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Ukrainian Journalist's Murder Sparks Political Firestorm

Aired May 7, 2005 - 21:00:00   ET


JOHN SUCHET, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm John Suchet, in London. Welcome to CNN'S INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories of the moment.
And we begin with some grim statistics. Last Tuesday was World Press Freedom Day. It coincided with the news that at least 1,300 journalists have been killed on duty in the past 15 years. More than 70 alone died in the bloody battle fields of Iraq, but the majority of deaths came where a correspondent was killed in his or her own country, often as a result of simply doing what a journalist does.

That was the fate of the Ukrainian journalist Grorgiy Gongadze. His murder five years ago sparked a political firestorm.

To discuss this further, I'm joined here by the journalist David Crouch, who is leading the inquiry into Grorgiy's death, and from Washington, D.C., Grorgiy's widow, Myroslava Gongadze.

And, Myroslava, if I could start with you, as I said in my introduction, your husband was killed simply doing his job, simply being a journalist.

MYROSLAVA GONGADZE, GRORGIY'S WIDOW: Yes, yes. He just -- he published a lot of articles about corruption in Ukraine and he was investigating corruption, and especially political corruption. And one time he just didn't come back home from work.

The first time, I thought he was kidnapped and we started campaign to find him. But in two months his beheaded body was found in the forest near Kiev, and that was it. Later on, a tape recorded in the Ukrainian president's cabinet came out and we realized that the Ukrainian president, President Kuchma, was ordering this crime.

Now it is four-and-a-half years. We are fighting for a clear investigation into this case and it is still a battle. It is still a battle. And now we have a new president, new political situation in Ukraine, and the new president promised that he will go to the bottom of this case. And it looks like we have some result in this investigation, because they found the actual killers of my husband. It was two persons from the former militia, men, and now the issue is to go to the instigators of the crime. And it is a little hard in this case.

SUCHET: Myroslava, he must have known the danger he was in.

GONGADZE: Actually, yes, he knows the danger, and for the whole summer before his disappearance, people were following us. He actually wrote an official letter to the general prosecutor's office to find out what was going on around our family. And we never heard back from the prosecutor's office.

But the thing is that Grorgiy was the person who never -- he wouldn't give up because somebody threatened him. No. He just thought that he was doing his job, and he is doing the right thing. And it was important for him. It was his life.

SUCHET: David, Grorgiy's case obviously came up at World Press Freedom Day on Tuesday. But, sadly, it is just one case. Journalists now around the world are in danger.

DAVID CROUCH, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: I think the general picture is that the economic and political changes that have been in Eastern Europe, but also elsewhere in the world over the last 15 years, have led to a situation in which wealthy people are very reluctant to have journalists investigating the sources of their wealth and quite often these people also have a lot of influence on governments.

So governments too are reluctant to have journalists digging too deeply into what they're doing.

SUCHET: It seems to me, as a former correspondent, that things changed in Kosovo, in the '90s, when suddenly journalists themselves, correspondents, became targets.

CROUCH: I think you can date it back earlier than that. If you look at Russia, for example, where some 400 journalists have died in the last 15 years. The British journalist, Rory Peck, was the cameraman that was shot dead in Moscow in 1993. And, of course, the Chechen war has claimed many scores of journalists' lives.

SUCHET: Myroslava, Ukraine is a country which has had rigid press censorship, no freedom of information, no freedom of expression. How have you brought your husband's case to the eyes of the world?

GONGADZE: Actually the thing is that within the first day after my husband's disappearance, I organized the journalists, the colleagues of my husband, and told them that, listen, it is my personal problem, but it is not only my personal problem, it is your personal problem, because the next can be anybody of you guys, and we have to work together to fight this, to find him.

And, actually, journalists realized that they had to follow this case, this investigation. And in the first couple of months even, it was censorship. The media was controlled. The journalists were trying to get this story on the top of the -- make the story the top of the information situation in Ukraine, and now it has come in 2004 to the Orange Revolution -- to bring Orange Revolution to Ukraine.

And now in Ukraine we have a freedom. Actually, the media, after the Orange Revolution became completely free. And the case is only that they have to use this freedom professionally, and now am I really -- I hope that this year we will come to the bottom of this case and we will go to court.

SUCHET: It is wonderful, David, to see Myroslava's optimism there. Sadly, at this conference that you attended, countries were listed which are the most repressive, where journalists are persecuted. What, Iraq, Cuba, Zimbabwe.

CROUCH: Yes. I think also, however, that there is a tendency for us to think things are -- that the grass is browner on the other side of the fence, if you like. The situation that journalists face in Europe, in Western Europe, in this country too, is far from ideal.

