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Critique of Worldwide Media Coverage

Aired August 27, 2005 - 21:00:00   ET


MONITA RAJPAL, CNN ANCHOR: Hello there. I'm Monita Rajpal, in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories of the moment.
We begin this week with the mystery of the missing prime minister. Tony Blair's holiday destination is arguably the worst kept media secret this summer. Citing security reasons, Downing Street asked news organizations not to divulge the Blair family's whereabouts. The press largely complied, but that didn't stop the speculation and heavy hints and in the end it was the PM himself who let the cat out of the bag when he went along to a very public event in sunny Barbados.

Well, to explain why this has become such a big deal, I'm joined by CNN's European political editor Robin Oakley and Ben Brogan, political correspondent at Britain's "Daily Mail."

Gentlemen, thank you very much for being with us.

Robin, I want to start with you. Why was this big deal about this media blackout? Why this media blackout to begin with?

ROBIN OAKLEY, CNN EUROPEAN POLITICAL EDITOR: I think because the prime minister felt guilty about the very idea of having a holiday soon after the bombs on the London underground and transport system.

Remember, there had already been a row about the Home Secretary, Charles Clark, wanting to head off for his holiday while key meetings were still going on with police and security officials.

But there is a deeper kind of guilt thing, I think, with British prime ministers. They don't like to be seen relaxing and enjoying themselves. Partly it all stems from Margaret Thatcher, who never wanted to go away on a holiday at all, and as soon as she could find an excuse to dash back to Downing Street and get involved in something busy and haul all of her ministers back from their holidays, then she did so.

RAJPAL: Was this a case of bad PR on Downing Street's part in the sense that they started out by saying it's security reasons why they didn't want to divulge the location of the prime minister's holiday. Is it bad PR? Was it security or is it just spin?

BEN BROGAN, "DAILY MAIL": The funny thing about this story is that Downing Street -- basically each year we have this ritual with Downing Street which is all to do with the prime minister's holiday, and the prime minister doesn't really like us to cover the fact that he's going away on holiday, because he goes away for quite a long time. He's entitled to, he works hard. But it doesn't make for very good PR from his point of view.

And on top of that, he particularly likes going on holiday to rather luxurious destinations and he doesn't like paying too much out of his own pocket for his holidays. So he's got a tendency to borrow other people's houses, particularly prominent, famous people. And so, as a result, Downing Street is always very nervous about how the holiday is going to be covered.

This year, he's going on holiday shortly after the attacks in London, and so Downing Street could, some might say legitimately ask for a bit of secrecy about the precise location given that he is entitled to have a certain degree of security.

RAJPAL: Do Britons really care, though -- Robin?

OAKLEY: About whether their prime ministers have a holiday? No. I think, as Ben was saying, most people take the view that the prime minister works pretty hard. He's entitled to have a holiday. We'd much rather have decisions affecting our future taken by somebody who has been reasonably rested at some stage of the year.

RAJPAL: Now, in terms of the very differences in styles and attitudes, in terms of the interest of where their politicians, where their leaders go on holiday, in the United States, Ben, we see the president on holiday in Crawford, Texas. He has the press contingent pretty much camped outside his ranch.

Yet here there is this real secrecy as to where their leaders really go. Where do you think that difference comes from? Is it just a simple style between the Europeans and the Americans?

BROGAN: I'm sure there is a stylistic difference, but I think there is also a particular problem that has been grown with this particular prime minister and this government. The relationship with the media is very complicated. They love the media in the sense that they want to media to cover them in the way they want. But they hate the fact that the media often enjoys tweaking the government's tail and sometimes asking some very difficult questions.

And because Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie, have enjoyed a succession of rather lavish holidays, they've been guests of rich people, of millionaires, and sometimes people who are often controversial, they get a bit embarrassed about it. And so as a result you can understand what they don't particularly want the media hanging around.

And also, the press quite enjoys getting photographs of the Blairs on holiday, and that involves photographs of them wearing at times one must say unflattering swimming suits and often pictures of the prime minister clutching a ukulele and looking slightly befuddled. And so all that sort of thing, they really can't stand it. And so you can quite understand why they don't take the press with them on holiday.

