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Critique of Worldwide Media Coverage

Aired December 11, 2004 - 21:00:00   ET


CHRISTINE OCKRENT, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Christine Ockrent, in London. Welcome to CNN'S INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories of the moment.
On this edition of the program, a journalist and his soul shall never part, until now. We debate the privileges of the fourth estate, plus incitement and call for jihad. A satellite channel France is trying to ban, and the BBC axes almost 3,000 jobs, so what's the future for public broadcasting.

But first, it's the cardinal rule of journalism: never reveal your source. But what happens when the law says otherwise? That's what could be in store for you as journalists.

A federal appeals court panel suggesting last week that reporters are not exempt from testifying. The case in question concerns "Time" magazine's Matthew Cooper and the "New York Times'" Judith Miller. They are both refusing to testify before a grand jury in order to protect their source.

The case involves the leaking of a covert CIA official to reporters last year. The two journalists could face a jail sentence if they do not comply.


JUDITH MILLER, JOURNALIST: I believe the central issue for me as a reporter is still the public's right to know. Can people feel comfortable to come to Matt and to me and to other journalists and know that we will protect their sources and do we have as much right to some kind of qualified privilege as a psychotherapist, and I was encouraged by that line of questioning today.


OCKRENT: Well, another U.S. reporter got his sentence this week. Jim Taricani has been given six months home confinement. He refused to divulge who gave information relating to an FBI videotape showing a city official taking a bribe.

To give us greater insight into the issue, I'm joined now by Walter Pincus from the "Washington Post." He was one of those journalist who was also leaked the name of a CIA agent. He did testify and he says he did not reveal the name of his source. He appeared after his source had revealed himself to the prosecutor and with the consent of the source. And also in Washington, D.C., Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University.

Let me start with you, Orin Kerr. This is the first time in 30 years that a federal appeals court specifically has pronounced such a sentence. How do you explain that? To what extent is it due to the current environment in the United States?

ORIN KERR, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIV.: It's not entirely clear that it's due to the current environment in the United States. I think it's largely a number of factors. One would be it just so happens that this is a leak investigation with a special prosecutor, and that means that in this case, there's somebody tasked with figuring out what happened.

The obvious way to figure out what happened in a leak is to ask the person who was leaked the information, so I think that's probably the primary factor. It's not really so much this particular moment in time as it just so happens this special prosecutor was appointed.

OCKRENT: But, again, the first amendment of the American constitution seems to us, foreign journalists, as the best protection ever for our sources. So is that a turn in a great American tradition of protecting the right to know?

KERR: Well, not exactly. It turns out, in a 1972 Supreme Court case the Supreme Court basically rejected the idea of a reporter's privilege as a matter of 1st Amendment law, so it's generally not considered a constitutional privilege.

Several states, many states, have passed an equivalent privilege, but usually it's left to the good sense of prosecutors to say listen, we don't want to interfere with the press here, even if the press knows the information, as a matter of policy prosecutors are not going to bring prosecutors (sic), put them in front of the Grand Jury and ask for sources.

It's generally a matter more of prosecutorial discretion than of constitutional law, and what I think has happened is that reporters tend to believe there is a reporters privilege that is strong and established. In fact, it's never been strong and established. It's been much weaker over time. And what we're seeing here is basically we're seeing the true law emerging, in effect, and it's not quite what people had expected.

OCKRENT: Walter Pincus, do you agree with that, that the true law is emerging? Or in your view is it a real change in the attitude towards information in your country?

WALTER PINCUS, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, I think both things are going on at the same time, but I think that the professor is right about this particular case.

I think one of the things that people don't understand, and particularly reporters, is that the privilege, although we call it a reporter's privilege, it really is the sources privilege, and the source in effect tells me to hold the confidence, and I do that. But if the source turns around and tells the prosecutor what conversation went on and what was said, for me to say I can't talk about it I think raises real questions about reporters putting themselves in a different position than anybody else.

OCKRENT: And that is, of course, why your case is different from the other two, because your source revealed his identity before you were asked to do so.

PINCUS: Well, that's correct. The other thing, my situation is different from, for example, Judy Miller, who is a reporter who now faces a contempt charge and potentially jail -- she never wrote about it. I actually wrote about what the source told me. I just didn't name him.

I still haven't. And the prosecutor never asked me, because the source came forward.

OCKRENT: To what extent, Walter, do you believe that the current cases which, again, haven't been settled yet, to what extent is that going to change the behavior of most investigative journalists in the United States?

PINCUS: Here is where I tend to disagree with most reporters. It hasn't changed my situation at all. I deal with people in the intelligence community. I write about confidential source material almost every day. I did so again today.

The fact that I went through this process and protected my source has in fact made no difference at all, and I think it's -- in all these cases, it's really a matter of trust between sources and journalists, and journalists have to treat confidential material in a much different way than they treat other material, because if somebody is risking jail or risking losing their job by telling you information, you as a reporter want to make sure it's correct before you publish it more than any other.

