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Critique of Worldwide Media Coverage

Aired November 20, 2004 - 21:00:00   ET


JON SNOW, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Jon Snow. Welcome to a special edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, coming to you today from Portugal, where the News Exchange Conference is in session and leading members of the media have been gathering to debate the big issues confronting the press.
We've picked some of this year's key themes, beginning with one of the most serious facing the journalistic community, that of safety.

2004 has been a deeply deadly year for the journalist community. According to the International Federation of Journalist, to date more than 100 have been killed this year alone.

Assignments in Iraq currently present some of the greatest dangers.

Now to tell us why journalists are increasingly in the frontline and in the firing line and how media organizations are dealing with this, I'm joined now by Chris Cramer, managing director of CNN INTERNATIONAL; David Schlesinger, Reuters global managing editor; and via satellite, from Washington, Bryan Whitman, spokesman for the Pentagon.

Chris Cramer, putting it crudely, why are journalists dying in Iraq?

CHRIS CRAMER, CNN INTERNATIONAL: I think it's a number of things, Jon. I think more and more journalists are in harm's way. We have more people, if you like, in the front line. Also, journalists are not popular these days. There are a number of factions who see us rightly or wrongly as legitimate targets.

We have people, you know, up close, very much up close because of new technology. There are a number of factions who see us as targets for robbery, assault, murder, kidnapping, beheading, these days. Long gone are the days where we are seen as people who can roam from one side to another with impunity. Those days are simply over.

And, tragically, we are caught sometimes in friendly fire.

SNOW: David, are you able to do anything to combat this?

DAVID SCHLESINGER, REUTERS NEWS AGENCY: Well, unfortunately, not much. At Reuters we've had three people die in the Iraq conflict alone. Very, very disturbing to me. Mazen Dana, Taras Protsyuk, Dhia Najim, just this month.

Now, what these people had in common is that they were all unembedded. They were all non-American, non-British, so they looked like local people in Iraq, even though they weren't necessarily all from Iraq. And unfortunately, all three died at the hands of American soldiers.

So this is very, very disturbing to me. I've dealt very much with Bryan on this issue, but we have not yet been able to make the battlefield a safer place. I know, of course, it can never be a safe place, but what I want to do is make it a safer place.

SNOW: Bryan, presumably, in your ideal world everyone would be embedded.

BRYAN WHITMAN, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: Well, of course, embedded makes it easier or safer for reporters to cover combat operations and to cover U.S. forces, but it's never been the expectation of the Pentagon that that would be the only form of coverage.

Our commanders know that there are legitimate interests by news organizations to be out where U.S. forces are operating, and expect them to be there.

SNOW: How dependent are you on this question of embedding, that is of placing people inside a unit that is commanded by the United States and everyone knows exactly where they are. How dependent are you on it and why can't you depend more?

CRAMER: Well, I think it's one way of covering this particular conflict which is going on, but it's one way of covering it.

We have currently this week, as we are speaking, you know, two embedded units, you know, courtesy of Bryan's colleagues, and, if you like, that's part of the jigsaw. We have another CNN team reporting from Baghdad and that's another part of the jigsaw.

I see them as two, if you like, incomplete parts of a jigsaw. We're not in a position where we have other people who can roam freely throughout Iraq. That would be another part of the tapestry. But it's, you know, let's just not kid ourselves. This is a fearsome part of the world for journalists to cover at the moment.

What we have at our disposal is simply an incomplete part of this tapestry, very, very, very incomplete. There isn't a journalist or certainly a journalistic boss who would seek to pretend that we have a comprehensive picture of this country and it's turmoil. That is not what's going on. We have a periscope eye view of what's going on.

But many news organizations have pulled out of Iraq because the stakes are far too high for them.

SNOW: I was going to ask you, David, I mean, in a sense, is the international press corps on retreat in Iraq? I mean, are you basically having to say, look, this is a story we simply cannot cover in a holistic way?

SCHLESINGER: Well, I think Chris is right, we have to build up as much of the mosaic as possible, and using embeds is one way of doing that, but having people on the ground is another important way. Acting unilaterally, acting on their own. I don't think it's possible for an organization like ours right now to withdraw from Iraq. The story is simply far too important and I think too many people are relying on us to tell that story.

But I do worry about safety and we evaluate daily, weekly, should we be there, how should we be acting, who can go out, what are our own rules of engagement for our journalists to go out and report this story.

SNOW: Bryan, what are your rules of engagement when you encounter people who are not embedded with your forces? I mean, are your forces under instruction that people with TV on their clothes and obvious camera paraphernalia, that they should perhaps be regarded as part of the media?

