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INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

Critique of Worldwide Media Coverage

Aired November 5, 2005 - 21:00:00   ET

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


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.
In the next half hour we'll take a look at the BBC's decision to launch a new Arabic language satellite TV station. We'll look at how the "New York Times" has dealt with the scandal over the paper's one-time star reporter Judith Miller. And we look at how the tabloid press should cover stories when they themselves are the subject, that's with publicity guru Max Clifford in around 15 minutes from now.

But we start with the BBC's latest venture, a new Arabic television news service set to launch in 2007, a competitor to channels like Al- Jazeera and Al-Arabiya in the Middle East. The BBC says it's paying for the project by axing 10 World Service radio stations, most of them in Eastern Europe.

With me now is John Tusa, a former managing director of the BBC World Service, and Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the Palestinian newspaper "Al- Quds."

John, let me first of all ask you, why and why now?

JOHN TUSA, FMR. BBC WORLD SERVICE DIRECTOR: I think the why is because the audience for radio in the Middle East is slowly slipping. Ten years or so ago the audience for the BBC Arabic Service on the radio was very large, or in Gulf War I, there is absolutely no question. It was very influential.

And slowly and in part as a result of the impact of Al-Jazeera and others, the audience has been slowly migrating towards television and away from radio. So the now, I think the BBC World Service has been aiming to do it for some time and they have now got together, they've decided how they're going to find the money -- that's another issue -- but the now is that it's the right time as far as the audience is concerned and bolstering the BBC's position in getting the right medium for the right audience.

SWEENEY: And Abdel-Bari Atwan, what is the audience?

ABDEL-BARI ATWAN, "AL-QUDS": The audience are the Arab public opinion. Actually, there is a war now, a media war to win the minds and the hearts of the Arab public opinion.

I think there is a political agenda behind that. We know the Arab world is the most important area now, but we have two wars now, especially the war against terrorism, the war in Iraq, and on top of that there are $500 billion oil revenues. So I believe it is very important for economic reasons, for political reasons. That's why we see this competition.

SWEENEY: When we already see Al-Jazeera there an Al-Arabiya, what will be the BBC's target audience? And given that it's essentially a Western news organization compared to Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera, will that hinder it in any way getting off the ground?

ATWAN: Actually, it could be a blessing, to be honest, because BBC has a lot of credibility in the Arab world. There will be professional competition. Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya will be extremely sensible and they will feel that. There are competitors, strong competitors, and they have to improve their coverage, improve their professionalism.

SWEENEY: A blessing for Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya?

TUSA: Well, if they take it that way, but I think there is absolutely no doubt that what the BBC World Service in Arabic will do to Arabic television will be to take all those values that have always worked well with audiences. Arabic, radio, people have known that the BBC in Arabic on the radio is trustworthy. Certainly the hope is and the expectation is that those values and that element of trust will migrate with television. There is no reason why it shouldn't. And that audience in the Arabic world will say at last we have a BBC voice, a trustworthy voice, an international voice, a non-Arab voice, and that is now available to us. That must be the argument.

Of course, I think the downside is that there is a danger that they will say the only reason that BBC is doing it is because the foreign office has told them to do so.

SWEENEY: Yes.

TUSA: I don't think that is what has happened, but there will be some who will say, for good or for bad reasons, the BBC is acting politically. BBC has always got to be rather careful. It can't just turn the tap on and say here's a crisis, let's forecast in that bit of the world. Because otherwise it would be clear that it broadcast only for political reasons rather than for journalistic reasons.

All good successful international broadcasting organizations, we know here, you broadcast because it's about news and you deliver news. It's not about politics. But what's going on in the Middle East is so extraordinary that the BBC must hope that its voice will be heard loud and clear and that the audience there will want it.

SWEENEY: And these networks, you believe, are here to stay?

ATWAN: Oh, I believe so. I think this is a challenge for them, a challenge for Al-Jazeera, a challenge for Al-Arabiya, actually, to improve their professionalism, to recruit more people, to actually present better news bulletin, because BBC has a huge capabilities. We know that they have a network of correspondents all over the world. So they have to actually act professionally.

SWEENEY: Just to go back to what you said about the foreign office line, that people might think that the foreign office told the BBC to open this channel, when you see the closure of so many of the radio language service channels, particularly in Eastern Europe, doesn't it then indicate that actually the Arab world is where it's happening right now, that there is no need in a post-Cold War world for these radio language services, and doesn't it rather opportunistically in a way put Eastern Europe under the EU umbrella?

TUSA: Well, it certainly does that, and I think the danger is that the switch away from Eastern Europe and from what are deemed friendly countries, as if there are no more problems, as if they have absolutely perfect and free media, as if they are never going to be an issue -- to switch away from that, the danger is that that is just going to be too abrupt.