So almost exactly a year after Grorgiy Gongadze was murdered, Martin O'Hagan, in Belfast, a correspondent for the "Sunday World," opened his front door and was gunned down by paramilitaries. And to this day the case has not been solved. And I'm sorry to say, if you listen to some of the statements by politicians and investigators and close your eyes while you are listening to them, it is almost like you are in Ukraine before the Orange Revolution.

SUCHET: Myroslava, you said that you took your husband's case on, you mobilized journalists in Ukraine. Is that what you would like to see in other countries, where journalists are repressed?

GONGADZE: I think that the problem is that the international organizations, the non-government organizations, who are kind of standing up for journalists around the world, they don't have enough power to investigate the cases. And the first issue here is that we have to investigate from the first day, from the first hour, when the journalist was killed or disappeared.

And the second problem is that we have to intervene in internal justice in the country, because it has never happened that the government of the country would like to investigate. They are also trying to cover up the cases against -- the crimes against journalists.

SUCHET: And, David, you would no doubt agree with that.

CROUCH: Absolutely. I think without the action of individuals, no change is automatically for the better. And without the campaigning activity of brave individuals, such as Myroslava and colleagues around the world who kept the Grorgiy Gongadze case alive over four-and-a-half years now, I mean kept it in the forefront of not just Ukrainian politics but international politics, that's why we are seeing progress now.

SUCHET: Yes, and let's hope the case of Grorgiy is soon resolved. David Crouch, in London, and Myroslava Gongadze, in Washington, thank you both very much indeed.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, the media's battle to turn voters into viewers. We review the broadcasters coverage of Britain's election.

Stay with us.


SUCHET: Welcome back.

Bring in the cartoonist, hire a helicopter, commandeer a top tourist attraction and throw a boat party. Yes, it is the U.K. election 2005, and all that is exactly what Britain's broadcasters did to cover the event.

While politicians did their best to woo the voters, media organizations did their best to woo the viewers. Correspondents mixed with celebrities and networks cut to cameras up and down the country, but do fancy graphics and the latest technology mean style has overtaken substance in our reporting of politics?

To discuss this further, I'm joined now by John Harris, author of several books, including "So Now Who Do We Vote For," and Martin Bell, veteran correspondent who stunned the media world when he left it all to become a politician.

And, Martin, specifically to fight sleaze. Has much changed since you did that, what, eight years ago?

MARTIN BELL, FMR. CORRESPONDENT: I wish I could say a lot has. It wasn't just sleaze. The issue was honesty in politics. And the problems that we have now, I think, are much more grave than we had then, and it can only be solved by the people. And they only went, in my view, a little way to do it in our general election.

SUCHET: Is part of the problem the way the media cover things like an election? They really go for people's private lives, details that they may not want exposed.

BELL: Yes, they are very intrusive. I mean, I have had it. But I think that that is all right if you are a public figure. They're entitled to probe and if I've got skeletons in my cupboard, they're going to find them. But the families and so on, no, that's very different.

But I found this a very unsatisfactory campaign. We got one media campaign, which is our newspapers, who are incredibly opinionated. All over the front page you get the bias, as well as the editorial page. They are, if anything, too robust and not sufficiently analytical. And on the television side, it is so an anodyne it is almost worthless.

For four weeks you have the parties make their broadcasts and their statements. One statement, two rebuttals. One statement, two rebuttals. It is like a dreary waltz on a dance floor in purgatory, and it is very unilluminating.

SUCHET: John, a dreary waltz on a dance floor in purgatory. That's quite a stunning phrase. Do you agree with that?

JOHN HARRIS, AUTHOR: I actually found the television coverage of this election campaign, in some part anyway, fairly compelling. You've actually reached a point now in politics where everyone is aiming at the swing vote, so there is this terrible fear of a strong message of anything that might be perceived as sounding shrill.

And therefore what happened in the first two weeks of this campaign was there was an elephant in the living room in this election, which was the Iraq War. And what the television media did, certainly in the case of a very famously robust BBC interviewer called Jeremy Paxman, that they entered the election campaign as one of the players and were instrumental in the sense that Mr. Blair was being brought to account, and it was great television, but I think it also rendered the public a kind of democratic service. It was a worthwhile endeavor.

SUCHET: So it is good for the media to intervene in that way, in your view?

HARRIS: From a dispassionate basis. It wasn't as if Jeremy Paxman was grinding an ax for any particular party. He just thought, as British interviewers tend to, that it was incumbent on him to bring the politicians to account. And I'm glad that he did.

SUCHET: Martin, that interview made a lot of news.