WHITMAN: Well, any member of the news media that is out and about where U.S. forces are operating will be afforded the same protections that non-combatant civilians are afforded in an area.

Commanders, as I said earlier, expect to find media out and about where their operations are. We do have a lot of media that are embedded. There are nearly 100 members of the press corps that are out there embedded in U.S. forces right now. It goes in ebbs and flows. When we have situations like the offensive operation in Falluja, it tends to spike up.

We had 50 or 60 reporters that were embedded for that operation and we can be happy to report that none of those journalists were killed or injured in that operation.

SNOW: You've lost three people, unfortunately, to coalition forces. What is your reading?

SCHLESINGER: I agree that I'm certain that they were not targeted, but I do think that there is a lot more that can be done by both sides, both the journalism side and by the military, to make the battlefield safer.

And much more has to be done about training, to make sure that a soldier knows what a camera looks like and doesn't confuse it with a grenade launcher. Much more has to be done to understand that reporters, journalists, get to the scene of a conflict very quickly. We've had some problems where U.S. soldiers were upset that our correspondents got to the scene of a helicopter downing very quickly, and the assumption was that they were with the bad guys. No. They were simply good journalists doing what journalists do, which is to get to conflict sites quickly to get the story out.

SNOW: Bryan Whitman, spokesman for the Pentagon, Chris Cramer, for CNN, David Schlesinger, for Reuters, thank you, all three, very much indeed.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, same stories, different point of vies? The Arab broadcast revolution.

More from News Exchange when we come back.


SNOW: Welcome back to INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, coming to you from News Exchange, in Portugal, where broadcasters from all over the world have been discussing key issues that affect the media.

One of which, well, in the last few years, the Arab broadcast media has burst onto the international news scene, proving itself a force to be reckoned with both within its own region and beyond those borders.

But being a rather new phenomenon, it still does face many challenges. For example, some criticize its coverage of Israel and American troops in Iraq.

To give us a birds-eye view, I'm joined now by the chief executive of Video Cairo SAT, Mohamed Gohar, and by Nart Bouran, director of news at Abu Dhabi Television.

Nart Bouran, let's take, for example, the affect of your coverage in Iraq. Now, for example, the video releases of beheadings, for example. It seems that your audience is more tolerant of this sort of awful bloodshed than ours is. We stop the tape at the point at which the execution occurs.

NART BOURAN, ABU DHABI TELEVISION: Well, we do the same. I mean, it's true that the Arab audience is probably a little bit more tolerant to the video, but I can speak about Abu Dhabi TV and say that we have strict policy about that as well, and we actually, if we do show it -- and in a lot of cases, we don't show any of the video -- we would be very careful and sanitize a lot of the pictures before they go out on air.

SNOW: But do you think there is a danger, for example, you receive these tapes from Osama bin Laden, that you are party to perhaps propagandizing on his behalf by processing these tapes and putting them out there? You are the letterbox sometimes for these things.

MOHAMED GOHAR: Well, it's not exactly like this. Arabic media spent many number of years with message from government to people. Now the new approach which the Arabic media is trying to take is to be the opposite, the message from people to governments.

SNOW: Wouldn't it be fair to say that you're much more critical on these Arab channels, and I'm not speaking specifically about Abu Dhabi Television, but you're much more critical of maybe the Americans and the British than you are of your own governments.

BOURAN: Well, I think -- well, first of all, our governments are not entering into war zones and going into other countries, so in a sense it's not a fair comparison, but no, I don't really think so. And there is.

SNOW: But you wouldn't dare say some of the things that you say about George Bush or Tony Blair about King Fahd of Saudi Arabia.

BOURAN: Well, I think if you look at the Arab media in general, there is a lot of that there, and it's not just specifically the TV stations that are saying or not saying it. But if you look at the print and you look at the Internet and the Web sites that are there, there is a lot of criticism and there's all sorts of point of views.

So if you look at Arab media, you can't just look at TV. There is really a lot of that around.

SNOW: But, Gohar, you live in Cairo, for example, and your government is pretty sort of keen on ensuring that the message comes out fairly OK. I mean, you'd be a bit wary of putting material out about Mr. Mubarak, for example.

GOHAR: Well, I think we express much higher level of freedom of expression, Egypt, than the rest of the Arab world.

Meanwhile, we still need more of that. I mean, it's not more of capturing freedom, more than lack of professionalism. I mean, we know how to tell the truth and we can surely express that, but the main issue of getting evidence of it, this is when we start with bureaucracy or whatever.

SNOW: But you don't exactly live in an arena where there is a huge enthusiasm to tell the truth from the people who govern in the region.