Concentrating on the Middle East, I absolutely understand, but I think just going back to what's been said, if the BBC Arabic service in television does have the affect of improving the quality of the other two networks, this will be a marvelous result, and it will probably be the first time that competition among television channels has raised standards rather than tending to flatten them out or to diminish them.

SWEENEY: And the impact that that might have on the Arab street?

ATWAN: Well, actually, it depends how the BBC is going to behave. If it is going to be a mouthpiece of the foreign office, of Tony Blair, and be selective in certain stories, certain debates, in this case the Arab world will say, look, it is another Al-Hurra, another Al-Hurra, the American channel. So they will stay away from it.

If actually they use the tradition of objectivity and credibility of the BBC in this case, yes, it will have a huge impact.

SWEENEY: All right, there we have to leave it. John Tusa, Abdel-Bari Atwan, thank you very much.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, turmoil at the "New York Times." The newspaper wages war on one of its top reporters, Judith Miller, just weeks after celebrating her release from jail.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SWEENEY: You're watching INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS.

Now the "New York Times" is struggling to salvage its reputation after the second reporter scandal in as many years. Reporter Judith Miller spent 85 days in jail for refusing to testify about conversations she had had with confidential sources and her editors backed her all the way.

Now the paper has turned on her in the most public manner possible, in its own editorial pages.

Kelly Wallace has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): When Reporter Judith Miller got out of jail last month, escorted by none other than her publisher at the "New York Times," Arthur Sulzberger, the message was the "Times" remained solidly behind her. And that's what is told CNN's Lou Dobbs.

JUDITH MILLER, "NEW YORK TIMES" REPORTER: Every person at the "New York Times," just about, sent me a letter, a postcard, an e-mail to tell me know that they were thinking about me. And it made such a difference.

WALLACE: But oh how things suddenly changed. In a memo to the staff last week, portions of which were printed in the "New York Times," executive editor Bill Keller said, "If I had known the details of Judy's entanglement with Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I'd have been more careful in how the paper articulated its defense."

Miller fired back in a memo she released to the "Times." "As for your reference to my entanglement with Mr. Libby," she said, "I had no personal, social or other relationship with him except as a source."

Then it got even uglier. In a controversial column, Maureen Dowd called her colleague a "woman of mass destruction," wondering if Miller's time in jail was "in part a career rehabilitation project." Dowd bluntly told Don Imus that her attack on Miller had nothing to do with how she feels about her.

DON IMUS: But it seemed personal.

MAUREEN DOWD, "NEW YORK TIMES": No, it wasn't. That's why I was trying to say, I like her. It's not -- as they say in the "Godfather," it's business, it's not personal.

WALLACE: Media observers say it's extremely unusual for a news organization to publicly attack one of its own.

PAUL LEVINSON, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: The viciousness of the attacks, the depth of the sarcasm of Maureen Dowd's column, what purpose does that serve? Why say that?

WALLACE: It is just the latest crisis to stir up the "Times" news room. Two years ago, the paper was humiliated after a young reporter, Jayson Blair, was exposed fabricating stories. Then last year, the paper admitted stories alleging Iraq had weapons of mass destruction were wrong. Many were written by Miller herself. That only emboldened her critics inside the "Times."

GABRIEL SHERMAN, REPORTER, NEW YORK OBSERVER: Judith Miller has a long history at the "New York Times" with questions surrounding her. And I think this has brought a lot of that prior history to the forefront.

WALLACE: But Miller's supporters say some of the blame for the anger inside the news room rests with the management of the paper itself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rather than leading the country, rather than leading the community of journalists, they seem to be running around in circles, attacking their own people.

WALLACE (on camera): The "New York Times" and Judith Miller decline to comment for our story. Talks between the two sides about her departure, sources say, are at a standstill, leaving so many questions still unanswered about why the "New York Times," which actively supported Miller only weeks ago, now wants her to go.

Kelly Wallace, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SWEENEY: Joining me now to discuss the "Times'" handling of the Miller affairs is the award-winning investigative journalist Tessa Mayes, and with us from Washington, Howard Kurtz. He's the media reporter at the "Washington Post," and also the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources."

Howard, how has the "New York Times" got itself into another pickle?

HOWARD KURTZ, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, with great difficulty, but they've done it nonetheless.

You know, two years after a fabrication scandal at the newspaper, they dug in and they defended Judith Miller, who is probably the most controversial reporter in America right now, as she went off to jail because she wouldn't talk about her confidential sources in this CIA leak investigation, but then unhappy with what they found out about how Judith Miller had conducted herself, you have the extraordinary spectacle of the editor of the newspaper publicly accusing her of misleading the paper, and yet she still works there, at least for now.

