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Critique of Worldwide Media Coverage

Aired December 18, 2004 - 21:00:00   ET


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Matthew Chance, in London. Welcome to CNN'S INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories of the moment.
It's confirmed this week, the French government saying that it's going ahead with the launch of a global satellite TV news channel known in France as "CNN a la Francaise."

The channel is government-backed and funded. The French-language station is meant to challenge the dominance of the English-speaking international media. In the words of the French Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin, to challenge the dominance of the American view of world current affairs.

I'm joined now in Paris by Pierre Rousselin, foreign editor of "Le Figaro," and in Chicago, John Fund, editorial page writer for the "Wall Street Journal."

Pierre, let me start with you, in Paris. Why do you think this kind of news channel in the French-language predominantly is so necessary to put out there right now?

PIERRE ROUSSELIN, "LE FIGARO": Well, it won't be only in French. It will also be in English or in Arabic or in Spanish, and I think the reason is that the French want to have their message put out in a fair way and, you know, there is a French flavor to the way we see the world, and I think it's fair enough that this could be put out to a worldwide audience and not be simplified, maybe oversimplified, as we've seen during the Iraqi crisis by the predominantly American media.

CHANCE: One of the French members of parliament who is overseeing this project, Bernard Brouchand (ph), said that the intention is to increase the French clout in the world. It sounds dangerously close to becoming a propaganda tool for the French government. Are you concerned about that?

ROUSSELIN: Well, you can always put it that way, but I think there is another way to put it, as I said. It depends how it is done. It can be done in a very, very ridiculous way, as a propaganda tool, but it can also be done as another TV, another channel, with another message, with another flavor, and I think nowadays the market is open and why not try to have a French BBC or a French CNN coming out to all different areas of the world.

CHANCE: But there is no doubt, is there, Pierre, that the French government sees this as an agent of influence, as it were.

ROUSSELIN: Well, definitely. It is a way of putting out a message and of showing the French way of seeing things in the world. And, again, I think the Iraqi crisis was a major moment where we felt quite frustrated that the way we saw the crisis building up was not put out quite fairly by American media and was often oversimplified and caricatured and sometimes made fun of by folks or other medias.

CHANCE: John Fund, let me bring you in here, because there are some serious points raised by these French concerns, these French comments, that -- take the Iraqi war. France's anti-war stance was criticized relentlessly in the U.S. media. It has a right, doesn't it, it has an objective of trying to get the French view across more clearly, doesn't it? It should do that.

JOHN FUND, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, I think there is a fundamental difference here. The American message is not unified. There was an awful lot of criticism, is an awful lot of criticism, of the American involvement in Iraq. Many people in Congress voted against it. This last election, we had over 80 percent of national political reporters in the United States vote against the incumbent president, according to polls. We had one network, CBS, engage in almost semi-open warfare with the administration.

So I don't think there is a unified American message with regard to foreign policy.

As regards the French, they have a long tradition of all political policies basically supporting the same foreign policy. You know, as often French have (UNINTELLIGIBLE) economic policies, they often have (UNINTELLIGIBLE) foreign policy views. They centralize their view. So I think it's much easier for the French to put out this network, because there message is clear and is unified.

I don't think they're challenging a unified American dominance of international media, because there are so many voices and so many areas of disagreement in the American media.

CHANCE: That's a good point, isn't it, Pierre? The American media, the Western media, the English language media, isn't this big monolith. It's extremely fragmented, isn't it?

ROUSSELIN: Well, it's fragmented in its own way, but it's also -- you know, the French opinion is also fragmented. I mean, it may be the case that on Iraq, there was a very big consensus against the war in Iraq, but this is not the case on all issues.

We have a very lively debate today in France on Turkey and I can tell you, most people disagree with each other. So this kind of issue will also be a theme that will be seen on this French television in French and English and in other languages.

CHANCE: John, I understand that at this stage the plan is to beam in this French language international channel into just New York City in the states, but how do you think this kind of a channel, if it were watched by Americans, would be perceived by the people of the country?

FUND: I think we welcome all points of view. Right now in New York City you can get French language news every night. It's beamed over. And we get news from Bulgaria. We get news from all kinds of venues.

