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Critique of Worldwide Media Coverage

Aired August 13, 2005 - 21:00:00   ET


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Fionnuala Sweeney, in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories of the moment.
A little later in the show, we'll pay tribute to the king of broadcast journalism, Peter Jennings, who died last Sunday. Plus we'll discuss the changing face of network news.

First, though, we consider one of the most difficult and dangerous assignments for a journalist, Iraq. In most places, a reporter's tools are obvious, a pen, notebook, plus a camera and a satellite for television news. That's, of course, until you're sent to a war zone, where a whole new set of skills, including nerves of steel, are needed.

CNN's Jane Arraf has spent more than a decade reporting from Iraq, making sense of a country whose complex mosaic of cultures and religions are often baffling. A place where a reporter risks his or her life just to tell a story.

Well, Jane joins us now from Baghdad for an extended debrief on media issues in Iraq.

Jane, hello.

JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fionnuala, thanks very much.

We're lucky to have with us some of the most experienced journalists here, people who live and work outside the green zone, where most officials are based.

We have with us Caroline Hawley, from the BBC; Ziad Zubaidy, from al- Hurra television; and Ellen Knickmeyer, from the "Washington Post." Thank you all for coming.

There is no doubt this is a challenging story, not just because it's dangerous, but because it's so political. Now, there is a lot of debate still about whether journalists are getting this right. Are they making it look worse? And in fact, when I see things outside of Iraq, it looks worse, it feels worse, than it is when I'm here.

Do you think journalists are portraying this accurately, portraying what's really happening here?

Caroline, let's start with you.

CAROLINE HAWLEY, BBC: I think the nature of television news is unfortunate and, tragically, bombs make good pictures, and so they force their way into the news in a way that sometimes daily life doesn't.

So in that sense, I think sometimes the media agenda is skewed towards violence because it makes good television pictures.

ARRAF: Ziad, what do you think? Is it better, or is it worse than most journalists are making it appear?

ZIAD ZUBAIDY, AL-HURRA: (INAUDIBLE) they are targeted (INAUDIBLE) and also can help people who are living in hot points in the south of Baghdad. You know, a lot of people are watching the TV today. They like to watch the TV and news.

ARRAF: When there is electricity.

ZUBAIDY: Yes. So, two years under occupation and doesn't anything happen, and two years, thousands and thousands people (INAUDIBLE) and after that, you know, they felt that the (INAUDIBLE) do nothing. So because of that, you know, now they (INAUDIBLE). Not hate the camera or hate the journalist, you know, but they are treating with them sensitively.

ARRAF: Ellen, let's hear from you. I just want to point out that the fact that there are sirens here doesn't always mean that there is something going on. That's something that we deal with all the time, that there is often gunfire in Iraq and sirens, and it's almost become part of the backdrop.

Do you think it's as bad as it looks on television or in the newspapers?

ELLEN KNICKMEYER, "WASHINGTON POST": The idea that we're making it look worse by paying attention to the bombs, I think that there are people dying here every day and you can't minimize what people are going through and say, you know, it's the same old bombing, same old death toll, we're bored with it, we're not going to pay attention to it. I think that's part of our job, reflecting what is going on, and that the bombing and the deaths are going on. And when you have that much bad news mixed with the good news, you have to pay attention to the bad news too.

ARRAF: Ziad, you work a little bit in a different way that most of the rest of us do. We generally now, for insurance, for whatever purposes, go out with security, some of us go out with bulletproof vests. What do you do when you go out? How do you work?

ZUBAIDY: I don't have any security with me when I want to cover any story. You know, in Baghdad -- outside Baghdad -- because, you know, I am an Iraqi, and I can see in my eyes the danger, you know, of old habit. The people -- when I speak with the people, before the war they saw me as Iraqi, and that's been -- they are thinking something. Maybe this guy is not a journalist. This guy is working with the Westerners and he has the guards to protect him from dangers. So because of that, you know, we avoid from us the guard and the vest.