BOURAN: No, and I think that is the biggest challenge for us, but you have to remember that the Arab media is relatively young. It's just a few years old, and we're moving.

We've moved a long way. And we are still learning and still going ahead, but it's a process. You can't just start it overnight and say we're going to be or we're aspiring to be at this particular point, but we're moving, and it's getting better.

And the satellite channels have actually raised the level of freedom. What we are able to say now, we weren't able to say it a few years ago, and we are helping all of the other outlets as well to come up to that level and come out and say things that, as I said, in the past we haven't been able to.

SNOW: So, in a sense, this is sort of what George Bush wants to see, more freedom and democracy of expression in the Arab world, and that's exactly what you're achieving.

GOHAR: Yes, but I think Mr. Bush has to worry about his own behavior and his own maneuver of press before coming and giving us -- he has to show examples of how to do that instead of just importing for us ideas. Exporting, I mean, ideas.

SNOW: Can I just take you back then to where we began, and that's the question of taste and sensibility, because it seems to me that the one thing which the Arab television media have brought to war is a more vivid account of it than people in the West are used to. In other words, dead bodies, bleeding bodies, limbs, the real aftermath of explosions. Never sanitized. What do you feel that's about?

BOURAN: Well, I believe it's a different conflict for us in a sense, but I disagree. We do sanitize some of it. But it's -- maybe the tolerance of our audiences is very different and, as I said, our news agenda is probably different from the Western media.

But I think it is a situation where we are showing, but we sanitize sometimes, but I think we are being bundled as "Arab media" in one basket and not differentiated that there are different people doing different things.

SNOW: Gohar.

GOHAR: I think there is a mix up between the right to get information and transfer it, which Al Jazeera and all the Arab television has the right to do, and stick to ethics, because sticking to ethics is another topic which would not be achieved before we give the Arabic television the chance to express it.

SNOW: Mohamed Gohar and Nart Bouran, thank you both very much.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, the story of Sudan. Should the plight of these people continue to top the news agenda?

We debate that when we return.


SNOW: You're watching INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, coming to you from News Exchange, in Portugal, where we've been discussing key issues affecting the media.

And another of the issues we've been discussing here have been the images of starving, homeless and anguished people.

Earlier this year, the Sudan story filled our television screens and newspapers as the media detailed what some believe is the systematic killing of the black ethnic community in Sudan's Darfur region. But now the coverage does seem to have trailed off at a time when the crisis itself is at boiling point.

So how do stories like this get prioritized on the news agenda? To help us understand this we have Salim Amin, head of Camerapix in Kenya, and Nik Gowing, BBC World presenter.

Nik, let me start with you. Now, the BBC has had a pretty good record on this most recently, but I think you'd accept, in terms of consistent coverage, since the first stories began to come out in February, it's been a pretty woeful business.

NIK GOWING, BBC WORLD: No, I wouldn't, actually, Jon. I mean, certainly in the last 10 days the BBC has had an amazing piece by Fogel Keene (ph) during an attack by the police against refugees. And, secondly, Hillary Anderson (ph), who did an amazing piece, again -- excuse me for using the word amazing twice, but they were extraordinary insights on panorama, a 48 minute documentary.

And when you look back to February, and actually it became a major international issue in March, I think there has been very consistent coverage by and large given the problems of getting information out and given the problems of even finding the Janjaweed, taking that risk.

Fogel Keene (ph), last week, when he did the extraordinary story of the police attacking refugees, that material was out there from Newalla (ph) very quickly on our new technology in ways which we have never done before.

SNOW: Right. Well, the premise of my question is clearly quite wrong, Salim. The world has indeed been watching Darfur wall-to-wall since (UNINTELLIGIBLE) back in February.


SALIM AMIN, CAMERAPIX: I would have to disagree with that, Jon, because Darfur has been going on for many, many, many months -- well, many years actually -- before it's been highlighted now.

The level of the genocide, perhaps, or the killing, has gone up a notch, but the problem in Darfur has been there for generations almost, and my concern is that the international media picks up on these stories because they are -- they are motivated by an agenda that is outside of our business, a political agenda.

The Americans needed to be seen -- or the American administration, unfortunately, the current American administration -- needed to be seen to be doing something. It was an election year. Darfur became a sexy piece of news to be doing.

SNOW: It was an intriguing element of this that there was an American political engine in play in Darfur, and indeed in Sudan generally.

GOWING: But, Jon, I think you've got to look at the dynamic and you've got to look at the coverage.