I think the French have a different perspective, though, on opening up their media to all kinds of points of view. I just noticed this week the French constitutional court knocked off Al Munar (ph), which is an Arabic language broadcast out of Beirut. I realize that much of what happens on that network is anti-Semitic and often hateful, but in our free speech traditional we wouldn't ban it from our satellite, and I certainly think we would welcome the French network, but I don't think it necessarily will add much to what we already have. We already get the French point of view. Anyone who wants to watch it in most of our major cities can.

CHANCE: Do you think it would be watched by the decision-makers and the policymakers, which is the stated goal of the French politicians who are behind this channel?

FUND: Let me be perfectly honest. I think the United Nations and much of its diplomatic and public relations efforts right now represent much of the French foreign policy. Our decision-makers pay attention to the United Nations. We certainly pay attention to what the French say. But I don't think it's going to represent a lot of value added.

In fact, I would have to tell you, since this is going to cost about 100 million euros to set up, I really wonder, given the French budget crisis, with all of the pressures on their health and social services, the high taxes they have, whether or not this is the best use of French government resources.

The French already have their language, their culture, exported to the world. I don't think they necessarily need to have a propaganda vehicle, because effectively this is the French government's view of the world sent out to the rest of the world. I think they already have more than enough to say and more than enough people listening to them.

CHANCE: All right, Pierre Rousselin, John Fund, thanks very much for being with us.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, 10 years of conflict in Chechnya. We talk to two journalists who were there from the beginning.

Stay with us.



It's a forgotten war, perilous for those involved, almost impossible for journalists to cover the conflict in the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya is now a decade-old. Tens of thousands have been killed there, yet the war is now barely reported outside of Russia.

The capital city of Grozny, once a bustling metropolis, has over the years been reduced to a moonscape of rubble. Reporting from inside Chechnya has never been easy. Now the only relatively safe way is under the strict supervision of the Russian authorities.

I'm joined now by two journalists who have covered the conflict over the past decade. In Moscow, Mark Franchetti, reporter for the "Sunday Times of London," and in Boston, the former Moscow bureau chief of the "Boston Globe," David Filipov.

David, I want to start with you because you covered the war when it started, back in 1994. You've been back since as well. And I'm interested how the situation has developed over the years from the point of view of reporters on the ground.

DAVID FILIPOV, JOURNALIST: Well, in the very beginning you could just go down there, flash your accreditation card at the border, and drive right in, right to Grozny, and in fact the first battles in Grozny I was able to witness, basically by just going right up to the frontline on the rebel side. The Russians basically let you cross through their lines and go in and you could do whatever you wanted, essentially.

It was something you could do both from the point of view of accreditation and also you didn't feel any extra risk other than the fact that you were at a war.

That changed, of course, after the Russians began making it very difficult to get into Chechnya without their escort, and when foreigners started becoming the targets of kidnapping and hostage-taking, which happened later on, in the late 1990s. Then the question of sneaking in, carried with the two threats beyond just catching a bullet or being blown up, you could be taken hostage and you could be arrested and thrown out of the country by the Russians. Of course, that's no good for a reporter.

CHANCE: Mark, you're a correspondent of course based in Moscow. Presumably you try to stay in touch with the goings on in Chechnya as much as you can. But do you get to go down there very much?

MARK FRANCHETTI, "SUNDAY TIMES OF LONDON": I do, actually. It's always a difficult decision for editors, because as David said, it's still a pretty treacherous war zone. There hasn't been as much kidnapping as there was between the two wars, but the first problem is getting editors interested, and to feel that the story that you'll get at the end is worth the risk.

I still do go. And officially you're only supposed to go with the Russians, with the Russian army, on sort of two or three day tours in which they decide what you're going to see and who you will talk to. I've never done that, because it's impossible to get to the bottom of the story if you do that.

So I still do go, and I go in a fairly unofficial way with people who help me get in and out safely.

The difficulty is that whereas in the first war, as David was saying, it was dangerous but chaotic and therefore you could go in and out. Especially it was great for a journalist, because you could work on the Chechen side, on the rebel side. The kidnappings in between the two wars made the situation much harder for us to report and it's very difficult to be on the rebel side now. It's a massive risk.

And on the Russian side, of course, you don't get the information that you're trying to gather.

