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Critique of Worldwide Media Coverage

Aired August 15, 2004 - 10:30:00   ET


WALTER RODGERS, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Walter Rodgers, in London. Welcome to CNN'S INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories.
They're images not unfamiliar to us. Starving children, the threat of disease and death, and stories sometimes too horrific to tell. As the situation in the Darfur region of Sudan gets more desperate by the day, what are the responsibilities of the editors, the news managers, to keep this story high on the news agenda?

CNN's chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour joins us from Darfur.

Christiane, you've covered Africa before. Famine is not unique. But what makes this story so compelling for you?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTL. CORRESPONDENT: Well, because, Walt, firstly, it's 10 years after the tragedy of Rwanda, when the world was rightly castigated for not responding in time, when the press didn't really respond as it might have done, and a million people were slaughtered.

Here you've got this active military campaign that has been going on for a year and a half. It has taken almost a year and a half for the world to kick into ear and to notice what's going on here. There have been some high profile political delegations over the last few months, but what's happened is that it's really been going on under the radar screen.

And so now you're at crisis point with 2 million people in desperate need, entirely dependent on international humanitarian aid. You've got a potential of disease now that the rainy season has started, and you've got a massive political and military problem that the international community has to work out between the Sudanese government and the rebels.

RODGERS: Why has it taken CNN 18 months to get there?

AMANPOUR: Well, it hasn't, actually. I'm glad you asked.

We were here just a little, a few months ago, but we did it from the other side, from Chad, because at the time we couldn't get visas to get in.

I think you're right. It's taken the media sometime to respond to this situation for all sorts of reasons. As you know, foreign news is not as easy to cover anymore. CNN has kept as much a spotlight as it's possibly been able to do and we have got here just as soon as we've been able to get visas here.

The Sudanese government, for obvious reasons, was very, very tight on its dispensation of visas and access and it's not just been for journalists, but also for humanitarian workers and others trying to attend to the real tragedy of this situation. Now that's opening up somewhat more.

RODGERS: To what extent is the rest of the global media present there now?

AMANPOUR: Well, not in great numbers. Certainly some of the European, in particular European television, British television, has been here and has been doing as much as it can to highlight this situation.

There have been major newspapers here, including major U.S. newspapers, but not yet major U.S. television organizations.

RODGERS: The European Union said it would be inappropriate to apply the word genocide to what's happening where you are. Do you concur?

AMANPOUR: You know, Walter, there's been an ongoing argument about terminology.

The European Union has said it's not. The United Nations has not yet ruled on it. The United States House of Representatives have said it is. Human rights groups have said it is.

Basically, you know, as in many, many instances, this argument about terminology sometimes obscures the immediate intense humanitarian crisis.

You know, we went through this in Rwanda and in Bosnia 10 years ago. The international community was arguing about whether or not it was genocide. In the end, in Rwanda and in Sarajevo and the rest of Bosnia it was proved to have fallen into the international guidelines that condemned it as genocide and indeed the perpetrators have been on trial at international tribunals over the last several years.

It remains to be seen whether the United Nations, the final arbiter on this, does come down on this side, but some -- as I say, some have called it genocide already.

RODGERS: Who has the greater responsibility here? Journalists, like yourself, or the African governments?

AMANPOUR: Well, clearly the African governments and the international community. Our responsibility, though, is to report it. Those governments have the responsibility to work out solutions and to prevent this massive violation of human rights and basic rights happening in their own countries, but we have a responsibility as well. I would call it a professional responsibility, to be here, to be bear witness, and to make sure that these kinds of things do not happen in obscurity.

RODGERS: And, finally, what image will you remember most and longest after you wash the dust off?

AMANPOUR: For me, the most poignant image was this 18-month-old boy who was placed in this sling where they have to weigh him, and he was really skin and bones, match stick limbs, and we still don't know whether this child is going to survive. That is the most poignant image, and that reinforces, really, our responsibility to come here and at least report on this suffering so that it doesn't happen in silence.

RODGERS: Thank you, Christiane.

I'm joined now in studio by Dapo Ayawali (ph), executive director of the Center for African Policies and Peace Studies.

Dapo (ph), this is a program about how the media covers the news. As an African, critique for us, please, how the global media has covered the famine and crisis in Sudan.

