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INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

Should Media Have Published Photos of Saddam in Underwear?; BBC Employees Strike

Aired May 28, 2005 - 21:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WALTER RODGERS, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Walter Rodgers, in London. Welcome to CNN'S INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories of the moment.
Degrading or deserved? Should the media show Saddam Hussein in his underwear? That's been the debate since this image of the deposed dictator was splashed across the front page of Britain's "Sun" newspaper and the "New York Post." The photograph sparked outrage, particularly across the Arab world. But both tabloids boldly stood by their decision to publish them.

The "Post" said, quote, "Saddam Hussein is a genocidal maniac who tortured, gassed and killed tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis." It also reminded those who were offended of just how little regard Saddam had for his own people.

To discuss this further, I'm joined by Graham Dudman, managing editor of the "Sun" newspaper; Patrick Cockburn, correspondent for Britain's "Independent" newspaper; and from Washington, D.C. by Khaled Al-Maeena, editor-in-chief of the "Arab News."

Graham, the ultimate test of a publisher and editor's decision is did it sell newspapers. Was there a spike after you published these newspapers of Saddam Hussein? Did you sell more editions?

GRAHAM DUDMAN, "SUN": Yes, we did. It was a very good sale for us. I'm not going to tell you exactly how much it was, but we were very pleased with it, certainly.

RODGERS: Quick question: did you check the authenticity of them, and how did you check it?

DUDMAN: Of course we checked the authenticity. I didn't want to be sitting here trying to defend a pile of fake photographs to you.

And we checked them out -- I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to tell you how we checked them out, but I can tell you that we did it very thoroughly, very carefully. It wasn't a knee-jerk reaction. We didn't have the pictures and we didn't publish them the next day. Once we had established that they were genuine, we went ahead and published.

RODGERS: What's the news value of seeing a humiliated old Arab man in his undies?

DUDMAN: Well, you tell me. You know, CNN were running them within minutes of them hitting the presses, as was virtually every other network. We were featured in virtually every paper, TV station, around the world, whether they agreed with us or not. It was incredible exposure for the newspaper.

RODGERS: Patrick, would you have run them if you were an editor? Tell us what you think their news value is, please.

PATRICK COCKBURN, "INDEPENDENT": Sure, I would have run them, because it's news and we're newspapers.

The news value, it's quite interesting. What is sort of disgraceful is not what the "Sun" or any newspaper did but the fact that people who are meant to be guarding Saddam Hussein were taking candid pictures. That you could complain about, but nobody should have any complaint about the "Sun" or any of the media running these pictures.

RODGERS: Khaled, I'd like to ask you essentially the same question. Do these pictures have news value and do they add to the sense of humiliation of which the Islamic world has complained so much in the past?

KHALED AL-MAEENA, "ARAB NEWS": Well, I don't think they have any news value whether Saddam Hussein is in a tuxedo or in pantyhose doesn't concern a lot of people. Of course, nobody has any soft spot for him. But I think they were perceived in the Arab world, especially in countries around Iraq, as further humiliation after the Abu Ghraib, after the desecration of the Koran, and so many things, and people are wondering, the man on the street and the woman on the street, if the Americans have come to liberate Iraq, why go through all this process of humiliating the people and those around Iraq.

RODGERS: Why are the people of Iraq humiliated by a photograph like that? Why should any Arab care one way or the other whether Saddam Hussein is seen in his underwear or not?

AL-MAEENA: You see, conspiracy theories run awry. I mean, many people phoned me and said why don't the Americans or NATO forces show pictures of Milosevic or others, why Saddam? Of course, as I said, Saddam is no more a symbol of the Iraqis, he never was. He was a tyrant, a thug, a murderer, we all know that. And there is no soft spot for him, as I said.

But I think these pictures sort of show humiliation of Arabs, and this is the mindset of the people there. So it is a bit difficult to explain to somebody in the West, but people are really upset about it, not because they like Saddam but because they showed an Arab in his undies.

RODGERS: Graham?

DUNMAN: I'm not going to go down the road of where we got the pictures from or how we got the pictures. I would say that our aim certainly wasn't to humiliate anybody or to humiliate anybody or humiliate any religion or group of people. These were simply a great set of news pictures that happened upon the "Sun" newspaper and we decided to publish them, and I defy any newspaper not to have done so. I'm glad the "Independent" would have taken the same view as well. And I know that several papers in the Arab world published them. In fact, several of them bought the rights from us.