And also, you ought to face the same kind of threat. So ironically, although I was in effect saved by my source coming forward, I would have gone through the whole process, as is going through with Judy Miller right now, if my source hadn't come forward.

OCKRENT: Right. Professor Kerr, what do you make of Jim Taricani's case? Do you view that as a proper sentence in such circumstances?

KERR: The exact sentence I'm not sure, but the big picture here is that we just haven't reached a consensus as to whether leaks are good or leaks are bad.

And in some cases, we have an instinct that leaks are good, and in other cases we have instincts that leaks are bad, but it's actually quite difficult to tell the difference between those two cases, so what we have here is a classic legal problem of distinguishing good leaks from bad leaks.

Where in fact a leak should not have occurred, we might say it's actually quite good to require people to come and testify, to discourage people from leaking in the first place, and again, the difficulty is when do we know when a leak is good and when do we know when a leak is bad.

OCKRENT: Yes, but again, to a journalist, it's a strange way to put the case, because a good leak is a leak that helps to understand a situation or information which is being hidden by authorities or by anyone, for that matter, and perhaps for very bad reasons.

KERR: Although perhaps for very good reasons. That's exactly the difficulty.

Of course, reporters, journalists, are going to say I need to be able to report the truth. Fair point, fair perspective. But only one perspective.

In the broader public interest, for example, it may be that a journalist believes that it's important that the people know something, but in fact it doesn't serve the public interest. Who makes that decision? Is it the press that decides that for the people or is it the people that decide that through their legislatures, which enact laws that either recognize a privilege or don't.

I think most people would prefer the democratic process working and democracies working out to citizens for themselves rather than the press saying we're going to make that decision for people.

OCKRENT: Walter Pincus, how do you react to this? Is it really up to an elected judge to decide what is good news or bad news?

PINCUS: No. I think it's -- I hate to say it, but it's really up to the journalist and his own institution to make that decision, and then to pay the penalty if there is a penalty.

I mean, the fact of the matter is, whoever leaked to Robert Novak that Ambassador Wilson's wife was a CIA agent probably felt that they were putting out information that the public ought to know, and when Bob Novak printed it, he printed it thinking that he was providing information that at least somebody thought was important.

We make those decisions every day. Where I sort of disagree with a lot of my colleagues is I think we shouldn't be so-called protected. I think we ought to face a penalty if in fact it's bad information, public policy is against it, and we should be prepared to protect our sources, but we ought to make that decision when we decide what the information is and what we're publishing.

OCKRENT: Walter Pincus, Professor Kerr, thank you very much for joining us.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, flicking the switch on a controversial station. Find out why France wants Almanar out of the picture.

Stay with us.



Accused of incitement and some argue call to jihad, the Arab station Almanar, which belonged to the Hezbollah group, will now be broadcast beyond the confines of the Arab world. But this move is causing much controversy, especially in France.

This week, the French media authorities appealed to the government to ban the Beirut-based station. They accuse Almanar of violating a ban on hate speech. A hearing is scheduled for next week. France is already beset with religious tensions and some worry this could further add fuel to the fire.

Joining me now, in Paris, Roger Cuckierman, who is president of (UNINTELLIGIBLE), which is the Jewish council representing the various Jewish organizations, and here in the studio, in London, Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of Al-Quds newspaper.

Msr. Cuckierman, how do you explain the uproar in France so many days and weeks after Almanar was actually authorized to broadcast in France?

ROGER CUCKIERMAN, REPRESENTATIVE COUNCIL OF JEWISH INSTITUTIONS: Because this decision to authorize Almanar was a shock for the Jewish community and for a big part of the French population, because the French government, the president of the republic, declared very strongly that they were keen on fighting against anti-Semitism.

And all of the sudden, we see a channel, an Arab channel, authorized to issue anti-Semitic propaganda officially in France, which reminds terrible times of the last 60 years. And we think that this is absolutely outrageous. The images that were shown last year in the period of Ramadan through the dishes, which are very numerous -- there are 2.5 million dishes enabling people in the suburbs of the French cities to see these programs in Arabic -- showed terrible scenes like actors disguised as rabbis cutting the throat of a reputed non-Jewish boy, putting the blood into a cup in order to make (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

And these images distributed during the period of Ramadan are creating hatred, and we have 10 percent of the French population which is practicing the Muslim religion, and this is extremely dangerous for the social peace in France. And this is why we strongly oppose that decision. We have formed the petition, which got thousands and thousands of signatures, and we have had buses circulating in Paris, showing these terrible programs to the public and getting signatures, and we are quite happy that it seems that the CSI, which is the controlling body, will revise its position and forbid this terrible channel, which is not only promoting anti-Semitic propaganda, but it is also promoting the merits of terrorism.

OCKRENT: Right. To be precise, Mr. Atwan, it has to be said that that particular channel belongs to the Hezbollah, which is a very specific organization involved in for many, many years in terrorism in Lebanon and elsewhere. And also in France, there have been many people among the Christians who have joined the appeal of the Jewish authorities because there is also a lot of anti-Christian propaganda. So how would you react to that?