That said, the one thing that is striking about them and we often argue with them about this, wouldn't it be so much easier if every year they just put out a statement saying the prime minister will be on holiday from X date to Y date and will be on holiday in this particular location, end of story. And it is because the media feels it has to play a cat and mouse game with Downing Street to try to find out these things that Downing Street refuses to tell us that this becomes a much bigger story than it would be otherwise.

OAKLEY: It's all been counterproductive, hasn't it, in the sense what they've tried to do this year, using the blanket of security to say don't report the holiday at all, actually there has been much more interest from Fleet Street and from the media generally than there would have been otherwise.

There have been stunts, you know, people putting a knotted hanky on the head of Tony Blair's waxwork model in Madame Tussaud's and all of that kind of thing.

BROGAN: Newspapers have been running quizzes, trying to get their readers to guess where they are on holiday.

RAJPAL: Is it because of a slow news week, slow news month?

BROGAN: Of course, it's August, and, of course, August, not a lot happens, and so newspaper are always looking for things that people will enjoy reading while they themselves are on holiday. And so as a result everybody has had a bit of fun with this. The only people who haven't had much fun with it are, of course, Downing Street and Tony Blair.

RAJPAL: I guess it's that whole question of it's better to be talked about than not talked about at all. I wonder about that.

Gentlemen, thank you very much for joining us.

Coming up next here on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, Russia's murky media scene. We speak to those investigating the murder of journalist Paul Klebnikov.

Stay with us for that.


RAJPAL: Welcome back.

He was an expert on the vast and murky crossroads of Russia's organized crime, politics and big business, but on July 9th last year, Paul Klebnikov, editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of "Forbes" magazine, was murdered. Now a team of journalists and editors have banded together to investigate his death and the plethora of stories he was working on at the time.

To discuss this further, I'm joined from New York by Richard Behar, founder of Project Klebnikov and Peter Klebnikov, brother of the murdered journalist.

Gentlemen, thank you so much for being with us.

Peter, I want to begin with you. The latest on the investigation, latest reports, indicate that Russian authorities want to pin the blame, want to pin the murder on Chechen militants. What are your thoughts? Do you buy that?

PETER KLEBNIKOV, BROTHER OF PAUL KLEBNIKOV: There has been a lot of skepticism about the charges, about the mastermind of the crime being a rebel leaders (UNINTELLIGIBLE). There is some question whether he is even alive today. We will be seeing the evidence soon, but until then we have heard much skepticism.

RAJPAL: How much cooperation have you received from Russian authorities?

KLEBNIKOV: The Russian authorities have been very forthcoming with us in giving us updates on the investigation. However, when the U.S. State Department has asked for the FBI to become involved, those requests have been politely turned down, and we're not sure we're getting all the information at this point.

RAJPAL: In terms of kind of I guess getting as much information as you possibly can, Richard, what about you, in terms of what you're doing. Tell us a little bit more about Project Klebnikov, and I guess where that comes into play.

RICHARD BEHAR, PROJECT KLEBNIKOV: Project Klebnikov has been a project that has been under development for months and we publicly launched it on July 9, the anniversary of Paul's murder.

It is a global media alliance of news outlets and seasoned investigative reporters who are committed to shedding light on the murder case and trying to unravel some of the stories that Paul was working on at the time as well as try to lend a helping hand to Russian journalist today who are in a very difficult and sometimes lethal environment.

RAJPAL: How difficult has it been in terms of I guess trying to highlight the stories that Paul was doing but also try to finish some of the stories that he had started.

BEHAR: It's extremely difficult and it's going to take some time. Fortunately, we have the time. That's the beauty of the alliance. We're not going anywhere and we're building and getting stronger. And you've got to realize that Paul was one of the few journalists who was really at the nexus of global organized crime in Russia, the oligarchs, intrigues in the Kremlin, misappropriation of aid money, Chechen terrorism. Paul was out there. And there is no shortage of stories for us to pursue and we're starting to do it.

RAJPAL: Peter, what did Paul say to you when he was talking about his work in Russia in terms of I guess the culture that he was living in when it came to journalism, when it came to reporting and when it came to working in media in Russia?

