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INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

Iranian and Syrian Governments Allegedly Fanning Flames of Anger and Protests Over Cartoons of Muslim Prophet Muhammad; Undercover Journalists Go Inside Philippine Prisons to Expose Child Prisoner Conditions

Aired February 11, 2006 - 21:00:00   ET

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


ASIEH NAMDAR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Our top stories this hour, doctors say Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is out of immediate danger after emergency surgery Saturday. He's in critical condition in a coma. The surgery was to remove damaged parts of his intestine.
In the latest fallout from the prophet Muhammad cartoon controversy, Denmark is now urging its citizens to leave Indonesia. The government says an extremist group has made threats. Denmark has already pulled staff from its embassies in Indonesia, Iran and Syria after violent protests.

Iran's president is threatening more changes to his country's nuclear policy. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says Iran will reconsider being part of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty if foreign countries try to interfere with Iran's right to nuclear power. About a week ago, Iran was reported to the Security Council for possible sanctions.

Italy's health minister says the country is facing its first cases of bird flu. Five cases of the H5N1 strain have been confirmed in dead swans. Greece also says birds have died from the disease there.

Meanwhile, authorities in Nigeria are investigating whether the deadly strain discovered last week has spread to humans. Some people have fallen ill in areas where the virus was found.

Adventurer Steve Fossett has received the Guinness Book of World Records award for the longest solo non-stop flight ever. Fossett broke the record of 40,212 kilometers after being airborne for about three and a half days.

A tired, but a happy Fossett, later said it was too exciting of finish.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE FOSSETT, PILOT: And a lot went on in this flight. I think it was a difficult flight and really lucky to make it to the end and get credit for the record. And then right after that, then I had problem with the generator of the plane and had to make an emergency landing. So there was a lot going on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NAMDAR: Fossett spent a total of 76 hours, 45 minutes in the air, of which he slept only a few hours.

And those are the headlines. I'm Asieh Namdar. "INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS" starts right now.

FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: 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.

Later in the program, the shocking images of child abuse in a Fillipino jail. We speak to the British journalists who went under cover behind bars.

First, though, let's take a look at the fallout of Muhammadian caricature. Images of the prophet, including one with a bomb fizzing from his turban, were first published in a Danish newspaper last September. In the past couple of weeks, they've been reprinted in papers around the world, leading to dismay, destruction and now death.

We're at the point now where there are protests about the protests, and cartoons about the cartoons. It seems there's no end to the fury, no resolution to the controversy.

CNN's Nic Robertson explains the debacle to date.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Though the protests and violence ignited and then spread from Gaza 10 days ago, the truth is the story really begins early last fall in Denmark.

(on camera): Incredibly, all this violence was sparked when a Danish author, writing a children's book about the Muslim faith, discovered he couldn't find an artist to draw a picture of the prophet Muhammad, Islam's founder. He realized they were afraid of offending Muslims who consider such depiction sacrilegious.

FLEMMING ROSE, CULTURE EDITOR, "JYLLANDS-POSTEN": We had five, six cases in Denmark, in the course of two weeks, all as speaking to the problem of self censorship and freedom of speech in terms of dealing and covering Islam.

ROBERTSON: (voice-over): So in a competition, Rose's paper asked artists to draw prophet Muhammad. On September 30, they printed 12.

Two weeks lapsed before Muslim demonstrators took to Denmark's streets. It was another week before ambassadors from Muslim nations complained to Denmark's prime minister. He ignored them.

Next, a delegation from Muslim leaders from Denmark carried a file full of the offensive cartoons to Cairo to fleece for support from Muslim clerics there.

But it wasn't until after mid January, in fact, after the Hajj, the Muslim world's holy pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, that word really began to spread.

AHMED ABU LABAN, DANISH MOSLEM LEADER: Once the season was over, the scholars there started to give attention to this issue.

ROBERTSON: Then, two weeks ago, on January 26, the Saudi's recalled their ambassador to Denmark and Internet sites did the rest.

ALI AL-AHMED, THE GULF INSTITUTE: There is actually a web site dedicated to this issue, to the boycott issue, listing companies, products and even fatwas, already it's edict.