DAPO AYAWALI (ph), CTR. FOR AFRICAN POLICIES AND PEACE STUDIES: The issue in Sudan has been -- and many civil society organizations and policy research institutions have been advocating for greater intervention, swifter intervention, in Sudan since about last year. And it's only until it became a sort of sensational issue, you know, the usual stories, famine, disaster, mayhem and murder, that the international media decided to respond.

I mean, I would think that even though that the media has an objective role, and some would argue not an interventionist role -- that's another separate issue for debate. But I would think that the media does play a critical role in early warning about this kind of conflict, what's going on, and how -- and even to stimulate analysis and debate on how swift intervention can be put forward before we have this kind of very, very dismal and miserable circumstances that we find in Sudan today.

RODGERS: Starving children on television is a clich‚?

AYAWALI (ph): It's a clich‚, but I would not -- I would also say that it's important for the international audience to know this because it -- I mean, this helps to sort of galvanize international attention and even intervention of the international community to respond to those challenges.

But I am however saying, though, is that there is a broader picture and for the audience to understand the broader spectrum of events as well as the context of events, then these also should be presented to them.

RODGERS: Are you concerned that once the dog days of August pass and the news flow and the pace picks up again in September, the story in Sudan, the tragedy, will be eclipsed?

AYAWALI (ph): If the international news media sees the importance of showing these African news items, both good and bad, stay on the agenda, then definitely it will be able to provide nt just, you know, information and analysis on humanitarian disasters or conflicts, but also in the progress and advances that are being made on the continent.

RODGERS: Thank you so much.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, the storyteller becomes the story. Why some are calling Al Jazeera a threat to national security in Iraq.

Stay with us.



They are in the news some say almost as much as they report on it. Besides being a thorn in the side of the U.S. government, Al Jazeera, the Arab satellite television network, seems to many to have a strident anti- Western religious and political agenda. Now it seems the Iraqi interim government feels that way too.

Last weekend the channel's Baghdad offices were closed and banned from working for a month, the Iraqi government citing national security concerns as the reason for the ban.

They accuse Al Jazeera of dangerous and inflammatory reporting.

I'm joined now in New York by Walid Phares, professor of Middle East studies at Florida Atlantic University and here in studio by Yusri Fouda, London correspondent for Al Jazeera.

Yusri, let me begin by asking you, what is this mass appeal in the Arab world Al Jazeera commands?

YUSRI FOUDA, AL JAZEERA: I think Al Jazeera is nothing short of a revolution in our part of the world. Not only as a media phenomenon. In my opinion, it's also perhaps more importantly an educational phenomenon, a political phenomenon, a cultural phenomenon.

I think it's making things happen in the Middle East. When it came to being, the Arab citizens just couldn't believe themselves when they were able to pick up the phone and speak their minds live into a program. That never happened before.

RODGERS: I spoke with some friends in Baghdad on the telephone and asked them about your programming, to get a feel for it, because of course it is in Arabic, and I was told that the complaints against it are that it promotes insurgent videos, airs videos of hostages, dead American soldiers, and it's a platform for insurgency and jihad. How would you address those criticisms?

FOUDA: I don't think so. I think the American forces or the British forces or the alliance forces in Iraq, and now it's the interim government in Iraq, seems a little bit nervous now. It's really curious to me why now the interim Iraqi government decided to close down Al Jazeera's offices, especially in light of what is happening now in Najaf and elsewhere in Iraq.

RODGERS: Walid, let me ask you about this. As Iraq lurches forward, either towards chaos or development, do you think the new Iraqi government shot itself in the foot by shutting down Al Jazeera again?

WALID PHARES, FLORIDA ATLANTIC UNIVERSITY: Well, in normal circumstances, a normal government would not and should not shut a normal media. But what is happening in Iraq is basically a war.

Unfortunately, the Iraqi government finds itself now at war with a movement, an ideological movement, and the perception of the Iraqi government, as you said earlier, is that Al Jazeera, in addition to being a very sophisticated medium, people are very well trained and well perceived in the Arab world, is promoting an ideology which at the end of the day converged with the ideology of the insurgents. In this case, as you said, the jihadists on the one hand and all anti-government on the other hand.

RODGERS: Now, let me ask you, you've written that Al Jazeera is an attempt to incite a worldwide campaign by Muslims against the United States. Is that hyperbole or exaggeration?