RODGERS: Patrick?

COCKBURN: What is offensive about this is following the pictures we saw of people being tortured and humiliated in Abu Ghraib, we then have more pictures of a prisoner, it is of Saddam Hussein. It shows that those in charge of Saddam Hussein or any other Iraqi prisoners don't care in the least if their pictured in these humiliating postures.

RODGERS: Surely the Bush administration was embarrassed by this picture, to have this picture come out, or are you suggesting the Bush administration just wanted to rub it in a little bit more with Saddam?

COCKBURN: No, no, not the Bush administration. The people in the prison. You would think after Abu Ghraib the one thing they'd be sensitive about would be more pictures of Iraqi prisoners. Not the Bush administration, the people who are actually in charge of the prison. And these pictures show that no, they aren't, or that there are enough people around that are corrupt or whatever, that these pictures are passed on to the outside world.

RODGERS: Khaled, what offended you most about the picture?

AL-MAEENA: Well, I think it's the humiliating pictures. But what upset me most -- it is more than offending me -- is the people, as Patrick said, who are supposed to guard him, are making money and publishing, and we expect more pictures to come out.

But I think people in the Arab world, as I said earlier, did not want to see a former Arab leader, whoever he was, criminal or thug or murderer, to be seen like this. We want Saddam to be tried and to be convicted.

RODGERS: Graham, we've heard much about the Geneva Convention in this context. Did you violate the Geneva Convention?

DUNMAN: No, we didn't. We were accused of it from every quarter when we published them, but governments are bound by the Geneva Convention, not newspapers or broadcasters. That was our advice.

RODGERS: We heard that Saddam Hussein's lawyers were going to sue your paper. Have they come to you yet?

DUNMAN: We've taken on some pretty unsavory characters in the past, but none so vile as Saddam Hussein. No, they haven't. We've had no contact from his lawyers. We look forward to hearing from them. It should be a very interesting court case.

RODGERS: Do you think that the media should be more accommodating to the Arab world? And if so, tell us why.

AL-MAEENA: I don't think so. I mean, I don't think -- the Arab world is part of the world and we should not divest it. I think if there are unsavory characters and rogues in the Arab world, they should be taken to task by the media not only outside but inside.

But the people are asking, I also ask, as to why this happened when the Iraqis in the first Gulf War showed pictures of American prisoners in their uniforms and later on there was an uproar of violation of Geneva Convention, human rights, causing mental torture to the families of the victims, the families of the soldiers, but this was too much.

RODGERS: Khaled, did you ever write anything when outside Fallujiah you had three or four Americans killed on the street, their bodies dragged from the car. Their bodies were mutilated and then hung naked from a bridge. Did that offend you? Was that the same -- did you write anything about that?

AL-MAEENA: It horrified us. We make in our publication and our Arab newspaper, we make no difference between American or Arab or Christian or Muslim. I think that horrified us, and we had about seven or eight editorials condemning this inhuman activity, condemning the activities of Zarqawi and all of those people who are causing bloodshed, confusion and mayhem in Iraq. We make no difference at all.

RODGERS: Graham, last word to you.

DUNMAN: I'd just say that we got a huge amount of criticism, mainly from media rivals who were jealous that they didn't have the scoop that we had, and from people lobbing this into the same as Abu Ghraib, which it is not. He wasn't being tortured. He's not being mistreated. He was washing his trousers. And also for the story that "Newsweek" ran about the Koran being desecrated at Guantanamo Bay, which was a pack of lies, and we were told, oh, these are going to have the same effect as that. Well, that was patently nonsense, because what we published was the truth as opposed to a pack of lies.

RODGERS: Graham, Patrick, thank you very much, Khaled, thank you very much for joining us.

AL-MAEENA: Thank you.

RODGERS: Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, boycotts at the BBC. Thousands of journalists strike over proposed job cuts, but will the news suffer?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RODGERS: Welcome back.

This is the BBC Evening News. That's right, silence or not far from it.

Most of the BBC news programs were severely scaled back this week after journalists walked out. Thousands of employees struck over proposed job cuts which they liken to backdoor privatization.

So does the world's largest broadcasting corporation need trimming, or will the cuts put the future of public service broadcasting at risk?

To discuss this further, I am joined by former CBS correspondent Tom Fenton, who has just published a book about the decline of reporting, and Lis Howell, program director of television journalism at City University in London.

Lis, are we looking at another bloated government bureaucracy in the BBC that just simply needs pruning?

