ph) and Arik, thank you for joining us.

And up next on the program, the new realities in Iraq: how the media are coping with the threat of kidnappers.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: You're watching INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS.

Hostage taking is becoming a chilling new reality in Iraq. It's terrifying the international contingent there, whether they be reconstruction workers, security guards, or and especially journalist. So far, around 40 people have been kidnapped and more than half of those have actually been released subsequently.

A French journalist was amongst those who was freed this week after being held for about three days.

Alexandre Jordanov is not the only journalist taken hostage in Iraq. Stephen Farrell of the "Times of London" was kidnapped last week. He joins us now from Baghdad. And Terry Anderson joins us from Des Moines, Iowa in the United States. Terry was taken hostage by Shia militants in Beirut back in 1985 and he was held captive for almost seven years.

Thank you both for joining us.

Stephen, let me ask you first. This is a present danger now. How in fact are you able to work?

STEPHEN FARRELL, "TIMES OF LONDON": Well, it's extremely difficult to work here, Christiane. Depending on which city you go to, which time you go, who you run into, it's all a complete lottery.

We went down to Najaf yesterday, for instance, and in order to safely move out there, one of the first days we'd left Baghdad for sometime, we had to actually travel with some of Muqtada al-Sadr's people to guarantee us safe passage into Najaf. Those are the sort of things you're having to do now in order to be able to move around this place with any sort of limited security.

AMANPOUR: Now, al-Sadr is, as we know, the firebrand cleric who is wanted by the United States and whose militants have basically been taking part in the uprising against the United States. Was it his guys who took you?

FARRELL: No, almost certainly not. I was driving in from Amman to Baghdad, bringing an armored car in to my colleague in Baghdad, and we were driving through the Sunni area, near Fallujah, when the vehicle was shot up by a lowery-load of armed men carrying Kalashnikovs and waving rocket propelled grenades at us.

I don't know the identities of the people, but I think it's fair to surmise that they -- well, we were in a largely Sunni area, so it was almost certainly Sunnis that took us, and certainly Sunnis that held us for most of that time, because we did manage to talk to them quite a lot and find out some things about them.

AMANPOUR: What did you find out? What did they want? How did they treat you?

FARRELL: Well, the first group who took us were, frankly, crazies. They were just bandits, robbers, looters, Ali Babas they call them here, and they shot up the vehicle and snatched us. And they weren't listening to anything. We were screaming "Journalist," we were waving credentials in Arabic. Didn't work. They quite clearly just wanted to kill us.

But in effect we got taken from our takers after about 20 minutes, because a group of much more sort of organized Mujahideen resistance guerillas, fighters, whatever you want to call them, they drove past, saw us, stopped all of this with a curt word, bundled us into their car and took us off to a house where we were interrogated for about seven hours.

It was made very clear to us by these people that if we were journalists, we'd be let go, and if we weren't, if we were CIA or if we were working for the coalition in any form, we'd be dead. And they made that very clear to us, actually saying you saw what we did in Fallujah last week, hanging these people from bridges and burning them.

AMANPOUR: My God, it's really everybody's worst nightmare, and probably no one knows it as well, unfortunately, as Terry Anderson.

You were held for an incomprehensibly long time, nearly seven years. In your case, they were going after journalists, weren't they?

TERRY ANDERSON, JOURNALIST: Well, they went after me specifically. They had my name on a list and they came to get me. Tried once and failed, tried again the next day and succeeded.

It was not only journalists. They were after other Westerners as well.

And then rather like in Iraq now, the situation was so chaotic -- there was no central government, no Army, no police force during the war there -- kind of freelance bands sprang up and began going after any Westerner they could get their hands on. And kind of selling them to Hezbollah, the Party of God, the militiamen that took me.

AMANPOUR: Terry, as you see what's going on in Baghdad, do you see parallels with the way in which the hostage takers used you and the others in Beirut and do you think it's going to develop into a similar situation in Iraq?

ANDERSON: Well, in Iraq it's kind of chaotic now. I don't think there's any real organization. I don't think that, for instance, Sadr's people have a plan to kidnap foreigners. I think it's kind of semi- independent bands who are doing most of it, although it's really hard to tell.