PHARES: I don't think that was exact quote, but Al Jazeera, with its panels, not just the anchoring, espouses an ideology of jihadism, encourages -- actually you can see it if you put together the struggles in Kashmir, in Pakistan, in the Philippines, all the way to the Middle East and Chechnya, you see that the panels and the intellectuals who are brought in, in general terms, are supportive of the jihad movement and give a lot of legitimacy to it, and that's why there is a huge support among basically the fundamentalist militants, but also others as well.

RODGERS: But, Walid, one last question on this, as a matter of principle, you're in the United States, you see that FOX NEWS routinely reports uncritically on the Bush administration, the religious right in the United States. In a matter of principle, how does that differ from what Al Jazeera does?

PHARES: Oh, big time, because in the United States, although I do not endorse or support any of the media that you are talking about officially, they do not call for a violent armed struggle against the government or other factions. That is the major difference.

It's not criticism, and the Iraqi government in shutting down Al Jazeera, although I do not support that decision, is not talking about opinions. It's talking about support to an armed uprising against the government. That is the problem between the Baghdad government and Mr. Allawi and Al Jazeera, I feel so.



FOUDA: I don't understand what he means by support.

RODGERS: But do you call for -- does your network call for a jihad, a holy war, in.

FOUDA: Of course not! I mean, this is a big lie. We do not call for a jihad. Why should we?

We're just journalists. We're trying to report on what happens there, and what happens there, as he just acknowledged, is a war, and war has its ramifications and complexities. And I remember the time everybody was heckling the U.S. administration decisions during the action in Iraq, the main action in Iraq, when we showed some of the American soldiers bodies in the street. Now everybody looks at them here. We had the right to know about that too, as Americans.

But it's about the timing. When. It was never about -- when you take, for instance, the tapes of the so-called insurgents or the tapes of al Qaeda, it was never, never, ever at any point in time about the tapes themselves. It was always about who has the right to get hold of the tapes, who has the right to broadcast them, how, how much of them, when and for what purpose.

RODGERS: If you keep showing unedited these videos that the insurgents show of hostages, masked men with guns on terrified people, isn't that encouraging hostage-taking?

FOUDA: Well, it wouldn't be our fault. It's not Al Jazeera's fault.

RODGERS: Excuse me. Is that a yes or a no?

FOUDA: Well, I mean, this is something happening. It's exactly the same argument like should we or should we not show victims after a certain strike somewhere in Iraq, or anywhere for that matter.

I think it's the right of the people to know. There is a movement of resistance in Iraq. We would be really fooling ourselves if we do not acknowledge that.

RODGERS: Yusri, are you a free press? And if you are a free press, have you done any investigative reporting on how much Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda have hurt the image of Muslims around the world?

FOUDA: Well, I have, myself and my program, which is called "Top Secret," which is an investigative -- I am the only journalist on earth who interviewed the masterminds of 9/11. The CIA, the FBI or any other intelligence agency did not know what this guy, which now he is referred to as the mastermind, thanks to Al Jazeera, and thanks to me, to tell you the truth, that I took a risk with my own life, to come back with facts, not arguments, not rhetoric.

I had 48 hours with them and they told me all about it. I came back and I (UNINTELLIGIBLE) out and I made all the details of 9/11 available to everybody. So we took a risk on our reputation, on our very lives, so that we can also contribute to the media scene in the world.

RODGERS: Walid, last question to you, does Al Jazeera classify as a free press?

PHARES: Al Jazeera is very professional. Al Jazeera follows the system of a free press, but Al Jazeera has an ideology which is jihadism around the world.

RODGERS: Walid, thank you very much. Yusri, thank you very much. Fascinating subject.

Still to come on the program, the Greeks achieve their Herculean Olympic task, but have they been unfairly treated in the international press?

Don't go away.


RODGERS: Welcome back.

The Olympics are on track. So far so good, it would seem, as we go to air.

But Greece's apparent readiness has come after months of mocking from the international media, many saying the Greeks could never cope with this Herculean task. Adding insult to injury, stories about doping and bribery have been a key focus of news coverage as well.

So have the press got egg on their faces after months of Greek bashing?

I'm joined now in Athens by Tom Ellis from the Greek station Antenna TV, and Michael Binyon of the "Times of London."

Michael, at times it seemed as if your newspaper had an editorial campaign, that the Greeks would never make it. Do you have egg on your face?

MICHAEL BINYON, "TIMES OF LONDON": I don't think so, because what we always wanted was that the Greeks should make it, and the campaign was to try to put a bit of urgency into the building program and make sure that everything was ready.