KLEBNIKOV: Paul's last job was really the job of his lifetime. All his life he had been training himself to take this job. He believed that in today's Russia the press is the last outpost of freedom of speech. The Russian people are gradually losing the freedoms that we in the West take for granted. And he thought it was very, very important to surround himself with bright young journalists, which he did, and to work with them, to train them. And today these journalists continue to work, albeit under more difficult circumstances.

And, you know, we're delighted, the Klebnikov family is delighted that some of the best investigative reporters in America, in the West, are taking up the mantle and following the investigation.

RAJPAL: He certainly wasn't shy about voicing his criticism of the oligarchs, of certain people he felt were taking advantage from I guess whatever system was in place and is still in place in Russia right now that made them richer and left the poor poor. But in terms of his own safety and security, did he ever voice his concerns to the family?

KLEBNIKOV: He did, Monita. A couple of month before he was murdered he told me that he had come into possession of very, very dangerous documents, documents that actually made him nervous. It's the first time I recall seeing him actually scared. And he felt he was onto a level of criminality that was completely astounding to him. But he was a very brave man. He felt somebody had to do this work.

RAJPAL: Richard, what is it we don't know about working in the media in Russia right now? We know that there are again numerous reports that come out saying that, you know, the Kremlin still does not give the media all access, it's not a free media there. What is it that we don't know?

BEHAR: It's increasingly difficult to do any serious investigation work out of Russia as a journalist. It's very difficult for the Russian press to do it, but it's also increasingly difficult for the Western press to do it.

For example, one major publication was invited onto the alliance, Project Klebnikov, declined in part because they said they did not what to put their Moscow bureau at risk and they needed the bureau there to do other important stories about Russia. And this was an important publication, a Western publication. And when I heard that, it just drove home the need for this alliance, because I just found that stunning.

RAJPAL: Then how difficult is it for you, again, to go back and try to highlight and really do some investigative pieces within the alliance and shed light on these investigative pieces if you can't really get close to the sources that you need to and you can't really do the exposes that you want to?

BEHAR: That's why it's not being done -- with very few exceptions, it's not being done by individual news outlets. These stories are complex, cumbersome, they're risky, they're expensive. In many cases news outlets will be sending a reporter into a black hole and wouldn't know what they would be producing as a result.

By having this alliance, we can basically share and help one another and do joint ventures whenever feasible, and band together, and we will have a confidential database as well as a public database on the Web site, which is up now, and slowly we will begin to shed some light on it. We hope so.

RAJPAL: Was Paul -- when Putin came into power in 2000, was Paul optimistic about this new change in government, after the Yeltsin era? Was he optimistic when it came to freedom of the press?

KLEBNIKOV: He was optimistic initially. He was very deceived by the Yeltsin years and he thought that there would be some regulation and new laws passed that would protect capital in Russia. Very quickly, however, he saw Russia being on a tipping point, sliding back to authoritarian manners of doing business and running the country and he felt that it was critical to show an example and to get in the provinces journalists demanding accountability and transparency and the kind of things without which capitalism cannot flourish.

BEHAR: I remember in I think it was 1991, Paul wrote a piece when Putin came to power that was extremely positive and he felt that Putin was a great hope for Russia.

I think he tried to remain optimistic, even in recent years. I think the first addition of "Forbes" Russia, I believe Paul wrote that he believed they had turned a corner, that Russian society had turned a corner.

Paul was always optimistic, as I think most investigative reporters deep down probably are.

RAJPAL: All right, Richard Behar and Peter Klebnikov, thank you, gentlemen, so much for being with us.

We would like to make clear that the Klebnikov family is only peripherally involved in Project K and has no special knowledge or real leads on Paul's death.

Coming up on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, hell on earth. One journalist's undercover mission in the Philippines.

Stay with us for that.


RAJPAL: Welcome back.

Undercover reporting. Controversial? Yes. Ethical? Well, that depends. A reporter's mission is to find the story and tell the world the truth, and that is exactly what one British journalist has done.

Chris Rogers traveled to the Philippines after he found this image of 5-year-old Rose languishing in a filthy jail. Once there, he found this. Thousands of children caged in squalor alongside murderers and rapists. Beaten, sexually assaulted and left to rot. By any standards this is a humanitarian crisis.

Well, ITV led its evening news with Chris's reports of hell on earth and he joins us now.

Chris, thank you so much for being with us.

