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Critique of Worldwide Media Coverage

Aired July 24, 2004 - 21:00:00   ET


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Fionnuala Sweeney, in London. Welcome to CNN'S INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories.
These pictures tell of unimaginable strife. More than 1 million displaced and countless dead, the numbers next to impossible to corroborate. Up until now, few journalists have managed to get into Sudan's Darfur region to reveal the truths about what some are calling the next Rwanda.

This week, the U.S. administration threatened to impose direct sanctions on Sudan and together with the United Nations issued a strong warning to Khartoum.


COLIN POWELL, U.S. SECY. OF STATE: I also pointed out to them as clearly as I could that I, the president and the international community remain completely dissatisfied with the security situation. Not enough is being done to break the hold of the Janjaweed. Rapes are still occuring. People do not feel safe leaving the camps to go out and forage for food. The situation remains very, very serious and first and foremost, security has to be dealt with.


SWEENEY: To talk about the challenges of covering this story, I'm joined now in Johannesburg by ITN's Neil Connery. Neal just got back from the Darfur region. And CNN's Jim Clancy. Jim has covered Africa extensively, including the Rwanda genocide.

Neil, let me ask you, how did you get access, first of all, to the Darfur region?

NEIL CONNERY, ITV CORRESPONDENT: Well, there were huge problems for the journalists on the ground who arrive in Khartoum trying to cover this story. When they get to Khartoum, they have to wait for a travel permit to be issued by the authorities there before they can then get down to Darfur.

In our case, that took five days before we were issued that, but thankfully we had the help of the World Health Organization on the ground, which allowed us to get access to Darfur much quicker than other people had been able to do so. But for those journalists who have to wait for the travel permit, some have waited up to two weeks, and even when they get down to Darfur, they then have to check in with more security checks on the ground.

There is a great deal of bureaucracy in covering this whole story and I know speaking to a lot of journalists in Khartoum, an immense amount of frustration as well in trying to get in there and trying to get the story out as quickly as possible.

SWEENEY: And as we know, Neil, the government has been part of the problem here. How much help or lack of help are they willing to give?

CONNERY: Well, it's interesting. After Kofi Annan visited Khartoum back at the beginning of July, they relaxed the condition on the aide workers who want to get down to Darfur. Those restrictions, though, really haven't been lifted in the case of journalists.

As I say, we still have to wait for those travel permits. A lot of time spent in Khartoum meeting with officials before we can get down there, before we even begin to do our job of trying to see what is happening on the ground.

I must say, in my own experience, I found the Sudanese officials quite helpful, but you can appreciate that they have many, many more journalists coming in now, trying to cover this story. They're under a lot of pressure themselves.

SWEENEY: Jim Clancy, you've covered Rwanda. This is being talked of, as we mentioned, as the next genocide. How do you define genocide and what are your thoughts about what is taking place in Darfur?

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, clearly what we saw in Rwanda was genocide, where people were taken out, because of their believed or perceived ethnic background, and slaughtered.

I'm not sure that that's what we're looking at yet in the Sudan. What you have had very definitely is government helicopters attacking villages. The Janjaweed, predominantly Arab militia, then bribing them off of their land, and there are some indications that there are moves to make that ethnic cleansing more permanent.

That's the concern right now. I think there is a hazard in talking about genocide, taking it too far.

What is clearly needed is immediate action, and that calls for some analysis about how you're going to solve the problem. Putting pressure on Khartoum may not in the end really result in the solution that the international community wants to see --

SWEENEY: And Jim --

CLANCY: Go ahead.

SWEENEY: -- let me pick up on that point, because when you talk about immediate action, what we saw in Rwanda was taking place for quite sometime, and it was being covered by the media. Why has it taken 15 months for international action to be -- seem to be about to happen now? And how can the media help in this?

CLANCY: Well, I think the media has got a role here in terms of pointing out some of the realities of the situation on the ground.

Sudan is a country with a history of problems. Is this Muslims versus Christians or animus? Not really. This is herders against farmers. And black Africans being the farmers in this case that have been driven off of their land.

In solving the problem, the pressure has been put on Khartoum, but many people are asking the question whether or not Khartoum, (1) has the will to do this and, (2) is really in a position to solve the problem, whether it's going to take international intervention and that we should move on to that right now.