CHANCE: David, do you think it's that poor access to the story, how difficult it is for correspondents to actually do their job, that's led to this tailing off of interest in the international news agenda in Chechnya? Or is it the other way around, the fact that other events have happened in the world, that interest has sort of tailed off, that makes it less worth the risk for journalists attempting to get into the breakaway republic?

FILIPOV: When the war started, one of the reasons why it was so fascinating was that this was the first time that we'd seen the Russian army in a shooting war, in a land war. All those Russian tanks, all those Russian personnel carriers that they developed during the Cold War, those Russian troops that had occupied half of Europe and that were the source of American fascination, fear, foreign policy, for many, many years. Here they were in action.

That wasn't the main reason to cover the war, of course, but that was one of the things about it that made it new. How was the new Russia, the new democratic Russia, going to conduct itself in war? That was one of the big questions of the mid 90s and of Russia's transformation from the former Soviet Union to a modern, presumably democratic state that is part of the new Europe, and.

CHANCE: Mark, you think that it's more the events of -- sorry, David. Mark, you think it's more the events that have overtaken the events in Chechnya that has led to this downturn in international interest?

FRANCHETTI: The first thing to say is it is a war that has been going on for the best part of 10 years, so inevitably interest starts to wane.

Also, there isn't really -- there aren't any mass scale military operations going on in Chechnya anymore. It's still a war zone, but somehow slowly normality is returning, even though, you know, people are living in rubble.

The interest starts again whenever there is a big terrorist operation, like Beslan or like the Moscow Theatre siege, and then suddenly there is again an enormous amount of interest in terms of what is actually happening in Chechnya.

But I would say that one of the main reasons why it has been waning, other than the dangers, is that it's been going on for the best part of 10 years, and we're in a situation where we can't see light at the end of the tunnel. We can't see how this will ever be resolved. And there is a situation of stalemate.

CHANCE: David, let me ask you because Mark just mentioned the issue of Beslan. Do you think that the rebels may be the message -- or there is a danger in the way that we sort of only sporadically cover Chechnya, that the rebels fighting in that breakaway republic may get the message that the only time they ever get their plight on the international agenda is when they commit these terrible atrocities, like in Beslan, where so many children were killed, and that may actually fuel them doing more of that kind of activity.

FILIPOV: Absolutely. One section of the rebels, the radical section of the rebels, has no doubt gotten this message and has taken it beyond that message. The more difficult -- the harsher, the crueler the attack, the more attention is it likely to get. This is a change from the beginning of the war, when the rebels seemed very interested in having reporters on their side, showing the atrocities being committed by Russian troops, showing how Chechens were just people who wanted to be free and why can't they be free like other countries that have determined their, you know, their government.

It's changed from that, and that war is no longer there, and that's one of the reasons why it's not as interesting for Americans to cover, because there are a lot of ethnic conflicts and a lot of separatist conflicts around the world. Chechnya used to be a question about what is the Russian federation going to be like. Now it's more a really small but very, very violent separatist conflict with these horrible terrorist actions. It's harder to cover and it's also harder to make that a compelling story.

CHANCE: All right, thank you David Filipov and Mark Franchetti as well on the dangers of reporting in Chechnya and on the dangers of not reporting it as well.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, Iraq in watercolors. How one embedded American painter shows the war in a different light.

Stay with us.


CHANCE: Welcome back.

They say a picture paints 1,000 words. Now some of the most compelling commentary coming out of Iraq is from an American painter.

Steve Mumford is an artist who is embedded with the U.S. military in the country. Wearing his flak jacket and helmet, he used his brushes and watercolors to pain unique images of America at war.

Well, Steve Mumford joins us now from New York.

Steve, thanks very much for being with us.

Let me ask you first of all, it's an interesting project. Why did you decide to get involved, an artist like yourself, with this very bitter Iraq war?

STEVE MUMFORD, ARTIST: Well, I'd been doing a series of paintings, Matthew, which had to do with dramatic narratives, scenes that pictured people in some sort of a dramatic situation, where a story was being told. And before the war came up, I had actually started a series on the Vietnam War, which I am old enough to remember as a kid.

So when this war happened, it occurred to me, you know, artists used to go to the front before photography became the main medium to cover it, so I thought I would go and see what I could find to draw.