LIS HOWELL, CITY UNIV. OF LONDON: I think there is a need for pruning and I think many people would agree with that, but we're looking at something that is much more complex than that situation.

What this is, in the eyes of many BBC employees, is the government's attempt to hold a gun to the BBC's head after the Hutton Inquiry, which really came out and said that the BBC was wrong in its criticism of the government and behavior over the Iraq War, and it seemed a sort of revenge by the government on the BBC.

However, having said that, many people in the journalism industry do think that the BBC is over-manned. There are an awful lot of people to produce a program, and it's a question of strategy, too. I mean, they're cutting down in some areas, but not in others, and in my opinion to actually try and attack the region, the provinces, where they have enormous coverage and yet they are cutting down seems to be a mistake. And perhaps in London, they are a little bit bloated. So it's a complicated situation.

RODGERS: Allowing for all the people that the BBC employs in Ulster, in Wales, all over the United Kingdom, in news, does anyone have any idea of how many correspondents the BBC has? How many people working in their news division?

HOWELL: Well, the BBC do, obviously. I mean, they do keep tabs on all the people they've got --

RODGERS: Have you got a ballpark figure?

HOWELL: I don't have a ballpark figure for that number, no, but there are -- for example, I do know that in BBC local radio there are five times as many people in BBC local radio as in commercial local radio. On the face of that, that seems outrageous, because it's not five times better, but you've got to look at the nature of the beast.

BBC local radio in the provinces of the United Kingdom is a very different animal from commercial radio, and you have a talk-based radio situation for the BBC and a music-based situation for commercial radio.

RODGERS: Tom, you were a creature of a much different broadcasting organization, one which indeed had to answer to business managers. How do you view what's happening at the BBC?

TOM FENTON, AUTHOR AND FMR. CBS CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, the BBC is the jewel in the crown of news broadcasting, and I think anything that damages the BBC's ability to actually gather news other than packaged news or do talk broadcasting, like many of the other news organizations do, is a dangerous thing.

The BBC has the luxury of not being forced to respond to commercial pressures. The American networks have all been dismantled to a certain extent, downsized, demobilized. CBS News, my former employers, for example, used to have bureaus around the world. Now they have just a handful, actually two handfuls with a few fingers left over, foreign correspondents, and less than a handful of bureaus.

That's not the road that you want to see the BBC go down. Yes, they're fully staffed. Maybe in some places they are overstaffed, but they're fully staffed because they actually do news gathering, and I think anything that forces them to cut back on their news gathering is a very dangerous road to go down.

RODGERS: Well, you can look at ITN, the private sector, you can look at Sky, and you can see what they do with a fraction of the resources that the BBC has, and the BBC in terms of its news doesn't give you that much of a qualitative difference anymore.

FENTON: Oh, I think it does. I think it does.

Remember, also, the world service. Remember all the outlets that they have. The BBC has got boots on the ground in most parts of the world. Sky does a very good job. Independent television does a very good job. But the BBC is there and there is nothing that can replace eyes and ears or boots on the ground when it comes to news gathering, not just news packaging or news parachuting, as most people do nowadays.

RODGERS: But they've got thousands and thousands of correspondents. I mean, surely they can take some pruning.

FENTON: Of course, of course. But the problem is, if you start really putting the boot in and start going down that road, you end up doing the sort of thing that we do in commercial broadcasting.

I'm not advocating that American broadcasting me government sponsored, because I don't think it would work in our political climate. For some reason or other, it works in this country. But what I am advocating is that somehow the BBC be refit so that they can continue to gather the news as news is supposed to be gathered, continue to have people in Kuala Lumpur. Continue to have people in Latin America, whole continents that, for example, American television doesn't cover.

RODGERS: But the director-general, Mark Thompson, has a mandate. He's got to cut, doesn't he?

HOWELL: Yes, he does have to cut. Whether he's got to cut as severely as he said he's going to cut, I don't know. That could be a strategy. But there is a tradition growing in the BBC of a need for head to head with the workforce and that perhaps the way that the BBC has been going about it has not been the best way.

FENTON: Right, I would agree. When you end up with a strike, as they have, that is a failure of management. They have now come to terms, at least to a certain extent, but that was a management failure.

HOWELL: When you have a sense of over-manning, I think it leads to insecurity, because when people feel there are too many people for too few jobs, they're frightened about their own jobs and that leads to a sort of bullying culture. And there is an element of that in the BBC.

