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Critique of Worldwide Media Coverage

Aired May 8, 2004 - 19:30:00   ET


SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Sheila MacVicar, in London. Welcome to CNN'S INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories of the moment.
We begin this week with the disturbing pictures that have prompted outrage around the world. The graphic images show Iraqi prisoners being brutalized and sexually humiliated by American soldiers, the very people tasked with bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq.

Hundreds of photographs catalog the abuse, including one of a naked inmate being dragged around on a dog leash by a female officer. The shots have been circulating among military police of Baghdad's notorious Abu Ghraib Prison where much of the abuse is said to have taken place.

Iraqis say they are not surprised about what's happened, just that it has taken so long for visual evidence to reach the eyes of the world.

Should the photographs have been published or broadcast in this manner, or at all? In Britain, the "Daily Mirror" newspaper has been forced to defend the authenticity of photographs it has flashed across its front page showing British soldiers allegedly abusing an Iraqi prisoner.

Editor Piers Morgan rejects claim that he acted irresponsibly.


PIERS MORGAN, "DAILY MIRROR": I believe we've hit the tip of the iceberg here, and there were a network, a small number of people, who are committing frankly atrocities against POWs, detainees, in Basra. And when people say that the "Mirror" has put our troops lives at risk out there, I say the behavior of these rogue apples in this regiment have caused the problems on the ground for our troops.


MACVICAR: In London to discuss how the story has been covered by the Western media is Leonard Doyle, foreign editor of Britain's "Independent" newspaper, "Newsweek" correspondent Babak Dehghanpisheh in Baghdad -- he toured the Abu Ghraib Prison on Thursday -- and CNN's Dana Bash joins us from the White House.

Dana, let me begin with you. We have -- we're taping on Friday afternoon. We have Secretary of State Rumsfeld on the Hill this afternoon. What do you think is the likely fallout from that?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'll tell you what they're hoping here at the White House, Sheila. They're hoping that Secretary Rumsfeld can use his skills of being in Washington over the past 30 years and being an expert on how to personally affect damage control, if you will, and go up to Capital Hill and essentially try to layout what he says will be the facts of what he knew and didn't know and exactly what he will probably say will be some misunderstandings about the way this whole thing was handled inside the Pentagon.

We understand he is going to say he is sorry for the fact that he did not inform Congress. That has been a big part of what the outrage has been over, because the members of Congress certainly like to be informed, particularly because he was on Capital Hill briefing members of Congress the very same day that these pictures aired first on television.

So the White House is hoping that this will sort of calm things, but they are making clear -- the president again said on Thursday that he is sticking by his defense secretary although he is making it very clear in public and in private he is not happy about the fact that the president himself was not informed about the fact that these pictures existed before they actually aired on television.

MACVICAR: Leonard Doyle, obviously there's no question about the authenticity of those American pictures. I think that that is clearly established.

There is a question about the authenticity of the photographs which have been published in the "Daily Mirror." Do you question the voracity of those photographs or the voracity of the story? We now have an apparent third witness who has come forward who may it seems be testifying or telling stories to the "MOD."

LEONARD DOYLE, "INDEPENDENT": I think the "Daily Mirror" story is a bit of a side show here, and there is an argument as to whether the pictures are fake or real. But whether they are or not, we know that the American pictures are real, and that's where the real abuse is and that's where the real scale of the torture, which is what it is, is being seen.

And separately, even if the British pictures are subsequently shown to have been faked, we know without a doubt that there is underlying torture and there is real evidence on the british side as well. So in fact I think when the dust storm dies down over the actual British pictures, there is an actual story of abuse by British forces as well as by American forces, and that's not going to go away.

MACVICAR: Do you think it's appropriate that the people who are currently doing the investigating is the Ministry of Defense in this case?

DOYLE: I think there's a problem right across the board in that the jailers -- the Defense Department here is investigating its own people and there will, of course, be calls for a proper and thorough investigation. But you have this on a much larger scale in the case of the United States investigation.

The American military investigating its own forces at a time when we've said -- when the United States has said the International Criminal Court has no jurisdiction over American troops. Now they may get away with this, Rumsfeld may survive today, but this is a scandal that's going to grow, and these images that we've seen are going to live for a long time. May I suggest like the image of the young girl in Vietnam after she had been napalmed by American forces. That's the real damage. The tactics, the skill of Donald Rumsfeld are irrelevant, frankly.

