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Critique of Worldwide Media Coverage

Aired February 12, 2005 - 21:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Christiane Amanpour, in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories.
And we begin this week's political experiment in Saudi Arabia. For the first time ever, the Kingdom's men exercised the right to vote. Many candidates broke a cultural taboo by posting their photograph and details on billboards.

With campaigning on radio and television barred, others took out full- page newspaper ads and pitched themselves on the Internet.

Election fever really gripped the capital, but will this be a stepping stone for greater popular participation?

Joining me now from Riyadh is the Associated Press correspondent Donna Abu Nasr, and here in London, Alison Smale, who is the managing editor of the "International Herald Tri

Thank you for joining us.

Alison and Donna, I want to ask you first, since you are at the heart of the matter there, Donna, how exciting, how real is election fever?

DONNA ABU NASR, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, you can see the excitement. You can see it in newspaper coverage. Remember, these are journalists who have never covered an election before and they tried to cover it in a very serious manner, but they also wrote a lot of stories that were full of color, that were informative and that took hours and hours and to read every day in the newspaper.

AMANPOUR: What were some of the colorful, informative new journalism, if you like, on these elections, in a nutshell?

NASR: Well, the first part of it was that there were many, many candidates. There were hundreds of candidates running, and people did not have the chance to get to learn who the candidates were, so the newspapers tried to do that. And then there were interviews with nutritionists telling people not to eat too much rice and meat at the feasts. There were also pieces that were critical of what was going on and that was also something interesting to watch.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask Alison, critical of some of what was going on. I mean, obviously Saudi Arabia big in the news, the Americans, the West, have talked about what central reform needs to take place. Women were not just not allowed to vote, but they were not allowed to participate. So, what happens? Is this a big, bold step? How does the United States cope with this?

ALISON SMALE, "INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE": Well, I think obviously, it just introduces an element of uncertainty into the equation. What you have now is a first step has been taken. Nobody knows where it's going to lead. An awful lot will depend on who gets elected in these things, how for do they take this process, has this created a certain amount of expectation in Saudi Arabia of something more happening. What happening in the next two stages of the elections. This is just the first step.

For the United States, with George Bush clearly pushing his agenda of democracy in the Middle East, it must be a pleasing first step. The Bush family has very close ties to the Saudi elite. I can't imagine they really have any interest in upsetting the apple cart in a major way there.

Likewise, the British, I mean the British defense industry would not be in such good shape if it didn't have contracts from the Saudis. Nobody has an interest in further major instability in the Middle East, but at the same time the agenda has been proclaimed from Washington and I think we know now if we didn't know before that we must take seriously the pronouncements of the Bush administration.

AMANPOUR: And, Donna, how did that go down there? Was there a sense that despite the excitement of for the very first time actually casting a ballot, was there is sense that it was done at the point of an American gun, so to speak, figuratively?

NASR: Not really. I think there was also internal pressure. Remember, there were lots of Saudis who were calling for reform, calling for change, and that -- you get a lot of that in the newspapers and the media also.

AMANPOUR: And what about the notion of what comes from an election? Could it be Islamism? Could it be, you know, even more entrenched sort of male domination? I mean, let's face it, no women, nowhere.

NASR: That's true, but there is one element here that should be highlighted and that is women tried to continue campaigning and lobbying for participation, even during the campaign and even after the government said that no women were allowed to vote.

There was a lot written by many women saying they have the right to participate and they also wrote pieces criticizing what was going on, commenting on it, proposing ways to improve the campaign.

AMANPOUR: So they did have a sort of a peripheral role.

NASR: They tried to. They pushed very hard and they did not give up, yes.

AMANPOUR: Alison, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, they were both mentioned in the president's inaugural speech. Is this going to be enough to satisfy the Bush administration or does it not really want or is not really interested in pushing full-scale against the Saudi establishment?

SMALE: I think it is pretty plain that the agenda is Israel- Palestine, Iraq and Iran before it is Saudi and Egypt, but clearly this is something that Bush has taken on as a message. He's got now in his second term to secure his place in the history books as it were and he is obviously going to keep on pushing in this way.