It is ready. It's triumphant. They've succeeded. And I think the "Times" has applauded the Greek effort. But it was a close-run thing.

RODGERS: So you're calling it benevolent prodding.

BINYON: That's what we have, yes.

RODGERS: Why were the European media at times so eager to see the Greeks fall on their faces?

BINYON: I don't think they were ever eager, but I think they certainly thought they would fall on their faces. They thought that the building words were just so far behind, that there was so much mismanagement and chaos, and that the security operation for one reason or other was so overwhelming, that somehow a small country like Greece would never cope.

RODGERS: But there were times when it almost seemed the papers were invoking Greek stereotypes which were less than flattering.

BINYON: That's certainly true, and I think this is true of any big event like that. People look and see, well, what do we know about Greece? We know that everybody enjoys the sun, sits around drinking coffee, has a nice time, and isn't known for particularly hard work. And of course those kinds of prejudice do affect the kind of reporting.

In fact, it turned out to be wrong. Greeks can work pretty hard when they try.

RODGERS: Tom Ellis, were Greeks insulted and slighted by the negative news coverage in the run-up to the games?

TOM ELLIS, ANTENNA TV: Well, most of them feel it was unfair. For the first couple of years, it was legitimate or justified criticism, as my colleague just said. There were some delays. But after awhile, the last four years, I think things began to roll. Maybe night at the same speed one could find in the United Kingdom or maybe the United States, that's true.

On the other hand, a lot of American colleagues tell us these days that one should see things through the prism of the country that the Olympics take place, so it's a Greek way. Slower maybe in the beginning, but they always deliver, so this time they delivered again.

So to answer your question, yes, most of the people here feel it was a little bit unfair.

RODGERS: Michael, let's shift gears a little. Do you think the idea of the Olympic Games is an idea which has outlived its usefulness?

BINYON: Well, I think it's become too big, and I think there are too many events. One of the problems is that the richer countries seem to be inventing more and more events where only they can dominate, because the equipment they need is so specialized, so expensive.

The poorer countries do very well in the basic Olympic ideal. Basically, running, jumping, swimming, the things that just demand tests of the human body and don't need equipment.

And I think it is difficult for any country to stage an event that is so enormous.

RODGERS: Tell me what judgment you place on Greece's top athlete Kostas Kenteris, failing to show up for his drug test. That's almost as embarrassing as not meeting a construction schedule, isn't it?

BINYON: I think it's pretty embarrassing. I have to say, though, that catching people who may or may not be taking drugs is part of the job of the organizer, so it doesn't reflect badly on Greece. I mean, after all, making sure that nobody gets through a drug test who is taking drugs is absolutely what we need. We don't want drugs in sport.

It's clearly embarrassing for the team, because one of their top competitors may have taken a drug -- failed a drug test. We don't know yet. But that's for the team.

RODGERS: Tom Ellis, are the games worth the risk and trouble these days?

ELLIS: Well, coming from Greece I guess you would assume I would say it's not a trouble. I mean, it's something definitely worth doing.

I agree totally that it is a huge endeavor, a lot of money, a lot of marketing and commercial aspects of it that make it to a certain extent a burden for small countries. It's not coincidence that we have China, a huge giant, as the next country hosting.

RODGERS: Haven't the games sold their soul to the big networks, the big corporations, the highest bidder? Why would anyone want their son or daughter to perform on that stage?

ELLIS: I think it's what us, the media and the sporting organizations, the IOC and others, have to deal with the next few years.

First of all, less commerce and advertisement, if that's possible. Try to bring down the number of games, or sporting events, I mean, which is difficult. I understand that, but that's something that has to be done because otherwise we will end up with thousands of sporting events, which is impossible to deal with.

And try to bring the spirit of the Olympics back, because it's not something like nice to be said but difficult to achieve. That's the only way to bring, you know, the youth back to the games, to make them be proud of a Carl Lewis or somebody else who is an athlete who is also a champion but doesn't take drugs.

So the IOC and others have to deal with what they're doing right now, doping, and that's a major campaign and I hope they achieve that. On the other hand, we should continue to promote these games, but in a different aspect. That's where the media comes in. We have to be critical of what has happened until now. Make them better.

RODGERS: Michael, Tom, thanks very, very much.

That's all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Tune in again next week for another look at how the media are handling the big issues. I'm Walter Rodgers, thanks for joining us.



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