Philip Cox (ph), who did an extraordinary piece for your program, Channel 4 News, went there as a freelance in February. It didn't create much political resonance. It actually took one member of the U.N. mission, a special representative, Mukesh Kapilla (ph). He gave an interview to Radio 4 here in Britain at 10 to 8:00 one morning in late March and he did 78 more interviews.

It wasn't the media who put it on the agenda, it was actually Mukesh Kapilla (ph) who put it on the agenda and then the media followed, because someone who was working for the United Nations was so disillusioned by the fact that it hadn't been picked up, that he decided to take a political risk and a professional risk and go public.

SNOW: Well, now, as we speak the United Nations is marshaled in your home city of Nairobi. The secretary-general is there. Critical peace talks still involving the North-South struggle in Sudan. How many people have been banging at your door for footage of that?

AMIN: Very few. I mean, Nairobi is a different scenario because there is a lot of international media based there. The BBC has bureaus, CNN, and a lot of the other organizations are based there. So people don't come banging there, but we can't sell the story even if we had a great story.

SNOW: But, you see, the point I would make is that those talks are pretty critical. The average domestic viewer in the average country watching this program will be little aware of the context of Sudan, and the context is this long running civil war and part of Darfur's problem is that people are desperate that those talks should work and they wouldn't alienate the government. There was always the danger of alienating the government once they got to Darfur.

GOWING: You've got two processes here, Jon. There is the Darfur problem, where there has been the Arusha process in Nigeria, and there's the Nairobi process on the civil war.

And that's been going on -- remember, Colin Powell went there in person to push them forward. Those negotiations have been going on for many years.


GOWING: And I have to say, on our channel, we have been covering it.

SNOW: Well, then, we've got a good on in the BBC, but.

AMIN: When Colin Powell -- are you talking about the Colin Powell Darfur trip?

GOWING: I just said when he went to Nairobi --

AMIN: When he went to Nairobi.

GOWING: -- to push the peace talks forward.

AMIN: The peace talks, in my mind -- this war has been going on for 30 years, or over 30 years, between the North and the South. Why is it significant now? Why has it become an issue with the Americans? Because of oil. It's very simple. It's economic reasons.

They have no -- there is no humanitarian purpose in this. When Colin Powell went to Darfur, that trip was planned well in advance. They went a very little way out of the area that they landed in, went to a camp that had already been sanitized and cleaned up and sorted by the Sudanese government, and he was shown what he had to see, or what they wanted him to see. There was no other investigation done.

SNOW: Well, let's just try and look at how you decide whether you should do a story on Sudan. What decides it? Because people have been dying, as you say, for a very long time, so what decides you that now is the time to do it?

GOWING: As you know, Jon, I'm a presenter rather than someone who (UNINTELLIGIBLE) --

SNOW: But you're part of the editorial process.

GOWING: -- but when we have an Africa bureau down in Johannesburg, we had Hillary Anderson (ph), we had Ishmael Matheson (ph) based in Nairobi, all of them took great risks going in.

Then there were the problems with the Khartoum government, even getting a visa to get and permission to get equipment. You and I have been on the road many times knowing that that's a serious problem.

SNOW: But when you're shaping your program, what decides you that you really do want to do Sudan?

GOWING: Well, it's not a question of "doing Sudan." It's a question of getting the information which makes it a core part of the news agenda, not just for that day.

You can't just say we're going to do Sudan today, let's get some pictures of the Janjaweed from our correspondent there. It's about, as you know so well from your days on the road, it's about the events driving the coverage in a place like Darfur.

SNOW: But your complaint is there's not enough people on the ground there for the media ever to know that there is something that needs to be done anyway.

AMIN: And even if we were to go ask people based in the region, on the continent, we don't have the resources there. When we offer the stories, they're not picked up. And therefore, we are tied as well, financially, we're tied from going there. And we've been offering Sudan for a long time.

GOWING: But there is an interesting part of this, if I may say, Jon, which is the humanitarian organizations, who have been providing video, which creates interesting gate keeping problems and filtering problems for all of us broadcasters.

AMIN: The only way we've been able to go into Darfur is with the aid agencies. That's the only time -- when we've been working with them -- that we've had access and been able to afford to get into these places.

And while I understand what you're saying in terms of the ethical lines that we have to draw, whether we're working for the aid agencies or we're working for ourselves, I think it's an essential partnership that has to be developed. Because they can get access, and they can get people like us in there, who are interested in the stories, and then hopefully get the major broadcasters interested afterwards.

SNOW: Well, on that hopeful note, Salim Amin and Nik Gowing, thank you both very much indeed.

And that is it from this special edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS from News Exchange, in Portugal. I'm Jon Snow. Thanks for joining us.



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