Sometimes we use the vest only, or a helmet. Because when we went into a dangerous area and the bullets shoot randomly, sometimes we will wear it. But when we're going outside, you know, outside my office, you know, I don't like it, and I don't have also any bodyguard with me. Because I am talking Iraqi and I, you know, make good relationship with the civilians, and before doing interviews with them, because I tell them I came here to help you. I came here, you know, to reach your voice to the government, to the world. If you stop me, you stop your voice to reaching. So, when I talk with them this friendly, they like it. That's it.

ARRAF: Ellen, we were talking about blending in, which is not easy to do. You, in fact, dyed your hair black at one point.


ARRAF: Did that help?

KNICKMEYER: It helped some. When I have my full black scarf and black robe on and I have my hair dyed, if I'm in the car I can pass for an Iraqi if people don't really look too hard. But I still kind of look Western, no matter what. But I think it does help to blend in like that. It gives you a lot more access and freedom to move around then you could otherwise.

ARRAF: Caroline, would you ever dye your hair darker?

HAWLEY: I don't think so, because I think I'll always look like a foreigner. I mean, if I go to certain areas, if I go to Sadr City, the Shiite area on the edge of Baghdad, I would wear the abaya (ph), I would dress to blend in. Where I need to, I do that, although I don't usually because I've been approached by Iraqi women who say if you do that, secular women, if you do that, what will become of us.

ARRAF: Ellen, you've covered the military as well, and one thing I always find is that the soldiers tell us that when they talk to Iraqis, Iraqis tell them generally that everything is fine, it's perfect, and that's part of the reason that they believe we're distorting it.

What I've seen is people will tell soldiers different things than they tell us. Is that what you've found as well?

KNICKMEYER: Yes, our experiences, when we send one of our Iraqi journalists into an area where soldiers are, and the soldiers say -- soldiers say that the Iraqis are happy to see them and that they don't like the insurgents, sometimes our Iraqi journalists come back with a completely different point of view. It's like you're talking about two different places. Anbar Province is one of those places.

ARRAF: Does it worry you that in some sense Western journalists have lost control of the story? We increasingly use stringers, we use double bylines, you're not entirely sure where the information is coming from. What do you think, Caroline? Is that a worrying thing for journalism in general?

HAWLEY: I think definitely it is. I mean, our job is to bear witness and often we cannot do that. It is not safe for us. It's very difficult, as you know, to go out of Baghdad except with the American military, although now planes to Basra and to the Kurdish north might change that. But it is difficult to go to places and bear witness ourselves. So then you're relying on information from sources that you don't always know if you can trust.

And we've had to be careful in the past with American military statements. You have to be cautious and every journalist wants to go to the place where the action is happening, see for themselves, and report what they see, and so often we can't do that.

ARRAF: You were here as well under those dark days of Saddam, when there weren't very many Western journalist here. How do you find now, dealing with this new Iraqi government, getting information from them?

HAWLEY: It's a good question. It's a whole different thing. It is a different thing. I think there are still -- clearly, the Iraqi government is still working on its press strategy in some ways. But, as you know, under Saddam Hussein, again, you can go to places, but you couldn't report -- you could report what you saw, but you weren't hearing anything, because people were too frightening to speak.

And I will never forget the quote of one man in Karbala before the war. He said everyone loves Saddam Hussein, even his enemies. And from that I knew that he was trying to say that Saddam Hussein had enemies. But it was impossible to work before. There were whole stories you couldn't begin to cover. And so it is frustrating that it is so hard to cover the story now.

ARRAF: Ziad, is it difficult to work in a climate in the country where they have not had a tradition of journalists who were not tied to the government, independent journalists? And journalists who either take money or people who demand money for interviews? Is that difficult to act -- because journalism is new in Iraq, when are the challenges of that?

ZUBAIDY: The journalists, you know, now are suffering also from (INAUDIBLE). Two ways they are suffering now, from the government and from the people also.

ARRAF: Why from the government?