SWEENEY: Let me ask you, Neil, this gained international attention a few months ago, in April, and you just mentioned that many more journalists have been coming in in the last couple of weeks. Why do you think it's taken so long for journalists to become interested in the story and put it on the world agenda?

CONNERY: Well, it's very frustrating that it has taken so long to reach this point, this week, the coverage that Sudan is getting.

We were aware, really, at the beginning of this year that the scale of the problem had developed into something much, much more serious. We ourselves tried to get in there at the end of January.

Of course, it's very difficult, with other stories that have been going on this year. Iraq has got a huge amount of coverage, and I think it's very difficult for the networks, in deciding which stories to cover and which ones not to, it's been very frustrating from a point of view of an Africa correspondent in terms of the fact that we've waited so long to get into Darfur.

But we have got in there now and I think the important thing is that this story is at last getting the coverage that it deserves. But it does raise a wider point about how we cover the third world on issues such as this. As journalists, we should be in there earlier. We should be letting people -- we should let people know what is happening much earlier, and I think in this case, I think the media does have some blame in waiting too long to get in there.

SWEENEY: Now, Jim, we're looking at what's taking place at the United Nations and we're already beginning to see a kind of Arab backlash, where Arabs don't want to see this becoming an Arab bashing resolution, if it comes to that.

You've covered Africa and been involved extensively in Africa. What role do Africans have to play in this? The African Union, African journalists. Are they doing what they can, in your experience?

CLANCY: Well, for African journalists, it's really a question of having the resources to go and cover a story like Sudan. They have relied on the international community, really, to go out and cover the more remote, costly stories. That's understandable.

On the other hand, I think when you're looking at the African Union you see very much of the will, the will to get involved here, to see that this is solved. The African Union is in a position of leadership on this one, according to the officials I talked to at the state department.

The problem is, they don't have the resources either to solve the problem. I think when you pull back and you look at the journalists in all of this, what Neil has been telling us, absolutely true. I'm afraid right now that we're perhaps losing sight of the fact that the rebel groups that have been involved in this haven't gotten nearly enough credit for the disaster that's been visited upon more than a million people in the Darfur region of Sudan who have been made homeless. The rebels participation in negotiations is essential, and the pressure has to be kept up on them as well, as well as, of course, on Khartoum.

SWEENEY: A story that won't be going away anytime soon. Jim Clancy, thank you very much for joining us. Neil Connery, in Johannesburg, thank you also.

And up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, bitter words between these two leaders. We get the media view on the latest spat between Israel and France.

Stay with us.


SWEENEY: Welcome back.

"Unacceptable and an insult to France." Those were the words from the French Ministry in response to comments from the Israeli prime minister.

Ariel Sharon warned French Jews to leave France because of rising anti-Semitic incidents.

Although more such cases were reported this year than last year, many in the Jewish community are satisfied with the actions taken by the French government to combat it. French President Jacques Chirac says Mr. Sharon is not welcome in the country until he explains his remarks.

Well, to gauge what the press in Israel and France are making of this, I'm joined now by Charles Lambroschini, deputy editor of "Le Figaro," and in Jerusalem, Brett Stephens, editor of the "Jerusalem Post."

Brett, my first question to you. A prominent Israeli columnist said that Ariel Sharon really had no intention in making these remarks, bar getting is five minutes on television and in the media. Is that something with which you'd agree?

BRETT STEPHENS, "JERUSALEM POST": Look, the remark was made in response to a question at a function for a visiting delegation of American Jews, so it was basically a flip remark. I don't think he made it in order to cause a ripple in France. In fact, I don't think that was his intention at all.

I do think that it's -- Sharon has been calling -- it's one of the consistent themes of his premiership. He calls on Jews to emigrate to Israel. He thinks that it's in the national interest for 1 million Jews to come here in the next few years, as Russian Jews came 10 years ago.

So it's not -- it was not an uncharacteristic remark, and I think there is a certain amount of surprise that the French president took the kind of umbrage that he did.

SWEENEY: But Ariel Sharon is a smart man and politically very astute. He must have known, even if it was in answer to a question that was put to him, that this was going to cause quite a ripple.

STEPHENS: Well, even smart men make -- slip up. Look, there is a context here --

SWEENEY: It was a slip up?

STEPHENS: Well, I don't think that he probably intended the diplomatic gaff, but I think that it comes out of a certain context of a very strained Franco-Israeli relationship.

