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Critique of Worldwide Media Coverage

Aired November 12, 2005 - 21:00:00   ET


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Becky Anderson, in London. Welcome to CNN'S INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we look at how the media is covering the big stories of the moment.
We begin this week with the coverage of the riots in France. When the violence began two weeks ago, our screens were ablaze with images like these, torched cars and angry rioters, some of them hitting out at journalists covering the story.

We spoke to a Korean reporter about what happened to her.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We had finished filming and were headed back to the car, but five youths started following us and asking for money. One of the youth said we should pay them 500 euros because we had been in their territory, but I said that it was a public place, so I politely refused to pay.

He then turned to the cameraman and punched him in the case and took our camera. I didn't want to let the camera go so I was on my knees on the floor. I was screaming. He then punched me, but I wanted to protect the cassette, to air it on TV. Then the other youth kicked me in the head and I went into coma.


ANDERSON: Well, the international media continue to report on the nightly street violence, though all were more cautious as to how they deployed their crews. Some French broadcasters admitted this week that they had downplayed their coverage so as not to fan the violence.

Well, joining me now from Paris is Ahmed El Keiy, he's news director of French radio station Beur FM, and John Darman from "Newsweek" joins us from New York.

Jonathan, let me start with you. One of the French news executives admitting this week censoring his coverage for fear of fanning the violence and encouraging support for France's right wing politicians. Was he right to do this?

JONATHAN DARMAN, "NEWSWEEK": Well, this is the great dilemma that we all face when we cover these sorts of events. I mean, certainly the latter explanation seems much harder to justify because, you know, the news is what it is, it's not our job as reporters to decide what people interpret, whatever political conclusions they might draw from it. So the idea that you shouldn't show things because it might support a particular political cause probably isn't appropriate.

At the same time, we have to be very careful when covering a story like this to make sure that we're giving the full picture and that we're not going to sort of create a momentum for these riots --


DARMAN: -- and, you know, contribute to the growing unrest.

ANDERSON: Ahmed, did the media, both the French and the international media, adequately analyze the roots of the anger of those who were rioting, do you think? I'm asking you whether you thought you did an adequate job in that as much as the international media.

AHMED EL KEIY, BEUR FM: Well, of course the point is that this is a French crisis and the international media pointed out that it was, you know, maybe foreigners or immigrants who were the cause of the anger and frustration. This crisis has been going on for years now in France, the suburban isolation, the discrimination, the racism that is facing a growing part of the French population.

So I think it would have been appropriate to analyze the roots of the problem and giving a historical, maybe, point of view, and showing what happened in the past years in these suburbs before showing these riots in such sensational way.

ANDERSON: One thing I did hear talk of, and I was, of course, there in Paris, covering this story for CNN. One thing I did hear talk of was the use of terms like is this violence spread by Islamic fundamentalists, Jonathan. Is this ethnic violence.

I know when I was on the ground that it certainly wasn't, as far as I could tell. Now, it surprised me that your article this week in "Newsweek" poses this question: "Will the riots swell the ranks of the jihadists in Europe?"

Is that fair, do you think, that you should even be introducing that idea into your prose?

DARMAN: Well, I think that that is something that a lot of us who are state side here in America have realized, that there was a fair amount of oversimplification in the early days of the crisis. We at "Newsweek" suggested that in a story, but others have gone much further.

Bill O'Reilly, who, of course, is the enormously popular Fox News host, even suggested that this is a direct consequence of France's lack of support for the Iraq war, that Islamist fundamentalists had been emboldened by France's stance there and that they were, of course, inciting the riots.


EL KEIY: I think the social and economic unrest in France has nothing to do with the religious belief of its population. I mean, Islam is a religion. You have 7 to 10 percent of the population being Muslim. But their belief had nothing to do with the events.

And I want to point out that the French police and security forces are working, or have been working for a very long time, on this radical movement that may be present in the Parisian suburbs, and this has --


EL KEIY: -- it didn't provoke any riots in France.

ANDERSON: Jonathan, editorials are washed with comparisons to Katrina, to the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) race riots of the 1980s in the United Kingdom, the riots in LA, of course, in the '80s as well. Were those editorials and indeed those analysts in the broadcast media right to be making those comparisons? And was their stance effectively a decent one?