ZUBAIDY: That's a good question. Because now very complicated procedures to do interview with who is in charge, the administration, I mean. You know, engineer, like today, an engineer or worker, it is very hard to do interview with them. They ask me, if you want to do an interview with me -- the manager said to me -- you should, you know, give me the permission from the minister to do that. And I gave him the permission from the minister, and after that he refused. He said because we are targeted. We are working in a very sensitive area as far as a power station and as far as living in peace, the workers and also to work there. And if we are now facing in front of the camera after that, maybe a day after that, two days after, they will follow us and they will kill us. And they refused.

ARRAF: Caroline?

HAWLEY: I was just going to say how things have changed. Just after the war, it was a kind of chaotic free-for-all and you could do anything and you didn't need permission. And slowly, slowly --

ARRAF: It was glorious.

HAWLEY: It was. Slowly, slowly I think we have all noticed the same procedures that we saw under the former regime are creeping back, permission for everything, not being given information on the phone. It is getting harder. The bureaucracy is becoming more entrenched and it is getting harder to get information.

ARRAF: I wanted to ask you all very briefly, there have been so many journalists here, so many journalists who have either been hurt, killed, intimidated, western journalists who don't come back. Why do you keep doing this -- Caroline.

HAWLEY: I do it because I care. It matters to me what happens to this country after being here for a while. I think I will always feel slightly guilty about the stories that I haven't told. Because, we mentioned the bombs earlier. That does overshadow every aspect of peoples' daily lives and we're not, I feel, in these circumstances, we're not covering enough. And I will always feel bad about that.

ARRAF: Ziad, why do you continue to do such a dangerous job here?

ZUBAIDY: I craved to be a journalist. I like my job, because I try to tell the world the truth.

ARRAF: Thank you. And Ellen?

KNICKMEYER: I think it's a story that the world needs to pay attention to, so I think sometimes back home -- when I'm back home and I see how it is regarded in the United States, it seems like people act like Iraq is a TV show that they got bored with, and I think it's something that they need to keep paying attention to. It's a war that we're in and people are dying daily. And they need to know about it.

ARRAF: Thank you all so much for being here. Caroline Hawley, Ziad Zubaidy and Ellen Knickmeyer. Thanks very much.

Back to you -- Fionnuala.

SWEENEY: All right, Jane Arraf, thank you very much indeed. And best of luck, because Jane is about to start the prestigious Edward R. Murrow fellowship in New York at the Counsel on Foreign Relations there. It's an honor for Jane, and one that is well-deserved.

Now, up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, we take a look at the changing face of network news.

Stay with us.


SWEENEY: Welcome back.

He was an outstanding journalist, described by those who knew him as a man of conscious and integrity. For decades, Peter Jennings brought us the news from both the ABC anchor chair and the frontline. He died last Sunday, aged 67, bringing the era of big name newsmen to an end.

Bruce Morton reports on the changing face of network news.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Once there was one --

WALTER CRONKITE, FMR. ANCHORMAN: Good evening, everyone. Here is the news.

MORTON: The other networks did news, but CBS's Walter Cronkite became a kind of national trust figure. When he declared the Vietnam War a stalemate, then President Lyndon Johnson reportedly said, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America."

Then there were three. Tom Brokaw at NBC, Dan Rather at CBS, and Peter Jennings, whom we honor and remember today at ABC. They were there for a generation, but in that time things changed all around them.

All news cable networks arrived, first one then three. No more news at 6:30, news at 11:00. News every second, now, answer right now, please, we're live.

News on MTV, and then all of the networks and the newspapers and the magazines went online., the, "Slate" magazine, which is just only online. And then the blogs, those mixes of fact and opinion which like making fun of the old fashion MSM, that's mainstream media if you've been napping.

In the 1970-71 TV season, 75 percent of the sets in use during the network newscasts watched those newscasts. Now 37 percent.

How will Americans get their news 10 years from now? Hard to imagine. Maybe impossible to imagine. But differently from today, we do know that.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


SWEENEY: More on the future of network news in just a moment, plus we say farewell to a journalistic legend.


SWEENEY: Welcome back.