We shall see what other means there are besides what we've seen in Iraq. In Iraq, we must say, the agenda has been exactly what the Americans said it would be, unfortunately protected by too many guns, but Iraqis did go and vote. And I found myself fascinated on election day there by looking at the pictures of how many people brought their children dressed in their best clothes, because we all know attitudes to children really speak very genuinely about people.

And if you can starch a white collar and but on Sunday best in a slum like Sadr City, then obviously you think this is something important.

AMANPOUR: And there I am afraid we have to leave it. Donna, we're going to be watching this. Thank you so much for joining us. And Alison, thank you very much indeed for joining us from here in London.

And up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, boasting about Beslan. Should news networks have broadcast the views of Shamil Basayev?

Stay with us for that controversy.


AMANPOUR: He has called himself a jihad warrior, but outside Chechnya he is vilified as a child killer.

Shamil Basayev is the Chechen warlord who master minded the Beslan school massacre and in 2002 the Moscow theater siege. For those attacks alone Russia wants him dead, but he is not out of the picture. He has just appeared on British television promising more terror.

In an interview with Channel 4 News, Basayev said, quote, "We are planning these operations and we kill conduct them if only to show the world again the true face of the Russian regime, the true face of Putin with his satanic horns, so that the world sees his true face," words that the Russian government tried to ban.

The Russian government asked the British government to try to get Channel 4 not to air that interview, saying that it is irresponsible to spread the threats of this murderous bandit. The network rejected the notion that its decision to broadcast the interview condoned Basayev's views.

So to discuss this further, I am joined by Channel 4's deputy editor Martin Fewell here in the London studio with me, and from Moscow, Dmitri Kosyrev from the Russian news agency Novosti.

Let me first ask you, Martin, why did you -- what's the point? Why did you broadcast this?

MARTIN FEWELL, CHANNEL 4 NEWS: There are a number of reasons. First and foremost, the interview revealed new information. This was the first opportunity anybody had had to talk to and here from Mr. Basayev since Beslan. He talked -- (A) he admitted responsibility for it. He said they would be planning more attacks. He gave what I am sure many people will regard as a feeble justification for the killing of so many children, blaming it upon the Russians themselves for storming the school.

He also talked about the changing political situation in Chechnya as well, about the fact that there is now a cease-fire and indeed he also revealed that -- he claimed that he would stand before an international court should the conflict come to an end. All of these are new facts, new information, of which I think we have a duty to bring to our audience.

AMANPOUR: Let me go to Dmitri, because I know he strongly disapproves. Obviously he's written against it. He is from the Russian news agency Novosti.

Dmitri, who should this not be broadcast? People need to know what this man is saying, no?

DMITRI KOSYREV, NOVOSTI: Well, first of all, terrorism is at least one half about psychological warfare. These people want to be aired. They want their views to be reproduced.

I met my first terrorist in the year 1988 in Mindanao and he was very eager to talk to me. He was just happy to see me. And that taught me at least one lesson, that they want us to be their helpers, and I think that we should not do that. We should at least think twice before rendering them this help.

AMANPOUR: OK. Let me just be devil's advocate here. Isn't this an old argument? Haven't we got over that? I don't know how many people -- I don't know where Russian television, but certainly all over the world has broadcast Osama bin Laden. It is almost not news anymore.

Obviously in Britain you have had the experience here for years, Martin, with the whole issue of being banned from broadcasting the IRA. Where are we globally, media, in this debate now?

FEWELL: I think you're right to say that the prevalence of material with terrorists and people who espouse political violence has increased, partly through the spread of the Internet, which gives them the opportunity to create their own platform for their words.

Indeed, I would say -- and I think other people would agree that it puts more responsibility upon us as television journalists and broadcasters to challenge what they say and not to take just at face value their statements of propaganda. I think that is one very important reason why the attitude to broadcasting statements from terrorists has subtly changed.

That doesn't mean, I think, that we're any less responsible about the decision we take, nor does it mean that we don't consider very carefully our actions in doing so. It is very important to put into context what people say, to point out that Basayev has this extraordinary track record for violence so that our viewers can make a fair judgment about what he is saying and we don't take these decisions lightly, and we certainly didn't on this occasion.