DARMAN: Well, of course, the causes of all of these problems are different in each case, and you address them differently. But I think in each case there was sort of a failure on us in the media beforehand to sort of look at really what is going on with these people who are unhappy and who society, you know, we in America, we in France, are not putting forward as the face of our country.

I covered Hurricane Katrina for four weeks on the ground, and it was really just stunning to meet people there and say, you know, we feel like this country has forgotten about us, and they forgot about us a long time ago. And I think we're seeing some of that with some of these people who are rioting in France today.

ANDERSON: Ahmed El Keiy, news director of the French radio station Beur FM, and Jonathan Darman, of "Newsweek," we thank you.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ayes to the right, 291; the nos to the left, 322.


ANDERSON: Tony Blair's darkest hour, a delight for media doom- mongers, but is this really the beginning of the end?

Stay with us.



British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Wednesday suffered his biggest defeat since coming to power eight years ago.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ayes to the right, 291; the nos to the left, 322.


ANDERSON: This was the moment of defeat. Members of parliament rejecting Blair's plea to give the police powers to hold terror suspects for up to 90 days without charge.

Well, the British media had a field day. The next day's headlines chanted "Defeated" and "Blair's Blackest Day," one suggesting that Blair really was on his way out.

So what kind of impact will this media doom-mongering have on the rest of Blair's term in office?

With me here in the studio is James Blitz, political editor of the "Financial Times," and Michael Brown, of the "Independent."

Michael, leaders often do not realize that they are history, even when the writing is on the wall or indeed plastering the pages of the press. Is Blair, though, being driven out of office at this point by a media effectively clamoring for his demise?

MICHAEL BROWN, "INDEPENDENT": No. No. He's not being driven out by the media. He may be driven out by his members of parliament. At the end of the day it wasn't the media that walked through the division lobbies to defeat Tony Blair. It was 49 Labour members of parliament plus another 14 Labour MPs who abstained. So it will be Labour members of parliament that ultimately do for Tony Blair, unless he recognizes that he can only govern with the consent of parliament. The alternative for him is to abolish parliament, something tried by King Charles I.

ANDERSON: James, clamoring for his demise, do you have any sympathy for Tony Blair, as a journalist at this point? Were you pleased effectively with what happened?

JAMES BLITZ, "FINANCIAL TIMES": Well, it's not a question of being pleased. I mean, as Michael has said, the fact is that Tony Blair came to the House of Commons with a very tough proposal for pre-charge detention, which would be that people should be kept in custody for 90 days before a charge happened. A lot of Labour MPs thought that was wrong. 49 Labour MPs voted against him.

Now he certainly may have sort of felt in his heart that that's what should have happened, that there should have been -- that this legislation should be implemented, and so on. But the fact is that he made quite a bad misjudgment on Monday night. He thought he could get this through the Commons. He should have compromised. He didn't. and as a result, when he came to the Commons on Wednesday, he failed.

Now, it's not a question of sympathy or otherwise. The fact is, he made a very bad misjudgment.

ANDERSON: OK. But I'm seeing headlines like this, "Wake up and smell the toast," says one of the "Times" opinion writers. "It's time to move on," says David Aronovich (ph).

There isn't an awful lot of sympathy in the headline writing at this point. I understand your stance, but I do wonder whether the fact that Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair's former communications director, who was so good at spinning a story, has gone, and I wonder whether the fact that the spinning department is now defunct for the prime minister, that he's effectively been left to the political vultures out there who have been watching and waiting for his demise.

BLITZ: There is a point you make which is true in one sense. He doesn't have around him now the coterie of people, the advisers, that could have advised him to handle this better. An awful lot of people have left him from Downing Street because he's been in power eight years, they know he's going in this third term, and so there is a lot of kind of institutional weakness.

But it's not a story about the press hounding Blair out. This is about his own misjudgment and his own problem with Labour back-benchers.

ANDERSON: What happens next -- Michael.

BROWN: Well, it's up to Tony Blair. If he's got any sense, he will look back at the history books and saw what happened to another prime minister who won a third term victory, Margaret Thatcher, and refuse to bend to the will of her members of parliament. In the end, her members of parliament and her cabinet told her to go.