Israel has been furious with France for a number of years, most recently because of its leading role in bringing Europe behind the General Assembly vote against the fence this week, and so I think there might have been a subconscious context to his remarks.

SWEENEY: Charles Lambroschini, do you agree that this was an off-the- cuff comment, in a way, that it wasn't a prime time remark, even though it did seem to get headlines around the world?

CHARLES LAMBROSCHINI, "LE FIGARO": Well, prime ministers of Sharon's caliber are not supposed to make such boo-boos. They're supposed to control what they are saying. And as far as France was concerned, if there was such a reaction it's because we here have the feeling that France is not anti-Jewish. There may be anti-Jewish acts, and that's for sure. Nevertheless, those acts do not express a deep-rooted policy by the French government against Jews or even deep-rooted anti-Jewish feelings in the nation, as such.

SWEENEY: Is there a sense in France that perhaps there is clearly a problem here of anti-Semitism that's been acknowledged by everyone. Is the French media actually accentuating that bias, given the uproar there was in the French press over the past week?

LAMBROSCHINI: We covered, in "Le Figaro" or in other newspapers and on television and the radio stations, we've covered extensively any anti- Jewish actions, of course, and even this fake anti-Jewish incident in the subway, where a hysterical woman invented the whole thing.

But if we had such a reaction, it is because we are aware of the problem and we don't want to cover it up.

SWEENEY: Let me turn to you, Brett. There was a huge uproar in the Israeli press over the past few days about this, and there are some who would consider the Israeli media to have taken a very neurotic view of this. What is your opinion?

STEPHENS: In reference to what my colleague in Paris said, you know, I'm reminded of a comment when in the run up to the Iraq War, during a summit in the E.U., President Chirac told his colleagues in the accession states in Eastern Europe that they should shut up and I think that is probably a remark that was equally off the cuff and one that I'm sure he later regretted. I mean, these sorts of things happen.

One thing that is important to bear in mind, I think most people in Israel understand that there is no anti-Semitism in French government policy, even if it is somewhat hostile to the state of Israel politically. People are sophisticated enough here to make that distinction between what the policy of the French government is, what the broad sentiment of the French people are, which I think is totally against anti-Semitic acts, but also to recognize the fact that there has been a significant rise in anti- Jewish incidents.

SWEENEY: Indeed. Charles, how much of this is about a clash between two very large personalities on the world stage and how much does the French press kind of buy into this and feel the fire, so to speak?

LAMBROSCHINI: Oh, it's been a long story. I think that between France and Israel, there is a fundamental difference in the analysis of the conflict, and this explains that. The French are convinced that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the mother of all conflicts in the Middle East and if you could solve this one then you might have a lowering of the animosity from the Muslims toward the Western world.

So, again, to Jacques Chirac it's only a question of personality clash with Sharon. It is indeed a conflict in geo-strategic terms that goes back to De Gaulle, back at the time of the war in '67, when De Gaulle said don't go to war. So it's not only a personality clash, it's indeed a conflict in the interpretation of the conflict.

SWEENEY: All right, that's an excellent analysis. Charles Lambroschini, in Paris, thank you very much for joining us; also Brett Stephens, in Jerusalem.

Time now for a quick break, but when we return, blogging their way into the Democrat and Republican conventions. But should self-proclaimed political pundits be given the same platform as journalists?

Don't go away.



They are witty and outspoken, often irreverent, and now (AUDIO GAP) on the Internet. They are the bloggers, political pundits who provide commentary on their personal Web sites. Both Democrats and Republicans alike are acknowledging their power and for the first time a select few bloggers are getting credentials alongside journalists for the Democrat and Republican conventions.

I'm joined now in Bost by Alex Jones, director of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. And in New York, Patrick Belton, from OxBlog. Patrick is one of those bloggers accredited to the conventions this year.

PATRICK BELTON, OXBLOG: Hello. Well, a blogger is a practitioner of Internet journalism. What distinguishes a blog from an Internet magazine is the presence of an editor.

So bloggers write in a medium where there is not an excessive startup cost and they write without another presence being in there to filter between them and the reader.

SWEENEY: And Alex Jones, would you agree that blogging falls within the realms of journalism?

ALEX JONES, HARVARD UNIV.: Well, journalism is a sort of blunt instrument. I mean, it covers an awful lot of things. Is public relations journalism? There are some people who think it is. Is blogging a form of journalism? I think you could probably say it is, but I think that there are limits to our vocabulary right now about making distinctions.