ROBERTSON: And that's when demonstrations ignited. First, a flag burning in the West Bank, a take-over of a European Union office followed in Gaza.

Then, a week ago, the Danish government expressed concern to Muslims. But several European newspapers reprinted the cartoons.

That proved incendiary and led to critical mass, from Iran to Syria to Beirut, across the Arab and Muslim world. Fiery violence brought deaths.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: Iran and Syria have gone out of their way to inflame sentiment and to use this to their own purposes. And the world ought to call them on it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTSON: President Bush, in a meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah, called for an end to the violence. There's no indication that's about to happen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SWEENEY: That was CNN's Nic Robertson reporting.

And ahead, on "INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS," print and be damned. We debate the hottest editorial decision of the moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SWEENEY: Welcome back. As we've been hearing, the deadly dispute over the Muhammad cartoons rages on.

I should remind you that this network has decided not to show the controversial images, saying it's role is to cover the row and not to fan the flames.

Other media outlets opted for the opposite. One French satirical magazine reprinted all the original cartoons, plus some even more inflammatory images.

An Iranian newspaper is holding a contest calling for the cartoons of the Holocaust. Everybody, it seems, has an opinion on the pictures themselves, and whether or not they should have been published.

Well, to discuss this further, I'm joined from Israel by Matthew Gutman from "USA Today," formerly of the "Jerusalem Post;" and here in London by the Iranian journalist Amir Taheri; and CNN's European political editor, Robin Oakley.

My first question to you, Matthew Gutman, in Jerusalem, what has been the reaction, first of all on the Palestinian streets, to the whole cartoon controversy?

MATTHEW GUTMAN, JOURNALIST, "USA TODAY": Well, there's been an incredible reaction. It's be fiery, it's been angry, there's been a ton of rage on the streets of Palestinian towns.

There hasn't been much in the way of violence towards actual Europeans. There have been threats of kidnappings. Palestinians have put the Danish flag out as doormats. They've burnt flags. They have attacked the European Commission offices.

But we haven't seen the type of violence and the tenor of the anger that we've seen in Beirut and even in Iran.

SWEENEY: Do people in the Palestinian streets want to talk to you about this? Is this a subject that's at the top of their minds?

GUTMAN: Absolutely. It's the first thing that they want to talk about.

I was in Gaza this week and a man I had stopped to talk with just to interview about politics in Palestinian life demanded that I brush and wipe my feet off on his makeshift Danish flag. And he wouldn't talk to me; he refused to talk to me until I did so.

It's something that's very interesting to the Palestinian people. It's also something that they feel's symbolic of their plight.

They feel that the West, and particularly the United States, are waging a war and a campaign against both Islam and the Arabs, and they're in the hub of this war. And it's something that they're very upset about and something that they do feel very passionate about, Fionnuala.

SWEENEY: Amir Taheri, this is an issue, which you believe has been largely politicized.

AMIR TAHERI, AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST: Yes, absolutely. You know, the biggest demonstrations we have had have been in Damascus, Tehran and Beirut, and organized by the Iranian and Syrian governments. And even those demonstrations drew no more than 1,000 people in Damascus.

There are 57 Danish embassies throughout the world. Three or four of them have been attacked. And don't forget that most Muslim regimes are despotic regimes that don't allow any spontaneous demonstrations. And what we have seen is really people and by them, by the regimes, and by the radical Islamic groups.

SWEENEY: But is something that, nonetheless, whatever point of view one has on this -- everybody does have a point of view and it has become a talking point on nearly every street, this balance between respect for religion and freedom of expression.

TAHERI: Absolutely. And I could tell you that, it might surprise you, the balance of opinion in the Arab press and among the Arab middle class is, is that this whole thing has been exaggerated, this is going to harm Islam even further. And the Danish Islamic group that went around and has stirred this fire really did a great disservice to Muslims.

SWEENEY: Robin Oakley, there has been some suggestion in recent days about a voluntary code of conduct among journalists in Europe when it comes to balancing that freedom of expression with the respect for religion. Is that something that you think would be a runner?

ROBIN OAKLEY, CNN EUROPEAN POLITICAL EDITOR: I think there's talk of that. I doubt if anything very much will come of that in practice.

Journalists instinctively go for freedom of expression.