Now, if he recognizes reality, which is that he must rule with the consent of parliament and his MPs, and recognizes that he can't do just as he likes, he can survive until he chooses to go.

ANDERSON: Margaret Thatcher was also helped out by the media. She was pushed out, effectively, helped to be pushed out.

BROWN: No, I don't agree with that. At the end of the day, Margaret Thatcher was pushed out by the failure of her cabinet to support her and by a failure of a sizeable proportion of her members of parliament in a leadership election.

So at the end of the day, the media don't drive prime ministers from office, not strong prime ministers. Strong prime ministers fail to listen to their own members of parliament and their cabinets and they are the ones that drive them out of office.

ANDERSON: So you are, both of you, suggesting to me honestly and truthfully, that the media are only reflecting the current thinking in the United Kingdom, that they are certainly not helping to set any sort of agenda.

BLITZ: Yes, we are saying that. I think your approach is.

ANDERSON: I don't know if I believe you.

BLITZ: I can see what you're trying to say, but the fact is, this story is about Blair and the Labour Party. That is what the problem is here. It is about a prime minister who wants to press ahead in his third term with a much reduced majority in the House of Commons, with an extremely aggressive program of public service reform in areas like health, education, the benefits system, and who has a lot of left-leaning back benches who don't want to see that, and there were be a collision at some point, probably next year, over that.

ANDERSON: You're clamoring to get in -- Michael.

BROWN: A week ago, we lost a cabinet minister. This week the government lost a majority. Now, if a prime minister is lost, it is nothing to do with the media, but inevitably these are huge stories, so of course the media quite rightly are going to put them in stark terms on the front pages of their newspaper.

ANDERSON: It's a lot more fun though, isn't it, at this point?

BROWN: It's very exciting. It's exciting, because the prime minister is refusing to read what the media are saying, reporting Labour back-bench members of parliament, could do with reading the newspapers and just seeing what some of his back-benchers are reporting to us, their views on, he should certainly do that.

But we are not going to drive this prime minister from office. That will be done by politicians.

BLITZ: Let's be clear. It's good for trade, there is no question about that, but the prime minister is sincerely convinced that the country needs the kind of reforms that he wants to push through. He is sincerely convinced that 90 days pre-charge detention was needed to deal with the terrorist threat. He believes there have to be important reforms of the education and health system.

Now these are -- this is a serious moment in which new Labour can, under Blair, press ahead with the kind of modernization which the British middle class would like to see, or, alternatively, he's going to be stopped. So there is a real and important issue coming up here.

ANDERSON: Are his days numbered? And is it now payback time for all of those times when, as journalists, you were kept away from a story, or at least you may not have been fed a story by the old communications department.

BLITZ: You keep coming at it from the angle of this being a kind of media conspiracy of some kind, and I just don't think it is there.

On the point of whether his days are numbered, I think he's going to find it very difficult to get through 2006. I don't see Blair easily making it through the summer of next year. There are big moments coming up in the House of Commons on health, education reform, benefits reform, very important local elections coming up next May, where Labour could well be hammered in the polls.

He's already said I'm going to leave in this third term, I'm going to be gone by 2008-2009, so I think it's very difficult now for him to keep the momentum. I'm not sure he can make it through the summer.

ANDERSON: I sense the growing excitement -- Michael.

BROWN: I suspect that is target date probably, realistically, is going to be the first of May 2007, the tenth anniversary of his becoming prime minister. But I think he'll be lucky to get to there unless he recognizes that he has to govern within the limits of what parliament will allow him to do.

ANDERSON: James Blitz and Michael Brown, we thank you.

And up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, the story of the survivors at the epicenter of the tsunami. We talk to the award-winning filmmaker Ruhi Hamid in just a few moments.

Stay with us on CNN.


ANDERSON: Welcome back.

The Rory Peck Trust was setup 10 years ago to provide assistance to freelance news gatherers and their families. At an annual awards ceremony, the trust gives out three awards for outstanding examples of freelance work.

Ruhi Hamid won this year's Rory Peck Award for Features with her film "At the Epicenter."

Let's watch an extract of that.




ANDERSON: Filmmaker Ruhi Hamid is here with me in the studio, and we're joined by Bob Jobbins, who is chairman of the Rory Peck Trust.