In Lebanon, my kidnappers had specific goals. They were trying to gain the release of some of their colleagues who were in jail in Kuwait. I think it's less specific, Christiane, in Iraq. I don't think they really expect to gain any of the political and military goals that they state, the withdrawal of Japanese or Italian troops or the end to the assault on Fallujah.

It sounds more to me like they're just striking out, they're trying to do as much damage, cause terror, cause humiliation.

AMANPOUR: We're talking about journalists whose job is to go out amongst the people and, if you like, be obvious and be exposed.

Stephen, how are you and your colleagues there planning the next few days, weeks and months of coverage?

FARRELL: Well, it's very hard, because the rules are changing. Quite often, the team we're up against is changing, to force the analogy.

For instance, when we came through, it was obvious that if we could convince them we were journalists, they'd let us go. And we did. And they did.

The very next day, a Japanese journalist gets taken with two of his colleagues. After that, we hear that there are ransom demands. Other groups, there's no ransom demands. Some groups want political actions by coalition countries. Others take people who aren't even belonging to coalition countries. It's very, very difficult.

At the moment here there's a sense of everybody is sitting tight in Baghdad, very carefully planning their journeys. If you go anywhere, you go in numbers. You leave contact details with your colleagues. You don't go in one car. You go in two in case, like my case, my tires got shot out the first day.

You can do all of these things, but ultimately, although you may increase your odds, you're still playing the lottery.

AMANPOUR: We wish you very much luck there, Stephen, all of your colleagues. And thank you very much, Terry, for joining us.

FARRELL: Thank you very much.

AMANPOUR: Up next on the program.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. SECY. OF DEFENSE: You know what our forces -- they don't go around killing hundreds of civilians. That's just outrageous nonsense. It's disgraceful what that station is doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: Harsh words against the Arab TV channel Al Jazeera. More harsh words, in fact. We talk to the network's news chief in a moment to get his response.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anti-U.S. sentiment has been heightened by Al Jazeera and other anti-coalition media reporting on the closing of Al Haza (ph), the detention of Jacobin (ph), actions in Fallujah, the one-year anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, serving as the catalyst for increased attacks on coalition forces in their areas of operations over the past 10 days.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: These are some of the charges being leveled against the Arab news network Al Jazeera. The U.S. military and some in the Iraqi Governing Council say that they are part of the problem.

Joining me now on the phone from Doha, Qatar, at its base, Ahmed al Sheikh, editor-in-chief of Al Jazeera.

Ahmed, thank you very much for joining me.

You know, it seems to be a war, an ongoing war, between the Pentagon and Al Jazeera. Are you saying that U.S. troops are deliberately firing on civilians in Fallujah?

AHMED AL SHEIKH, AL JAZEERA: As a matter of fact, it's really regrettable, the stand that the Pentagon chief in particular and the other officials there are taking against Al Jazeera, because we did not really say that American forces are deliberately firing at civilians.

What we carried along from Fallujah when we were still there, and we are still there, is some eye witness accounts of what's going on, and along with that we carried also pictures, pictures of people who were either killed or maimed or injured very severely, and those people were talking about what happened to them. They said that they were fired upon by American forces. We didn't say that.

It's an eye witness account. We never said that and we never carry any charges unproved.

AMANPOUR: Since the beginning of the war, Al Jazeera and increasingly Al Arabiyah and the other Arab networks, have been accused by the United States and by other Western governments of reporting a different reality, if you like, of showing for instance much more of the civilian injuries and deaths than any other network does, any other Western network does.

Tell me, do you agree with that, that you do report a different reality? And do you think that's good or -- I mean, why are you doing that?

AL SHEIKH: Well, actually, when two countries go to war it's natural that soldiers and military personnel are killed in that war. We expect that, because it is in this case two armies who will be fighting each other.

But when a city is (UNINTELLIGIBLE), like the situation in Fallujah, then those who will be killed or injured or several maimed are civilians. And I think as a media organization seeking to reach the truth and carry it along to the people, we should be interested in showing the impact of war on the lives of ordinary people. And this in my opinion is what matters.

This is not the marginal coast of the war, as Western media sometimes tend to call it. I mean, if a civilian is killed, whether he is a child, a woman, an old man, then I think this is the real thing that has to be carried.

AMANPOUR: Ahmed al Sheikh of Al Jazeera, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

And that is all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Tune in again next time for another look at how the media are handling the big issues.

I'm Christiane Amanpour, in London. Thank you for joining us.

END

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