BELL: Yes. And foreign correspondents based in London or coming to Britain for the election are absolutely amazed at the robustness, the rudeness, because this is where it happens. In party political broadcasts, of course, the parties have control. In their campaigning they have control. They don't have public meetings. They just waffle away to audiences of the faithful.

SUCHET: Let's have a look at exactly the sort of thing you're talking about. Here is newspaper headline from just a few days before the election itself. Look at that. Is that strong language? Should the press really be calling the prime minister a liar?

BELL: I think it would be rather good if we have the equivalent in the "Washington Post," the "New York Times" or "Le Monde" because --

SUCHET: But you couldn't have. Americans would never insult their --

BELL: Well, that's because they defanged their media. Their media are completely afraid to hold the government to account, which is actually one of the functions of the media. And this is fairly recent, I think, since 9/11. And we've got some of the best newspapers in the world and some of the worst newspapers in the world. But at least we've got lots of them and they are really robust and they're hopelessly opinionated. But I think the people are smart enough to see behind the bias and I put great faith in the wisdom of the people -- I had to, because they elected me once, didn't they?

SUCHET: John, as I mentioned in the introduction, whiz bang graphics on television, all night, like we've never seen before. Is style getting in the way of substance? Are we perhaps copying the Americans too much and going for the glitz and the glamour and getting away for the issues?

HARRIS: It's very hard to talk about these things without resorting to cliches, because obviously we live in the age of the sound bite and as someone who participates in media discussions very often, I get terribly frustrated that 2-1/2 minutes into a conversation about something very complicated they'll say now it is time for the travel. I suppose you have to roll with the punches on that score.

As regards flash graphics and so on, I think we've reached a point where they are become sort of self-parodic and camp and therefore are quite enjoyable. Again, when I watched the BBC coverage, there is a gentleman called Peter Snow who bounds around these amazingly intricate diagrams. He's like a mad scientist. And it is like watching a clown at the circus. You half think he's going to drive in on a car that will fall apart, you know. And therefore it is very, very enjoyable.

It undoubtedly distracts from the idea that politics is about anything, because you become fixated on process. The whole thing just becomes about a succession of sums flashing in front of you whereas what it is actually about is the meat and drink of people's lives.

SUCHET: Do you agree -- Martin.

BELL: Yes, it is quite interesting. There is a reality out there in British politics. Somewhere on a town hall steps, a mayor or a returning officer is reading out the results, and you see the candidates, and the people cheer and boo. You try doing that in an American election.

SUCHET: I must remind you of a little bit of history. You and I both covered the Washington beat together as correspondents, television correspondents, what, a little more than 20 years ago. An awful lot has changed in that time.

BELL: It is true. That was the Reagan monarchy, both its terms. Lots of waving flags and folksy wisdom and the greatest communicator in the history of the American presidency. But what you have now, everything is manipulated through the media. You've got almost virtual politics. You don't know what is true or what is not.

It reminds me of the great saying by one of the American anchormen who explained to me that in television, all you need is sincerity, and if you can fake that, you've got it made.

SUCHET: Where do we go from here, John? What's the future of -- I mean, it seems to us almost technologically we're at the limit for covering things like elections. What on earth does the future hold?

HARRIS: I would probably much rather they dispensed with some of their fancy diagrams and anchormen leaping around and so on, and as Martin just said, it would be nice to get back to the idea -- by way of kind of rejoining politics with what it is actually about, to get out of the glamour a bit more and go to places where people count the votes a bit more and talk to people on the street about what motivates them to vote, even if you discover that, as I came to the conclusion yesterday, by and large, the general election is like the Booker Prize largely judged by electorates.

But so what? You know. That's where it is going on. And I do worry a little that the media is part of the political class, and I think the political class increasingly talks to itself.

So it became a huge shock, for example, the result last night, the fact that some of Labor's core vote had come away. You could tell, to the broadcasters this was a huge shock. It wasn't any shock to me, because I don't live in London and I was out there talking to these people, and it was palpably obvious. But in the terms of engagement of people who meet each other for lunch in West Minister and so on, that was a revelation.

SUCHET: Yes, the media village.

Martin, when you were an MP, did the media village get in the way of policies? Or did you find in your particular campaign you really welcomed the media attention?

BELL: Well, I think I could handle it, because I had been on the other side. But I was amazed at the extent to which MPs spend their time trying to get on the back pages, even, of their local weeklies.

I put out two press releases in four years. There is an absolute obsession with what the press is saying about you. And in honest politics, you just do what is right and the press will either report it or they won't report it, and if they don't like it, too bad.