AMANPOUR: Dmitri, I wanted to ask you, because I don't know, maybe this is a new issue in terms of the idea of broadcasting terrorist interviews, maybe it is new for Russia, but Britain, the rest of the world, has had to confront it, as I mentioned, with Osama bin Laden, with the IRA before that. Why should the Russian people not here what enemy number one is saying?

KOSYREV: Well, in my country there was a debate on this matter and broadcast interviews of the terrorists is illegal. So this question is solved. But there is so many gray areas in such cases and I think that as was just said, we all have to make our own decisions about decency.

I don't -- I never felt myself as a sponge whose duty is to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and then to just give it a way and stay dry. It is always a very hard choice for us, what to broadcast and what not to broadcast.


FEWELL: I was going to ask Dmitri why he thinks there perhaps ought to be a distinction between television and the print media in reporting interviews such as these. Obviously, by writing it about yourself, Dmitri, you have repeated some of the things that Mr. Basayev said. Why is it legitimate for print media to do that and yet somehow irresponsible for broadcast media to run the interview on television?

KOSYREV: I personally find no difference between broadcast media and the print media. Maybe the television has a stronger psychological impact, at least on the victims of Basayev. I can imagine what the mothers of the children murdered by him can feel seeing his face on the BBC.

You know, there is such an impression that people who are on the BBC or CNN affiliate are kind of important, right?

AMANPOUR: Do you think, Martin, that we aggrandize these people by broadcasting them?

FEWELL: I don't agree with that. I think it depends very much on which the conditions in which the materials is broadcast. Yes, I can see that if terrorists or people who espouse political violence were given an unchallenged platform to air whatever views they had, there might be some truth in your argument.

In this familiar context, Basayev was indeed responding to questions that we had sent to him by on intermediary. Our report made very clear his own history of violence, not just in Beslan but in the Moscow theater siege and in Chechnya before and after that. And I don't think the viewers of that report could have had any doubt about what this man represents.

AMANPOUR: Martin, we're at a crucial point, I think, in our broadcast history. We've got this incredible sort of rise of terrorism and terrorists on the air and horrible terrorist acts like beheading journalists and civilians in Iraq. We do make a decision not to air certain things. How do we make those decisions? Why not air the beheading and air the terrible threats that a Basayev makes?

FEWELL: I think your right to say it is a very difficult decision and we've debated long and hard what extracts to use from the videos that have some out of Iraq in the past year. The restraining influence for us, if you like, is the distress we may cause to our viewers by showing a beheading or the kind of violence you describe, and we haven't. Although we have made a point of making sure we do describe what the videos show so that just by not showing it doesn't mean that we're not telling the viewers what barbarity, if you like, is on display. So that they can make their own judgment about the perpetrators of that violence.

AMANPOUR: I wonder, Dmitri, whether you see that this is going to be an ongoing struggle now in the Russian establishment, the Russian media establishment, and whether you think it is appropriate for the Russian government to pressure the British government to get an independent broadcaster not to broadcast something.

KOSYREV: No. The Russian government, I think, was reflecting the opinions of the majority of Russians. It may be that the level of tolerance for the British in this case is not the same as in Russia because Basayev was closer to our home and if that is so, I am very disappointed.

AMANPOUR: Gentlemen, thank you so much indeed for joining us. This is I believe a conversation that is to be continued, because each time something like this happens, it really touches very raw nerves.

Dmitri Kosyrev, in Moscow, thank you. Martin Fewell, here in London, thank you for joining us.

And we want to take a moment now to pause and remember the two more journalists who have been killed this week in separate attacks. An Iraqi journalist was shot dead at his home in Basra. Abu Hussein al-Basri worked for the U.S. funded network Al Hurra. His 3-year-old son was also killed in that attack.

And in Africa, in Somalia, the BBC producer Kate Payton was gunned down in the capital Mogadishu. Government officials there say that her murder appears to be an attempt to scare off international efforts to rebuild that country and certainly perhaps international efforts to see what is going on in that country.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, our last segment.

Stay with us.