Politicians have to walk a tightrope on this particular issue between defending -- the traditional European politicians do -- between defending the traditional freedom of expression and not hurting the sensibilities of what are growing groups of Muslims in most of their countries.

But, I think, as a journalist, I am always suspicious of the cry for voluntary codes of conduct, because they tend to lead on to compulsory codes of conduct. And it is the natural instinct of governments to control and to conceal. So I think we always have to be wary of those kinds of calls, which tend to come from political circles.

SWEENEY: Is it your opinion that an issue like this was inevitable, following September 11, that at some point it would spill over onto the street?

OAKLEY: When I was going around among the Muslims, around Edgware Road, trying to gage their reactions to this, almost everybody wanted to ask me a question before I could ask them questions about how they felt.

And they said, "Look, you presumably are a Christian. How would you feel about your God being depicted in the media in this sort of way?"

And I had to say, "Well, you know, perhaps that's the difference between us. Your religion is very close and central to your lives and the way you conduct your lives. Most of us in this country, if we have a religion, tend to wear it much more lightly. And while I might prefer some newspapers not to show some images or to take a cartoon too far, as a journalist, my instinct would always be to leave them the freedom to do so."

SWEENEY: What has been the reaction among the Israeli public to the whole issue and where it leaves Israelis standing at the moment in terms of the balance, again, of freedom of speech and respect for religion?

GUTMAN: In general, I think Israelis tend to decry the publication of these cartoons. Israelis, probably closer to people in the Arab world, do take religion seriously, at least a large bulk of Israelis do. And they don't want to see anybody maligned, certainly not the prophet Muhammad.

It is important also to note that the Palestinian papers here have published no end of anti-Semitic cartoons over the past five and 10 years, mostly depicting a bloodthirsty Ariel Sharon or other Israeli leaders as eating Palestinian babies for breakfast and things like that.

But they've drawn the line at blasphemy. We've seen Ariel Sharon, you know, with blood dripping from his mouth. But we haven't seen Moses or Abraham or other prophets dear to both Jews and Muslims maligned in the Palestinian press.

SWEENEY: Amir Taheri, how is this controversy going to be de- escalated? Is it, in its essence, a problem that's here to stay?

TAHERI: Well, I don't think the problem will go away because there are always some people who want to incite the Muslims against the West and democracy. This has been going on for the past 150 years, and it will continue until one side wins.

But as for the controversy itself, we have had similar events before. We had the Rushdie affair, you know, which ran quite a while. We have had troubles about the so-called veers (ph) of the prophet that were stolen in Kashmir. You know, the whole history is full of these incidences and we'll have many more.

But what I'm trying to emphasize is that it really hasn't had the impact that the media claims it has had in the Muslim world. You know, there are 1.2 billion Muslims and, you know, how many of them have been taking part in demonstrations?

And, of course, television has the specialty of magnifying everything. You know, you see a few hundred people attacking the Beirut embassy and you think it's the whole of the Beiruti (ph) population.

And don't forget that, as I mentioned before, in Muslim countries you cannot demonstrate freely because there is no freedom. Then somebody organizes these activities. So, you know, to believe that this is, you know, a clash of civilizations or the fight of Islam, as such, against the West, I think, is nonsense. These cartoons were unfortunate but that's really neither here nor there.

SWEENEY: Thank you very much, indeed, Robin Oakley, Amir Taheri, here in London; and Matthew Gutman, thank you very much for joining us from Jerusalem.

Up next on "INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS," hell on earth, a journalist undercover mission in Philippines. That's in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SWEENEY: Welcome back.

The sights of a small child in strife would pull at anybody's heartstrings. But it made one British reporter take action.

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, along side murderers and rapists, beaten, sexually assaulted and left to rot. He'd uncovered a humanitarian crisis.

After Chris' reports were broadcasted around the world, the Philippines government promised immediate action.

Several months later, Chris and cameraman, Tony Hemmings, returned to Manila to see if anything had changed. Here's what they found.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS ROGERS, ITV NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is a cell full of broken lives and broken promises.

When we exposed this abuse six months ago, the Philippine authorities pledged swift action. Here, we found young faces are still behind bars, hungry, exhausted and terrified.