MACVICAR: Babak, let me turn to you. You have been at Abu Ghraib. You've been talking to Iraqis about this. How are they perceiving all of this? And are they differentiating between the Americans, the British -- what's their view?

BABAK DEHGHANPISHEH, "NEWSWEEK": There's a sense of deep rage, really, and I don't think there's a differentiation between the Americans or the British. It's just sort of confirming what many of them have been saying for a long time, really.

And with the photographic evidence, maybe verbal accounts that have come out before, you know, there have been journalists who have heard these kinds of stories from detainees in recent weeks, in recent months. But with the photographic evidence, you know, it's just really irrefutable. Now again it just proves what some Iraqis have been saying for a long time.

MACVICAR: Now we've head the words "I'm sorry" yesterday from President Bush in the Rose Garden with King Abdullah, something that he did not so clearly say earlier in the week. Has that made a difference? Do Iraqis accept that the president is deeply regretful about it?

DEHGHANPISHEH: I think from the Iraqis that I've talked to, the impression was that the apology should have come in the earlier TV interviews with the Arab networks, and that this apology that came out afterward during the press conference with King Abdullah was sort of a grudging apology. It didn't come off as sincere to some Iraqis.

And again, you know, this just comes, this scandal comes at a time, you know, when things are not going great in Fallujah, are not going great in Najaf. And the United States has just lost a huge amount of credibility just in the past month, month and a half.

MACVICAR: Leonard, we haven't head the words "I'm sorry" yet from Tony Blair. Clearly they're taking this seriously. What reaction are we likely to hear from the prime minister? Will the prime minister, do you think, feel pushed because of just the preponderance of evidence waiting, particularly in this case it was the Americans, but also, as you have said, there is the very strong suggestion that there is a problem in the British camp as well.

DOYLE: I have no doubt that we will have to hear Tony Blair eat Humble pie in public, but that's not going to make any difference on the ground because the facts remain the same. This is an occupying force without any international sanction and the longer it is there, the longer the Iraqi rage is going to continue.

And what these photographs have frankly done is, they are a recruiting sergeant for the insurrection, for the rebellion against the occupying forces, and that is the disaster. The digital camera has become more effective than the suicide bomb, actually, in damaging the credibility of the occupying powers, and the trouble now is how do they get to the next stage.

We have this handover on the 30th of June, but they have not even begun discussions at the United Nations yet as to how they get to that place, how they get the real resolution together. They need to bring in the French. They need to see the real truth of this story. You need to enlarge the international community, bring them in, legitimize the presence of international forces in Iraq because clearly what we're seeing now is a crime, this torture of prisoners is a crime under international standards. They need to quickly get on the right side of the law, and I think that's the process that has to happen, and there's no sign of that happening.

An apology does not make a change of policy.

MACVICAR: Thank you Babak in Baghdad, Dana in Washington, Leonard here in London. Thank you all for joining me to talk about this.



CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: It was sickening and outrageous.

DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. SECY. OF DEFENSE: Totally unacceptable and un- American.

COLIN POWELL, U.S. SECY. OF STATE: Totally despicable.

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: I view those practices as abhorrent.


MACVICAR: America's outrage over the Iraq torture pictures, but do these words cut it in the Arab world? We'll look at how the Arab media is reporting the scandal.

Stay with us.


MACVICAR: Welcome back.

This week we're talking about how the world's media revealed graphic photographs of Iraqi prisoners being beaten, tortured and ridiculed. The images have prompted a full-scale investigation into the allegations against coalition soldiers.

In Iraq, though, and indeed throughout the Middle East, the Arab world is angry. It claims not to be surprised at the abuse. They say they knew about it all along.

They didn't expect this though: a statement from President Bush on two Arab television networks. Here's what he had to say on the U.S. funded station Al Hurra.


BUSH: First, people in Iraq must understand that I view those practices as abhorrent. They must also understand that what took place in that prison does not represent the America that I know.


MACVICAR: Joining me now from Washington with more on how this story is playing out is Hafez Al Mirazi of Al-Jazeera television.

Hafez, your network didn't get that interview this week. We know that Al-Jazeera is frequently criticized by the Bush administration. As you watched the president on Al-Hurra and Al-Arabiya, what were your thoughts? What did you think of what you saw there?