Describe for us, first of all, how you came upon this image of Rose, and then what led you to the Philippines to bring us the compelling images.

CHRIS ROGERS, ITV CORRESPONDENT: There is a British charity called Jubilee Action, who I have worked on stories with before, and they were expressing concern to me that they knew there were child prisoners in the Philippines in huge numbers. But there was nothing to prove that. There was no evidence to suggest that.

And I found the photograph of Rose on the Internet. And it was on a Web page run by a Catholic missionary priest called Shay Cullen (ph). And this is a man who has dedicated his life to the humanitarian needs of children in the Philippines, and women as well.

And for the last eight months, he's been trying to look at ways of rescuing these children, save these children, but there are 20,000 of them. It took many months to just build up Shay's (ph) trust, but then of course it took many months to work out how I was going to get this on my camera, on my film.

And it is not easy, because this is his life's work. He doesn't know if he can trust me. He doesn't know what the end result might be. I could be a spy. I might mistreat his work, I might misrepresent it.

RAJPAL: How did you do that?

ROGERS: Well, we decided that the best approach was to pose as charity workers, and Shay (ph) has managed to build up a relationship with some of the prison wardens. Not everyone in this story is corrupt. Most are. Most are breaking the law. But some of the prison wardens live in these prisons 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They're single. They don't have marriages or relationships. They have to, because they are the only people that know what is needed in these prisons. And he has managed to build up a relationship with these people because they welcome any help that comes into the prisons.

So the only way we felt we could get in safely and efficiently was to be a charity worker.

RAJPAL: So how do you maintain a very unbiased view and an ethical view of what is happening there?

ROGERS: Well, firstly, what you don't catch in the report, what you don't see in the report is the amount of time we had to spend in each prison before we even got cameras out and started filming. And everything was filmed on a tiny home video camera, so it doesn't look like we're documenting evidence.

But before we even could do that, we just had to chat to the prison wardens, pretend to do charitable work, take notes, talk to the children, and that gave me time and the cameraman time, Tony Hemmings (ph). It gave us time to settle into this environment that we were in.

I had never been in a prison, ever, until I got to the Philippines. And I think prisons, wherever they are in the world, can be quite intimidating. But here we were in very open cells, with the cell doors open, people wandering in and out, and we knew we were in a building where tensions were running high because of the conditions. It stunk, it was filthy, it was sweaty, it was humid. And at the time politically the country was very tense as well. And all the prisons were on red alert for an outbreak.

So we felt immediately threatened. So we just had to sus out the situation, settle into it, before we could even begin to film.

RAJPAL: You talk a lot about gaining trust. How do you do that when you're working undercover? What are the risks involved when you work undercover?

ROGERS: I think the greatest risk we faced was probably being deported from the country. Obviously, we couldn't apply to film in the country, couldn't apply for a permit to film, and we certainly couldn't describe the nature of what we were trying to film.

So we literally went in as tourist, as holiday makers.

RAJPAL: What kind of response did you get from the Philippine government?

ROGERS: It's been a strange one. First of all, I think it's important to point out that the Philippine people are very proud people and there has been a massive response to the reports from Philippine people living all around the world, really upset at what they're seeing happening in their country.

And many of the people that work for Father Shay Cullen (ph) are Philippine people. They want to help him help their own children.

The reaction we got from the Philippine embassy in London was one of outrage, one of shock, one of the need to explain the social problems of their country, and a promise that they were going to put pressure on the Philippine government to stop this, to change it, to make things happen.

The reaction we have had from the Philippine government has been nothing.

RAJPAL: Needless to say, this story has received a lot of attention internationally. ITV has received a lot of attention internationally for airing this as well. When it comes to networks doing investigative reporting, do you think we do enough of that?

ROGERS: I got an -- I'm sure he won't mind me talking about this on television, but I got a letter from David Manion (ph), the head of ITN shortly after the pieces aired, and he pointed out something really important. He said it's not our job as a journalist to change the world. But if there is some change as a result of our work, that is an incredible joyous side effect. And he really felt that we had had that side effect with these reports.

And I think any news editor in their right mind will always be committed to a good investigative report.

RAJPAL: All right, Chris Rogers, thank you so much for your time.

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 Monita Rajpal. Thank you for joining us.



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