SWEENEY: And Tessa, she works there at least for now, but it is very clear that there is some kind of standoff taking place at the moment. I mean, could this have been handled better by both management and Judith Miller herself?

TESSA MAYES, JOURNALIST: Well, obviously the question of the sort of employer-employee relationship is a matter for them, but I do think that there is a kind of hysteria building up.

I mean, Judith Miller is not a member of the political administration. She's just a journalist. And by all accounts, she seemed to have done her job and protected her source. What I would be more concerned with is really the articles about the so-called weapons of mass destruction not being there.

SWEENEY: But that's what's built up to this eventually, that's what contributed to that.

MAYES: That's right, but the hysteria seems to be around her handling of the source, where as it's the former stories a while back that really are of more concern by journalistic ethical standards.

SWEENEY: Howard, the "New York Times," how does it view itself, and is that maybe part of the problem, that it considers itself able to take potshots at Judith Miller publicly in its own editorial pages?

KURTZ: They're not enjoying this at all. I mean, this has caused an enormous amount of turmoil at the newspaper. But the two things that Tessa just mentioned are -- it's impossible to separate them now.

She is controversial, Judith Miller is, because she wrote stories, very credulous stories in the view of critics, about whether Iraq had these illegal weapons, and then to protect her sources, she would not talk about Vice President Cheney's top aide, her conversations with him. She goes off to jail. She kind of casts herself as a martyr for press freedom in the United States, and then she changes her mind and says, OK, I can testify after all, because the vice president's aide told me that it was okay.

So she seems to many detractors to be inconsistent on that point, and she seems to her bosses at the "New York Times" not to have leveled with them about just what conversations she had with Dick Cheney's aide. Unfortunately, from management's point of view, they didn't grill her. They didn't sit her down and say before we go to court and spend a lot of money to defend you, we want to know the full story. They neglected to do that, so management at the time bears some responsibility as well.

I mean, is she the fall guy for this? Is she the scapegoat for perhaps what might seem as management inadequacies in terms of dealing with her? And is somebody culpable at the "New York Times" on the management level?

KURTZ: Well, I would be reluctant to call Judith Miller the fall guy, because this is a woman who made a deal with the vice president's top aide to not identify him as a senior administration official. You know, we never name these people in these sensitive stories, but to call him a former staffer on Capitol Hill, which is a misleading description. I mean, to some extent, I feel sorry for her, the criticism is so intense right now that it makes you wonder whether she is on trial as opposed to Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney's aide.

On the other hand, it seems like she was not completely candid with her newspaper by the account of the editor of the "New York Times," and clearly "Times" management dropped the ball in the way that they handled this case.

SWEENEY: Tessa, is Judith Miller to the "New York Times" what Andrew Gilligan was to the BBC?

MAYES: I do think there is a sort of similar element. I mean, one of the main issues is how you describe sources. I mean, obviously, if you really want to be accurate, you'd sort of -- but she named him and that's the whole point of trying to come up with a naming of the source, is to develop a name that doesn't identify him, so what was she supposed to do in that sense?

But I do think that we do have to treat differently her job and protecting sources, which is fair enough. I mean, that's a principled journalistic ethical stand, with, say, some factual inaccuracies in previous articles.

SWEENEY: But it still, Howard, represents quite a dilemma for the "New York Times" in terms of how to deal with this, and it also, does it not, raise the question of how much latitude any one reporter should have over the years, no matter how respected or trusted he or she is.

KURTZ: That's exactly the point I was going to make. The best investigative reporters, and I've known a lot of them, they're all a little bit crazy, and they're kind of lone rangers, and they go off and they get obsessed with their stories. Sometimes they get too close to their sources. And Judith Miller is controversial not just because she's protecting or was protecting, I should say, anonymous sources in this case, but because of the hard charging, aggressive style that she brings to her reporting, which sometimes involves clashes with her own colleagues.

But ultimately it's the editors of a newspaper, whether it's the "New York Times" or anybody else, that are responsible for deciding what can be published and for deciding how far a reporter can go on his or her own. Here I think the wisdom at the "Times" now is that they let Judith Miller go too far, but certainly they were happy, as Tessa says, to publish her scoops, the ones that were right, at least, when she was getting it right.

SWEENEY: Tessa, final word?

MAYES: Well, I think that, you know, it's good for editors to defend their journalists. That doesn't mean, though, that the truth can't come out sometimes, and obviously in this sense, the truth about the relationship between reporter and editor have come out.

However, let's keep it in proportion. Judith Miller is not a public appointee. She's just a journalist.

SWEENEY: And on that note, we'll leave it there. Tessa Mayes, thank you very much, here in London, and at the "Washington Post," thanks very much indeed Howard Kurtz.

Well, up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, what should a tabloid do when its own editor hits the front pages? We'll be talking to publicity guru Max Clifford about that in just a few moments.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SWEENEY: Welcome back. You're watching INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS.