HAFEZ AL MIRAZI, AL-JAZEERA: The issue is not worlds of apology but the same way that maybe Secretary Rumsfeld is going to do for the congressmen. The issue is about the action that will be taken to correct what happened.

MACVICAR: What do you think people in the Arab world want to see happen? What are people talking about? What are they talking about on Al Jazeera and some of your talking shows?

AL MIRAZI: Well, on Al Jazeera and the rest of the Arab media, first of all there is a sense of vindication, that "we told you so." Why only when a U.S. network like CBS or a U.S. publication like "Washington Post," when they put out pictures, you believe it, you act on it. And when Al Jazeera has been putting pictures of civilian casualties, of wrongdoing and carrying military operations in Afghanistan and in Iraq, it is discredited, attacked by the same person, Secretary Rumsfeld, who is now being questioned, that we don't believe it.

So first of all, it is a sense of vindication that here is the U.S. media itself putting out evidence. The issue is really related to occupation. It is just one ugly chapter of what is perceived by our viewers as an occupation that has to end since the regime of Saddam Hussein is gone and there is no excuse anymore for the U.S. troops to be there.

MACVICAR: Given that the United States and perhaps Britain it seems are now in this mess and that their obviously having difficulties in Iraq, Fallujah, Najaf, now this particular very, very ugly incident, the British story of course still not entirely clear but under investigation with at least one more witness being interviewed by the Ministry of Defense, clearly wrongdoing on the part of American soldiers, how do you think then people in the Middle East want to see this moving forward?

AL MIRAZI: I believe it is very important, at least in the same press conference, that the president took the extra step by uttering the words of "sorry," not to be so convinced and so closed in the issue of Rumsfeld and his fate, that he will stay in my cabinet. I think leaving it open to investigation and that nobody will be over accountability or anyone will be paying for whatever cover up if we find it would be much better.

So I think the idea of the head of the Defense Department to step down might a little bit relieve people over there, and also the idea that the handover on June 30 maybe will carry more meaning than it used to be a week or two weeks before that scandal took place.

MACVICAR: Talking about the situation, the military, the strategic situation on the ground in Iraq, how do you think these revelations, these pictures, the clear images of torture, are going to play out in terms of incitement and in terms of insurgency?

AL MIRAZI: Well, unfortunately, to radicalize the moderates. It would make it very difficult for people who used to say that there is too much exaggeration about the mistreatment or the handling of things in Iraq by U.S. troops, unless really there will be an independent investigation on a wide scale, these kinds of abuses took place.

MACVICAR: Hafez Al Mirazi, of Al Jazeera, in Washington, thank you very much for joining me.

Still to come on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, sultry singer or heavy- handed media mogul? Italy's Silvio Berlusconi is blamed for a top-level walkout at the country's state broadcaster.


MACVICAR: Welcome back.

Unlike many Western media, Italy's television stations ally themselves strongly to a particular party or coalition. It's a popular recipe with viewers, but it makes some journalists question their ability to report in a balanced way.

Now two of the top names in Italian television are putting their money where their mouth is. Lucia Annunziata has quit as president of the state RAI Broadcaster over what she says is the government's, quote, "stifling interference." She's the second RAI luminary to step down inside a week. The well-known anchor Lilli Gruber has also resigned.

To debate the issue of media freedom versus regulation, Ms. Gruber joins me now from Rome. And in London, I'm joined by William Ward, correspondent for Italy's "Panorama" magazine and the newspaper "Il Reformista."

Lilli, let me begin with you. You were one of the best-known faces of RAI news. Why did you quit?


I resigned because I felt that I was operating in an environment that was not conducive anymore for fair and balanced reporting because the interference of the government that has been criticized, as you know, both by the organization Freedom House and by the European parliament reached a level where staying on would have damaged my reputation as a credible journalist.

MACVICAR: Now you -- just to be more precise about this, it was a particular incident where you basically had reached the end of the line, but you've been with RAI, you've been through that kind of government involvement in reporting in the past. What was different now, do you think?

GRUBER: Well, I think that we can say I've been working for the public service for 20 years, and of course there has always been political interference and government interference on Italian public television, but never before have we seen such a temptation to homogenize all the information to the benefit of the government.