There is no doubt that the way we gather news is changing rapidly, but what does this mean for the future of journalism?

To discuss this and the legacy of newsman Peter Jennings, I'm joined by the former CBS corresponded Tom Fenton.

Tom, you knew Peter Jennings very well. What are your thoughts?

TOM FENTON, FMR. CBS CORRESPONDENT: First of all, I can't believe he's gone. It was so rapid. We had been good friends for more than three decades, and it's not only left a huge hole in the lives of all the people who knew him, but I think a huge hole in the news business.

He was one of the best and one of the few remaining advocates in a position of power for international news, better coverage, more context. Without him to fight in that corner, I think the big three terrestrial broadcasters are all headed the way they've been going in the last few years, towards almost irrelevancy.

SWEENEY: We'll get to that in a moment, because that's a very important topic, but what do you believe Peter Jennings brought to news, and particularly his on-air broadcasts?

FENTON: Peter brought a commitment. When he started early in the game, they made him -- far too young they made him an anchor. And he realized that was a big mistake and he went out in the field. ABC sent him out. And he spent decades as a foreign correspondent, a lot of it in the Middle East, learning the hard way, but the only way you can really get a feel for world events, being there.

And so he brought with him this huge intellectual baggage, all of this knowledge that was used, for example, after 9/11. He could go on for hours and hours. He knew the importance of stories. And he would fight his corner with management to try to get as much international news and context on the air as possible.

SWEENEY: Do you really believe that the networks now, the big three in the states, are heading towards irrelevancy? Is the commitment there now that the three big name anchors, Jennings, Brokaw and Dan Rather, are no longer in the anchor seats?

FENTON: I think the departure of the three big anchors is more than just symbolic. I think this is another chapter in the now very rapid decline of the big three broadcasts. You can see how small their audiences have got. They're still big when compared to other news organizations, but they're only a shadow of what they used to be.

And the evening news broadcast on CBS or ABC or NBC now is 18 minutes of news, only half of that is actually news, and it's more or less a headline service. And sometimes not a very complete headline service either.

SWEENEY: What would you do if you were in a position to make changes?

FENTON: I would reinvent the evening news. The first thing I would do would be to put it in primetime, to expand it to an hour -- half an hour is not enough -- and to make the commitment to reopening foreign bureaus, butting boots on the ground, hiring foreign correspondents. There are so few foreign correspondents left in these big three broadcasters. Much of their foreign news, most of their foreign news, is outsourced. They use video from the agencies, AP or Reuters. They wrap a little bit of wire copy around it and they call it ABC news, but it's not.

SWEENEY: Why do you think Americans aren't generally interested in foreign news -- or are they?

FENTON: Well, I think they would be interested if you would explain it to them and show them how it's relevant. But if you --

SWEENEY: Is that the fault of the journalist?

FENTON: I think it's largely the fault of the journalist. If you watch a lot of the evening news on the big three these days, it means as much to you as you might -- as perhaps, let's say, an election in Brazil. It's not explained. You don't know the background. You don't know why it's important.

SWEENEY: A lot of these networks are owned by big corporations now. Is the commitment there, in the big corporations, for news?

FENTON: No. The commitment is to the bottom line. Because the news is now part of a larger corporate entity, it has to meet the same sort of standards of profitability that other parts of the corporation do, and that's one reason that the morning news is now much more important than the evening news. That's where the big money is.

SWEENEY: A final thought about Peter Jennings. I recall Ted Koppel, his old time friend at ABC, saying in many ways that Roger Moore resembled him, but there was so much more to Peter Jennings than just this gravitas good looks and charm.

FENTON: Right. He was the quintessential foreign correspondent, but he also was a very warm and real person and a very committed person, a person who really cared about the story in spite of his elegant appearance. He was more interested in substance than in form.

SWEENEY: There we must leave it.

Tom Fenton, thank you very much indeed.

That is all for this addition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Tune in again next time for another look at how the media are handling the big issues.

I'm Fionnuala Sweeney, thanks for joining us. We leave you now with these images of Peter Jennings.



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