AMANPOUR: Well, they barely need to breathe and the media pounce, but there is nothing like a royal wedding to send editors into a total frenzy. The news this week Britain's Prince Charles is to marry his long-term lover Camilla Parker Bowles did just that. Front pages were held and press packs descended on the palace. It seems everyone has an opinion and there is no denying that the royals sell well.

Joining me now is Sally Cartwright, who is the publishing director of "Hello" magazine.

Thanks for joining us.

This is right up your alley, isn't it?

SALLY CARTWRIGHT, "HELLO": It is a gift from the Gods. It really is. We're all thrilled to bits.

AMANPOUR: And what are you going to do? I mean, can you get an exclusive for "Hello" out of this kind of thing?

CARTWRIGHT: I really wish we could, but history says that there are no exclusives of royal weddings.

I think this is going to be a lot quieter than the previous one, but undoubtedly pictures will be issued and we shall all be speculating for weeks in advance about who does the hair, where did the jewels come from, where do the shoes come from, everything.

AMANPOUR: And, you know, obviously the last great one was Princess Di and Prince Charles. And that was a real wedding in a cathedral, at the Abbey exactly. This is going to be, what, a civil service in Windsor Castle. How exciting is it going to be visually?

CARTWRIGHT: Well, I don't think we are going to get the chance to see very much of it, in truth. It will be a civil service in Windsor Castle followed by a service of blessing and dedication in Saint George's Chapel Windsor. Now that is a pretty spectacular place, so any pictures in that will be well-worth having.

AMANPOUR: And do you expect Camilla Parker Bowles to wear a long flowing white bridal gown?

CARTWRIGHT: I don't think I do. I think we won't see her in a meringue and a veil. She's gut a lot too much sense.

AMANPOUR: Now, it is true that according to the latest poll that 65 percent of the British people accept that this marriage is going to happen, but how excited is the public going to be, the buying public of your magazines, for instance, and others, about this particular royal wedding?

CARTWRIGHT: Not as excited as they would by if it was Prince William's wedding, clearly. Because they are an older couple, it lacks the glamour, the excitement, the romance, although there is real romance about a love affair that has gone on for 35 years.

I think that it will be a shorter-term interest. It's a shorter built up, a shorter engagement, all of which is entirely appropriate. I think we'll see good sales. I imagine the newspapers -- well the newspapers have certainly up-paged today to cope with all it coverage.

AMANPOUR: So what will you be doing at "Hello" to prepare for this?

CARTWRIGHT: Well, for next week we have up-paged, of course, we're coming out...

AMANPOUR: What does that mean?

CARTWRIGHT: We have increased the issue size. Instead of being 140 pages, we're 160 pages, to allow for extra space so more pictures of Camilla as a child, Camilla as a teen-ager, previous parties and so on. All of that.

We will give a substantial coverage to start with, and then I think it will go fairly quiet, except as more announcements come out about the wedding, that will all go in, and then in the week before the wedding you can expect serious coverage again. Lots of speculation, who has designed the dress, what is it like, is the wedding ring made from the same chunk of Welsh gold as Diana's wedding ring was.

And then the week after the wedding -- and I am very grateful they are marrying on a Friday, it is much better for us than a Saturday. The week after the wedding, you will get substantial coverage everywhere.

AMANPOUR: And presumably a lot of the public will have maybe taken pictures and handed them to you? Do you expect people inside to have taken pictures and hand them to you or sell them to you?

CARTWRIGHT: It would be very unusual for there to be sneak pictures of a royal event. I would be surprised and we would probably not publish them if we were offered them.

AMANPOUR: There's a whole another issue. Now we're into a real issue. Why not? Because you would get censored by the royals?

CARTWRIGHT: It might make it more difficult to get coverage from them in the future, but I think the point is that if somebody is selling their wedding, if they have turned their wedding into commercial event, then by and large you consider that that past is sold, and anybody who gets sneak pictures, it is sort of fair game.

If somebody says their wedding is a private event and they don't want pictures, then I thing that's fair enough and most media will probably abide by that. Some of the tabloids, no. Anything they can get, they will use.

AMANPOUR: Very interesting.

Thank you very much for coming in and telling us all about that. Thanks. And royals do sell.

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 Christiane Amanpour. Thank you for joining us.



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