CHANCE: Did you have any difficulty actually getting embedded with the U.S. forces, or did they embrace you quite happily?

MUMFORD: Well, a little of both, actually. When I first got to Baghdad, it was around April 20 of 2003, so the invasion had happened. Iraq was chaotic but at the same time relatively peaceful.

Wandering around the streets one day, I encountered a military unit from 3rd ID Task Force 27 and they directed me to their base. When I shoed up, the commander was all to happy to have me join them.

CHANCE: And technically, how did it actually work? You would actually draw these pictures, sketch them, what you witnessed, or did you just draw sketches or photographs and take them back to the sort of security of the base and draw them in more fuller there?

MUMFORD: No, no. The fun of the project was drawing on the spot, so along with my flak vest and helmet, I would bring a pad of paper, ink and watercolors.

So basically, whenever a patrol, for example, would stop, I would grab my stuff and jump out on top of the vehicle or on the street or whatever and just start drawing whatever was in front of me.

So part of the fun was I had to draw fast and not only draw fast, but I always had an audience around me, whether it was soldiers, American soldiers or Iraqis. So I had to be very spontaneous, I had to be un-self- conscious, which wasn't always easy. But it made it a very challenging and surprising process.

CHANCE: I have to ask. There are so many news photographers out there in Iraq, embedded with U.S. forces, many of them, what is it that you think painting can give viewers, more insight, perhaps, more clarity, that a photograph cannot?

MUMFORD: Well, that's a difficult question. Certainly a photograph can have plenty of clarity and can tell a story very accurately. I suppose it's the element of subjectivity in a piece of artwork, in a drawing.

When I do a drawing, it usually takes me about an hour to complete, so everybody that I am drawing can see what I'm doing, and that's another interesting thing. It takes away the element of mystery, of them not knowing what I'm actually doing with the image that I am making.

But the other thing is that I can edit for that hour. I can put in what I want to put in and emphasize what I want to edit. So in some respects, it can be a more personal, a more meditative kind of a product.

CHANCE: A lot of the images that I've seen, certainly, they look relatively calm, relatively tranquil. There's not many sort of scenes of the kind of chaos that we're all used to seeing on our television sets coming out of Iraq. Was that intentional?

MUMFORD: No, that's -- yes. Well, it wasn't intentional, it was just what I saw, and I think that's a really good point, because when I've shown the work here in the United States, I've sometimes gotten a puzzled response like, you know, this is Iraq? I don't see any bombs going off or bodies lying around.

And this is an odd thing about being a reporter in Iraq. I mean a regular news reporter, like the folks that work for you guys. Usually if a bomb goes off, they've got to get to that spot right away and get footage of it, so that what the viewers see is basically the mayhem that is going on, which of course is very real.

But my experience there was completely different, becaues I didn't have to arrive at wherever the news event was. Basically, I would just go out with the soldiers, do whatever they were doing on patrol, and I would draw what I saw.

So in a sense, I think that my body of work is probably more accurate proportionately to the way things are in fact there in Iraq, which was in my experience, anyway, about 90 percent peaceful things, although there was always danger, the danger of roadside bombs and mortar, and then about 10 percent more problematic events.

CHANCE: What about the issue of objectivity, because we all struggle with this when we're embedded with U.S. forces. Do you think these pictures sort of primarily show the Iraq War as essentially a challenge for U.S. forces and don't really get into the idea that the cost to ordinary Iraqis has been so very high?

MUMFORD: It's hard to say. I mean, for one thing I never set out to be objective with this project. Since I'm not a regular news reporter, I'm an artist, I felt that I had the license to be utterly subjective. So if I was embedded with U.S. soldiers and felt that they were doing a good job, I was never shy in my reporters for Artnet (ph) about saying that I thought they were doing a good job. And sometimes referring to "we" instead of "them" since I was on patrol with them.

By the same token, I spent a lot of time in Baghdad with Iraqi friends that I had made there, particularly Iraqi artists, so I probably did the same bonding with them or for that matter when I was traveling up north in Iraqi buses. I think I tended to bond with people that I liked, whether they were Iraqis or the U.S. military.

CHANCE: All right. Fascinating stuff. Steve Mumford, thank you very much.

Well, 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 Matthew Chance, in London, thanks for watching.



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