FENTON: But remember now, the BBC has slimmed down a lot. When I first came to this country many years ago, if the BBC went out to do an interview, it was a roomful of people just to do the interview.

HOWELL: It's slimmed down in some practical ways, again, in London, but it's grown in other ways. There are far more BBC channels. This is some of the problems the BBC has in that it has to do everything for everybody because it's funded by a tax. It has to be able to say we're doing that as well as Sky, you know. If CNN starts an initiative, you'll find the BBC does their own version several weeks later.

RODGERS: Lis, Tom, thank you very, very much for those enlightening remarks.

War at the Cannes Film Festival. We take a look at a film inspired by the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RODGERS: Welcome back.

Journalists in Iraq are so often stuck in hotels, rarely making it out of their heavily guarded compounds. So a film that offers a blunt and powerful glimpse into the horrors of Saddam Hussein's Iraq was bound to make a splash.

"Kilometer Zero" recounts life under the dictator through the eyes of a reluctant Kurdish conscript. ITN's Nicholas Glass spoke to the movie's director at the Cannes Film Festival.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NICHOLAS GLASS, ITV CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An unenviable dilemma. Which leg to lose. A highly reluctant Kurdish conscript in Saddam Hussein's army thinks it's the only way out, to be invalided out. The year is 1988 and Acho (ph) is somewhere he most definitely doesn't want to be.

With that reassurance, a conscript must do what he has to do. Acho (ph) is out of luck.

"Kilometer Zero" was written and directed by a Kurdish exile. Hiner Saleem is 41. He fled Iraqi Kurdistan as a teenager and now lives in Paris. This is his fourth film. It was prompted by the news every Kurd, exiled or not, had longed for, the fall of Saddam Hussein.

HINER SALEEM, "KILOMETER ZERO" DIRECTOR (through translator): You know the scene in Paris, in the film, the actors acted out what I felt that day. Complete joy. I was so happy, I almost jumped out the window. That was my reaction.

GLASS: Hiner Saleem decided to return from exile to make his film and urgently. Basically, he's made a road movie. Acho (ph) is reprieved from frontline duty and given the job of escorting a soldier's coffin back to the man's family.

The director brought crew and equipment with him.

SALEEM (through translator): It was impossible to find a single camera in Kurdistan. There are no film crews, no professionals, no film stock. There was nothing, only people and fantastic landscape.

GLASS: It was just as hard to find an image of Saddam Hussein. Once ubiquitous, all of them have been destroyed. The statue that is endlessly transported across the screen was specially made.

SALEEM (through translator): Kurdish sculptors refused to make it. I had to commission an Arab in Mosul. For security reasons, it was build in Kurdistan behind a high wall. But when it rose higher and higher, people spotted Saddam's head peering over the wall. The police came and confiscated the statue and arrested the sculptor. I had to intervene and explain it was for a film.

GLASS (on camera): Is this story your own or a member of your family or who?

SALEEM (through translator): The idea for the film comes from my brother. Like the hero of the film, he went out in his pajamas one day to buy bread and was hustled into a lory and driven 800 kilometers to southern Iraq. That was the backbone of my story.

GLASS: What does your brother think?

SALEEM (through translator): He's here in Cannes. Doesn't know much about the film but tonight he'll see it.

GLASS (voice-over): And he most certainly was, in the requisite dinner jacket for a Cannes premier.

Hiner's brother, Shivan (ph), is older, 46, and it also a Kurdish exile. He lives in Stuttgart. Here on a law by the Quaset (ph) was a small gathering of Kurds sharing an important moment in their cultural history, a film in official competition. Here were some of the film's stars; the main actor and the actress playing his wife are both Kurds from Turkey. There was a small delegation from Iraqi Kurdistan itself and a crew from Kurdistan television broadcasting to the great Kurdish diasporas.

As they entered the auditorium in the parlor for the premier, they were greeted by the sound of celebratory ululation.

We caught up with Shivan Saleem (ph) two hours later, after he had seen the film based on his own sudden conscription into Saddam Hussein's army.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I had not seen it before. This was the first time. (INAUDIBLE) so he put back Saddam in his memory.

GLASS: Shivan (ph) was obviously moved if not haunted by his brother's film. The film is a way of helping to reestablish a Kurdish identity and making the world aware of it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RODGERS: Nicholas Glass reporting there.

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 Walter Rodgers, thanks for joining us.

END

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