Guys, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

Before we move on to talk about the significance of these awards, Ruhi, I wonder if you can give us just some sense of what went into gathering that report, when everybody else, of course, had left the area.

RUHI HAMID, FREELANCE FILMMAKER: When I got there, obviously, the sort of emergency situation had died down. However, there was absolutely no infrastructure there. And also when I arrived, there was no other news crews around. I was pretty much the only one there. And so I had to kind of get on with it on my own and just find my place and how I was going to achieve this film.

I was based at a hotel initially. We just had a base there so I could charge up my batteries, et cetera, but I basically spent most of my time at the village that I shot in, Lampuk (ph), and I would stay overnight with them in the tents and pretty much spend my whole time there.

ANDERSON: The little chap (UNINTELLIGIBLE), how long did it take to gain his confidence and indeed the confidence of the other little guys in the mosque?

HAMID: Henry (ph) was an obvious choice. He was the only child there who had lost everyone from his family, so I knew he was the character. But he was also quite a difficult character, to be honest, and I had to work very carefully. It took me a good two-and-a-half, three weeks to slowly befriend him.

So that scene you see, actually, I filmed after I had been there for four weeks, and it was at a very playful moment. I was hanging out with the kids, and I was actually just showing them how the camera works. And I said to Henry (ph), "Why don't you be a reporter for me, and you ask your friends about this." And I said, "Why don't we start talking about who you lost in, you know, your family, or who is alive." And that's how that scene came about, because Henry (ph) basically became my reporter and started asking.

But I never quite expected it to come out the way it did, because I actually didn't realize that quite a few of the other children had had a lot more survivors. And then when Henry (ph) says, you know, I have no one, it was all the more poignant.

ANDERSON: Extremely powerful stuff.

Bob, just what do freelancers, like Ruhi, bring to the newsgathering operation that full-time staff don't or can't?

BOB JOBBINS, RORY PECK TRUST: I think Ruhi has got her finger on a really good issue. When everybody else leaves a big story, a freelancer can go back in and stay on and spend some serious time building it, and that's one major, major contribution that a freelancer makes to newsgathering and to our understanding.

The other thing that freelancers can do that big organizations are more reluctant to do, they're more risk averse, is just taking a punt on something. And I mean, Ruhi has got film on this as well, she's also sort of kind of backed her bag and trekked through the jungle after a story, which until she's got there and done it, nobody knows it is there. So that's another major plus.

ANDERSON: The Rory Peck Awards are significant how -- Ruhi?

HAMID: They're significant because it's one of the few rewards that actually celebrates the work of freelancers.

Being a freelancer, you're often isolated. It's quite a lonely profession. You're out there on your own, looking for those stories, being in the right place at the right time, quite often being in a place that isn't supposedly the right place.

And with the Rory Peck Award, it honors the work that people like myself, but more so the people who live in the countries, are covering. And, you know, we rely on those kinds of freelancers. Even I rely on people like that. When I arrive in a country, I wholly depend on that freelance journalist community to help me get access to my stories.

ANDERSON: This is the 10 years anniversary of the Rory Peck Awards. Freelancers, though, Bob, have been around a lot longer than that. Are you seeing an improvement, a significant improvement, in the quality of the work that is coming before the judges? Is it getting better and better year by year as the technology improves, perhaps?

JOBBINS: The answer is yes and now. I mean, there is some tremendous stuff being filmed and sent in. I think the stand of the entries uniformly is very high. But every so often you get something which is complete, almost amateur, in its quality, its technical quality, and it's still a great image. And one of our entries this year was put together by somebody who got hold of that, the video, the amateur video almost, of the guy who filmed the tsunami coming down the main street.

Now that was not great in technical terms, but my God, we remember the image.

So we get a lot of range of diversity, technical quality is not our main criteria, although we're very pleased to see that it is getting better. The real thing at Rory Peck that we're looking for is a chance to show the contribution that freelancers make to news gathering, what we were just talking about, and to give them an opportunity to sort of showcase the best of their work.

ANDERSON: And we'll leave it there. We thank you very much indeed, both of you, for joining us, Bob Jobbins and Ruhi Hamid.

And that is it for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT. I'm Becky Anderson. We will see you.



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