ABDEL-BARI ATWAN, AL-QUDS: First, Hezbollah was not involved in terrorism. They were fighting the Israeli occupation of part of Lebanon. So this is -- every country or every people, their country occupied or part of their country occupied, they have to resist this occupation. The French did the same with the Nazi occupation. So we cannot say that the Hezbollah fighting was terrorism. That's one thing.

OCKRENT: Except -- forgive me, but the Hezbollah also fought within Lebanon in the Lebanese Civil War.


OCKRENT: OK. But I take your point. OK. Go ahead.

ATWAN: The second thing, there is a mix-up between anti-Israel and anti-Semitism. Not everybody in the Arab world signed a peace treaty with Israel, so when you are in a state of war -- and Hezbollah is in a state of war with Israel -- so you can't expect Hezbollah, for example, and its Almanar channel to describe Israel as doves, and they are harmless people. The Israelis are killing daily Palestinians, demolishing houses, and Hezbollah channels, Arab channels, are entitled to show these Israeli atrocities against Palestinian people, against Arab people.

So we can't mix between anti-Semitism and the anti-Israelism, and that's the mistake which actually many Jewish organizations are trying to impose on the West and also on us, on the Arab world.

OCKRENT: You live in London. You are Palestinian-born. Do you view this episode as yet another sign of specific tensions in France due to the importance of the Muslim community in France and the unease of the French authorities in that case?

ATWAN: I see it in the context of Islamaphobia (ph), which is actually spreading now in the Western world after the 11th of September.

We, the Muslim communities in the Western world, are facing a lot of problems since the 11th of September, and the freedom of expression, the civil liberties of Muslims in Europe are really a target now and so --

OCKRENT: Sorry to interrupt, but is Almanar an Islamic channel or is it a channel for a political group with a specific agenda?

ATWAN: It is an Islamic channel and also it is a channel of Hezbollah, which is a well known political group in Arab politics.

I would like to remind you that Arabi (ph), the Israeli leader of (UNINTELLIGIBLE), described Arabs one day as insects and they should be smashed.

So, you know, radicalism is everywhere, in the Jewish community and also in the Arab communities. We are different culture, and Almanar is not talking to French people. Almanar is talking to Arabic speaking people. So they are not talking to Jewish people, they are not talking to French people, they are talking to Arab community, and it is small in comparison with the size of France.

So maybe there are certain things which are not acceptable, but Almanar signed the charter, they got the permission, and suddenly two weeks later they said it is anti-Semitism. Give it a chance.

OCKRENT: Roger Cuckierman, assuming the French government bans Almanar, isn't there a technological obstacle, that there is no way to ban a channel broadcast by satellite to actually be seen by people all over Europe?

CUCKIERMAN: There may be technical problems. My problem is not so much Almanar itself. The problem is when the French government or the French authorities are officially authorizing a channel to broadcast anti- Semitic views.

I would like to stress the fact that there is no Arabphobia (ph) as a system. We at (UNINTELLIGIBLE), in our body, have constant relations with the Muslim people in France. We have friendly relations with them, and they are French citizens, as we are, and there is no such thing as Arabs in France. There is French citizens of Muslim religion.

OCKRENT: Roger Cuckierman, thank you very much for joining us from Paris. Abdel-Bari Atwan, thank you.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, the future face of the BBC. What's ahead for the public broadcaster as it axes almost 3,000 jobs?

Stay with us.


OCKRENT: Welcome back.

It's going to be painful, but it's got to be done. That's what the BBC's boss was spelling out as he announced the job losses and cutbacks he says are needed to improve programs, secure the corporations future and eventually a new license fee.

Mark Thompson's (ph) plans will save more than $600 million a year; nearly 3,000 staff, almost 1 in 10, will lose their jobs.

CNN's Matthew Chance has the story.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A vision of TV excellence or a desperate act to hang on to its funding? The shakeup of the BBC may have divided public opinion, but the corporation's director general says it must improve to survive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do want less repetition, less derivation. We want real audience successes.

CHANCE: In the new BBC, much more is to be spent on news and current affairs. There will be fewer reality and lifestyle shows, more original comedy and drama and fewer repeats.

In all, more than $600 million a year will be saved and 3,000 jobs axed. It is for many a bitter pill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it is very painful for colleagues. What I hope we can persuade everyone, including those who may be affected by these changes, is that this is the right way of building a BBC that is going to be strong and independent in the future.

CHANCE: But the changes have reopened debate in Britain about what the BBC should deliver. It's funded by public money, in return for which the public expects high quality programming. Critics argue it can no longer deliver.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The days of the BBC dominating good telly are at an end and I and most people no longer want to pay for it.

CHANCE: From the start, the BBC was an innovator, pioneering quality on television. Whether the most radical changes in its 82-year history can preserve that reputation is its biggest test.



OCKRENT: That's all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Tune in again next time for another look at how the media is handling the big issues. I'm Christine Ockrent, in London. Thanks for watching.



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