Rebecca Wade is championing a campaign against domestic violence. Ross Kemp is the bad boy in one of the United Kingdom's most popular television soap operas. So when the police were called to a domestic dispute at their house, it should have been a great story for Britain's biggest tabloid daily, the "Sun," except Wade is the editor of the "Sun" and the perpetrator of the alleged attack.

So how do you cover a story when you are the story? Britain's best- known PR guru, Max Clifford, joins me now.

It would appear that the "Sun" is really not going to cover it.

MAX CLIFFORD, PR GURU: Well, yeah, they're covering it with great difficulty. In other words, they're trying to minimize it.

Fortunately for them, possibly, in some ways, Steve McFadden, who is another major star of the same soap, who ironically plays the brother of Ross Kemp, was also attacked by a previous partner at the same time. The "Sun" have dominated their coverage with the story of Steve McFadden, minimizing the coverage they have to give to Rebecca, their editor, and Ross Kemp.

SWEENEY: Full of delicious irony, particularly that she has been championing the domestic abuse case.

CLIFFORD: Oh, absolutely.

SWEENEY: But, I mean, is it a resignation matter or is it every going to go that far or is --

CLIFFORD: No, it's not a resignation matter. And it would have gone away a lot quicker had Steve McFadden not also gone through a similar experience, allegedly.

When Rebecca and Ross Kemp both say there was no violence, it was nothing physical, it was verbal, but nothing physical, then the story has got nowhere to go. You've taken all the steam out of it. Because of Steve McFadden, Russ Kemp's TV partner, another major star, at the same time being attacked, now there's huge conspiracy theories going on throughout Fleet Street. It's given -- if you say Christmas Day was yesterday for the tabloid editors in this country because they've had a chance to embarrass their biggest rival, the most successful tabloid and the most successful tabloid editor, Rebecca Wade. Now they've got Boxing Day as well.

So if the "Sun" thought that Steve McFadden was going to be their escape route, they've got it totally wrong.

SWEENEY: And if you're involved with one of the other tabloids, how would you be looking to pursue this story?

CLIFFORD: Well, the obvious way is through the partner or former partner of Steve McFadden, who has already spoken to one of the Sunday papers in recent times, exposing Steve's weird and wonderful sexual habits, and then apparently attacking him yesterday. Well, you can only assume that's because something else has gone wrong. So now she's got a huge audience for her story all over again and who knows, maybe what she's going to say involves in some way Ross Kemp.

SWEENEY: Is it hypocritical of the editorial staff of the "Sun" to think that, A, this story shouldn't be followed and that it isn't a matter of public interest?

CLIFFORD: Oh, no, no. Whatever they might be saying, they will know that in the same position they would be doing exactly the same as the "Mirror," the "Mail," the "Express" the star are doing right now, to make as much out of it as they possibly can.

But the point I'm making is that Steve McFadden's involvement, if it was, as has been alleged partly fueled by the "Sun" as a damage limitation exercise, has totally rebounded on them.

SWEENEY: It has backfired.

CLIFFORD: Oh, they've given -- they've given the other tabloid papers not just Christmas Day but Boxing Day now.

SWEENEY: Now, what do you think the public perception of the "Sun" might be as a result of all of this? Will that change?

CLIFFORD: No. I think some readers are very devoted, and I think that providing that message is not proven to be wrong, that there wasn't any violence, providing that "Sun" readers believe and are convinced and they've got no reason not to believe that, then it won't do any damage and it won't cause any problems.

I don't think either that Rebecca standing with Mr. Murdoch will be causing any problems because --

SWEENEY: And the domestic violence campaign? Can that continue?

CLIFFORD: Well, I mean, it can continue, providing it's clearly established and it's not shown up that there was any domestic violence between the two of them. They've both issued statements saying there was no violence, it was purely noise and, you know, there was a lot of shouting and screaming and raising of voices but there was no violence. As long as that can't be proven to be false, of course they can continue. But if it is proven to be false, then it becomes a much more serious matter.

SWEENEY: Will this be a story by Christmas? Will it still be a story next week, do you think?

CLIFFORD: Well, it's a pantomime already. Whether it runs long enough to become a Christmas fast remains to be seen. But at the moment, it's certainly given a huge turkey dinner to the other tabloid editors and I think Steve McFadden's involvement has meant they've got not one turkey but two big turkeys to tuck into, and they'll make a meal of it for as long as they can.

SWEENEY: Should be interesting tabloid reading this Sunday.

CLIFFORD: Oh, it certainly will be. You couldn't make it up.

SWEENEY: Max Clifford, thank you very much.

CLIFFORD: Thank you.

SWEENEY: 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 Fionnuala Sweeney. Thanks for joining us.

END

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