And, you know, then it's not only this. It was pressure of continuous censorship of political (UNINTELLIGIBLE) appointment, of news manipulation. It was really, I mean, to me, unacceptable. I couldn't stand it anymore. I mean, I couldn't do it anymore.

MACVICAR: Now, William Ward, you argue that in fact this is the way that Italy's media has always operated and that there is not a lot of difference now.

WILLIAM WARD, JOURNALIST: Yes. I mean, Lilli did say that, to say fairly she did admit to that, but I think that she's being very partial in putting the highlight on what's just going on at the moment, because when the political party that she's about to stand as a candidate for was in power, indeed being a government in power they would control the RAI, it's a state broadcaster. I didn't ever hear Lilli Gruber complain then that she felt that they were being unfair towards the then opposition.

And frequently the RAI and RAI-1, the channel for which she's the leading anchorperson on, was outrageous in how partial it was against Berlusconi and his political career. The fact that he is in a huge conflict of interest which he has not resolved himself, and that is his own fault, is a different question. I don't think that it's fair to call this -- to say that right now the RAI under the Berlusconi government is indulging in some outrageous censorship which was not already present in previous governments, one of which, the leading party of which, Lilli is about to become a distinguished candidate for.

MACVICAR: Lilli, you do have a political -- go ahead.

GRUBER: I've never, ever been silent on what was going on at RAI, at public television in terms of government interference. I've always raised my voice, together with many other journalists. I've done it in the late 80's and 90's and I've done it when the left was in power. So I'm sorry to tell you that, but I've worked in the trade union to denounce the continuous interference of the political parties.

What I was trying to say was that never before it has been so strong. And it's quite easy to understand why since Berlusconi came to power the situation has worsened so much, because I mean, it's obvious. You have a gentleman by the name of Mr. Berlusconi who already was a media tycoon before he decided to go into politics, and now he is in control, directly or indirectly, of the whole television plus all the other businesses that he has.

MACVICAR: You are now going to stand for office. If you are elected, will you push for reform of Italy's public media?

GRUBER: Of course I will, but let me just say first, Sheila, that to me, who has been working for 20 years for the fact of public service, the fact that I'm running in a free and democratic election makes me feel perfectly faithful to my desire of serving the public in the future, and if I'm not able to do that in the media business, I'll try and I'm quite sure that I'll be able to do that in the European parliament.

When I was a journalist, the political party William is referring to had nothing to do with my job as a reporter and as an anchor, just to make that clear, because I've always been against political party affiliation and in fact I've never had a political party affiliation. And I think -- and I criticized the censor left government when they were in power because they did not find a serious regulation of the conflict of interest and of the media sector in Italy. They should have done it, of course they should have done it, and it was a big, big mistake, and I think it was one of the reasons why they lost the elections.

So for sure I will try to do my best in the European parliament to get rid of this conflict of interest, no doubt about that.

MACVICAR: I mean, William, you're nodding here in agreement, but do you think this is something that Italians truly want and something that could make a difference, for example, on how they vote?

WARD: It would be, in an ideal world, which, you know, Lilli Gruber quite perfectly, correctly says she is fighting for, that would be the case. But Italians have a kind of worldly wise attitude, and it's like the thing on a side of a package of cigarettes. It is written, you know, on the side of the packet, smoking kills, and yet people continue to smoke.

Italians know when they watch RAI-1 news that they're seeing stuff which is being politically censored, but they carry on watching it all the same. They shrug their shoulders.

MACVICAR: Well, there we must leave it. Lilli Gruber, in Rome, thank you very much. William Ward, here in London, thank you both very much for joining me.

Finally, let's update you on a story we've been following here on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS.

Supermodel Naomi Campbell has won a landmark victory in her privacy lawsuit against Britain's "Daily Mirror" newspaper. The law lords have ruled that the tabloid paper had gone too far in publishing details of Campbell's fight against drug addiction, breaching confidence.

The supermodel was awarded several thousand dollars in damages, but the mirror will have to fork out around $2 million in legal costs. The ruling puts editor Piers Morgan under even more pressure. As we mentioned earlier, he's currently embattled in a dispute over the authenticity of British soldiers allegedly abusing Iraqi prisoners. Critics of the ruling say it opens the door to a privacy law.

That's all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Tune in again next time for another look at how the media are handling the big issues. Im Sheila MacVicar, thanks for joining us.



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