I don't think blogging is journalism as most people think of journalism in that it doesn't -- it's not just a matter of an editor, from my perspective. It's a matter of reporting and verifying information, and I think that within the world of blogging, there are some blogs who take great pains to do more of that kind of thing, but for the most part blogging is not about reporting, it's about commentary, and that's a different kind of thing.

SWEENEY: Patrick, do you agree with that? I mean, really, you're giving your opinion about something rather than --


BELTON: Well, I'm happy to give my opinion about this too.

I think I have a slightly different definition that I'm proceeding from than Alex is about journalism.

What I see us doing is principally, under a fairly established sub- genre of opinion journalism, where your principle duty isn't to report on the world but rather to present original new commentary, new analyses, making explicit and questioning unspoken assumptions and also commenting on the way that reporting happens, and I think that's something that bloggers can really contribute.

Bloggers talk to each other online. They talk to other blogs. They comment on print and broadcast news. So while Maureen Dowd (ph), for instance, doesn't have to respond every morning to what other commentators to the left, to the right, said, and the "New York Times" isn't going to go and reach into Page 8 of the previous day's "Washington Post," bloggers do that, and I think that both tend to make blogging as a unit -- the tally of bloggers a running conversation that tends to be quite polite and evidence driven.

SWEENEY: Patrick, the word anorak comes to mind and that comes from my childhood, but it was where people would have a fixation on a particular thing, it might be radio presenters or people in news or something like that, and they would constantly communicate with each other.

How much as the Internet to do with this in just allowing you to communicate a lot faster? And why do you think it is that you are being taken seriously by the Democrats and the Republicans?

BELTON: Oh, right, well, I guess it would be very bad manners to say it is a lack of taste, so I'm just going to be grateful.

I think that 2004 is really, really very interesting, because this is going to be the blog that represents symbolically more than substantively the fact that there is now this third type of journalism, Internet journalism, that is going to intervene between and connect the public space in which politics is conducted to a domestic space of people's living rooms, closets, bedrooms and offices.

1924 introduced radio and in that year the nation said, well, you know, this is going to be a one-off fad and by 1928 politics will have returned to more solid stuff. In 1952 the Republican Convention introduced television for the first time nationally, and I think 2004 will be remembered for being the convention that introduces Internet journalism as a third medium.

SWEENEY: All right. Alex, there is a point that Patrick is making, that this could be a development that is here to stay.

JONES: I think that there is absolutely truth to what he is saying in the sense that blogging is here to stay. I think that blogging has already established itself as being an important player in the sort of information game.

What I am concerned about, frankly, is that blogging is now going to be needing to find a way to establish itself on a commercial basis, because while a lot of bloggers do what they do right now for love, it's not going to be an enduring way to support a blogging world that is aborning (ph). I think it is just too much power there and too much potential for manipulation and for influence to expect that it's not going to be, you know, approached by people who are going to try to find ways to exploit it.

SWEENEY: Where will it go then? Does this mean our society is becoming more driven towards an opinionated culture? And will only some bloggers survive and some will do it really just for love rather than money -- Alex.

JONES: I think what's going to happen is that there is going to be a range of types of blogs, and some of them are going to be more commercial and some of them are going to be more agenda driven, and the thing that I think is worst about this from my perspective, and I'm thinking as a journalist in the traditional sense, I think that the blogging phenomenon is attractive, it is fun, it's candid, it's witty, it allows people to say what they think and that's always very enjoyable, but I think that in the commercial world of journalism, the kind of journalism I'm talking about is extensive. It requires reporters to go out and look at people and ask questions and confront things, and that I think is something that is going to become increasingly unlikely to be supported by commercial enterprises because blogging is so much cheaper and in many ways maybe much more appealing to a younger audience.

SWEENEY: All right, Patrick, I'll give you a very quick final word, literally 10 seconds.

BELTON: Great, thank. I think that blogs aren't here to displace print and broadcast journalism. I think they're there to compliment it --

SWEENEY: All right.

BELTON: -- and there are things that blogs are good at and there are things that they aren't and I think it's going to be a tripod from here forward.

SWEENEY: All right. There we have to leave it. Thank you both very much, gentlemen, for joining us from New York and Boston, Alex Jones and Patrick Belton.

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 Fionnuala Sweeney. Thanks for joining us.



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