SUCHET: Fascinating conversation. Gentlemen, thank you very much. John Harris, thank you. Martin Bell, former MP and television correspondent, thank you both very much indeed.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, what the cartoonist sees. We check out the work of a political artist.

Stay with us.


SUCHET: Welcome back.

Tony Blair, the British prime minister, a liar, obese with sticky out ears. Well, not really, but in the eyes of a political cartoonist. A perfect way of illustrating the leader of this country. And we're not just talking about a cartoonist who makes you laugh but a cartoonist who can really influence how you vote.

And Steve Bell, one of the best in the business, joins me now.

Steve, let's get straight to the point. You virtually single-handedly destroyed a former British prime minister, John Major, by picturing him like this, the famous shot of him in his Y-front underpants and any British man who went to a boy's boarding school will know what it means to tuck your outer clothing into your underpants.

John Major never recovered from that. Was that your intention?

STEVE BELL, CARTOONIST: Well, it wasn't entirely me. I mean, what the underpants were as far as I thought, were kind of a metaphor for uselessness. It wasn't necessarily to do with the fact of whether he tucked his shirt in or not. It was to do with rather like a useless Superman, with his briefs outside his tights. In this case, it is his Y- fronts outside his gray suit.

And it sort of works, so I just kept peddling it for all it was worth.

SUCHET: What gave you that idea?

BELL: I was doing him as a useless Superman and that's where it came from. It was just sheer -- the logic of doing it that way. And that's how it -- that often happens when doing comic strips. You follow an absurd line of logic and it creates and produces all sorts of daft ideas, some of which are hopeless, some of which you can run with.

SUCHET: Let's bring it right up to date. Tony Blair, as I just mentioned, let's have a look at him. Here it is. "I cannot tell a lie. I am a porky pie."

Perhaps we should explain for our international viewers, a porky pie is cockney rhyming slang for a lie. But this is brutal stuff.

BELL: Well, it is to do -- actually, that is more or less drawn from life, strangely. Because I actually went to the press conference where he was being hammered about the attorney general thing. And seeing him for the first time during the campaign, it was quite interesting, because he has put on a lot of weight. He is now -- he's sort of walking, sort of barreling along, which is -- Blair is actually a fit bloke. He looks after himself a lot. This time he does seem to have run to seed a bit. He's put on a little weight. And so the two ideas came another, pork pie and putting on weight. I can talk, for God's sake. But, you know --

SUCHET: Do you think, though, that a cartoon like that can actually influence people's image and persuade them to vote one way or the other?

BELL: I doubt very much you can directly influence people to vote one way or another, but what you can influence is people's perceptions, because that's the great advantage cartoons have. You're dealing straight, directly with the perceptions of that person.

There is a strange kind of relationship between cartoonists and politicians, because they're so desperate to be caricatured, because they have to be noticed, so you are sort of paying them a backhanded compliment in some ways. But, of course, that's not our intention. We want to get under their skin.

So if you find they want to buy the artwork, it is rather a sign of failure.

SUCHET: They ring you up and ask to have --

BELL: Well, not often, but it has happened.

SUCHET: Let's have a look at another one of your election cartoons. One of the biggest running stories here, of course, is the rivalry between Tony Blair and the chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown. Here he is, spraying a fake tan on himself, as a parody of the fact that if you vote for him, you get Gordon Brown.

BELL: That's right. They have this strange relationship. It's been going on for years. They obviously did have a deal, that Brown gave way to Blair and Blair became prime minister, and the deal was that he was going to stand down later, and he didn't. Which is the unfortunate thing.

There was also this story going around about Blair using fake suntan. He does -- he's actually quite conscious of his appearance and does use cosmetics. He does spray and primp a bit. And I suspect he's had a bit of botox as well on his forehead, because his forehead has gotten very unnaturally smooth.

SUCHET: Which makes him an ideal candidate to be lampooned.

BELL: Yes. But he is a performer, so using a bit of slack is entirely natural.

SUCHET: Well, for our American viewers, let's see your portrayal of their president. How do you recover from an image like that? It's the eyes so close together, isn't it, that gives the air of stupidity almost.

BELL: Well, Bush has these very close together eyes. He also has this sort of air of a chimpanzee, which I always do him as. I mean, it is just the way he moves, the way he carries himself about, like that. And he is a great comic because he is making flaring nostrils as well. And he has got chimpanzee-like expressions. He shoots his mouth out like that, like a bit of a monkey pout.

SUCHET: I'm not sure it is safe being here in the studio with you, Steve. Great to talk to you. Thank you very much.

That's 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 John Suchet. Thanks for joining us.



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