We were shown the ongoing abuse, posing as aide workers. Incredibly, the warden allowed us to film. I felt like I was feeding caged animals.

This is not the first time I've met 13-year-old Carly (ph). Last year, we filmed him in another jail. He'd been there three months.

Eventually, he was released. Now, he's back behind bars, this time, accused of stealing a bucket of fish. He told me they're allowed out of this cell to exercise for just one hour a week.

It was relatively easy to expose the horrors of this jail. I was told it could be worse elsewhere.

But with camera equipment banned in other prisons, getting proof wasn't going to be easy. We had to come up with an elaborate plan.

(on camera): Despite all the risks, we just have to get inside these jails. We might be able to use the camera we had last time, but it's unlikely. Even mobile phones are being confiscated now.

So the cameraman, Tony, is armed with a hidden camera. And it's by using this, we hope to reveal what it is the authorities are trying to hide.

(voice-over): Still posing as charity workers, we now risk certain arrest, breaching the security designed to hide child prisoners from the outside world.

The number of young hands reaching out for help was overwhelming.

Girls are rarely found in prisons. They tend to turn to prostitution rather than petty crime. But we discovered 12-year-old Sarah, accused of shoplifting.

In another jail, we were refused entry to the cells. The children were brought outside to us. Convinced I was a genuine aide worker, the prison governor told me the precautions were because of my ITV News reports last year.

UNIDENTIFIED PRISON GOVERNOR: It was bad because the jail was shown in bad shape.

ROGERS (on camera): And is it still crowded?

UNIDENTIFIED PRISON GOVERNOR: Yes.

(voice-over): Despite the government's making moves to change the Philippine justice system, to rehabilitate children rather than punish them, for now this is a country more concerned about covering up child imprisonment than ending it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SWEENEY: Well, Chris and Tony join me now to talk about their experience. But first, I should point out that since the report was broadcasted, the Philippine government has said that it does not reflect progress made on juvenile justice laws.

In a statement to ITV News, the government says, quote, "It notes with deep concern the reports of the plight of Fillipino children, and wishes to assure that it has worked and continues to work for their betterment."

The statement goes on to say that a juvenile justice bill is currently going through Congress and that training is being improved for those working with children who appear in court.

We focus now on how Chris and Tony got the story.

Chris, first, let me ask you, again, what exactly was it that prompted you to take an interest in this kind of story?

ROGERS: I thought I was going to try and go to the Philippines to tell the tale of one girl, one girl's plight. And, as you've quite rightly put on this program, I found thousands of children like Rose.

I don't think, as a journalist, I was going over there to try and achieve anything other than tell their stories, which as far as I was concerned hadn't been told yet.

And when I got to the Philippines, I realized why the stories hadn't been told. It's a very difficult story to film, very difficult to get access into the jails. But it was something I managed to achieve.

SWEENEY: Tony, lets bring you in here because, being the cameraman, it -- Chris mentioned how difficult it was to film. Talk us through the mechanics of trying to film in a place where permission isn't granted. The first time you went, six months ago, for example.

TONY HEMMINGS, CAMERAMAN, ITV NEWS: Well, as you say, we paid two visits to the Philippines, six months ago. And basically, the Philippine authorities, I don't think, were really expecting us.

So we traveled out there and into the prisons where, then, a charitable aid agency who helped us. Then, we were able to film, I would say, with semi-professional cameras, you know, domestic home videos, which produced the pictures that we've seen.

And obviously, that caused somewhat of an outcry around the world and the security was tightened up, severely tightened up, as you say, by the prison authorities.

So coming our second visit, apart from one prison where we did get a very small camera in, filming was banned and it was necessary to film using a secret hidden camera.

SWEENEY: So you went back with the purpose of seeing if anything had changed, and we've just seen in that report, not a whole lot.

ROGERS: No. I knew what we were going back to because the charities, who had continued to work for child prisoners to help them, were telling me that they were still finding children in appalling conditions.

I knew that a number of token gestures had been made, so to speak, such as moving children away from adults, moving them into their own cells. But the cells they were putting them in were tiny cages, to be frank.

And I knew that a number of prison governors had been sacked for allowing us into the jail, rather than because of the appalling conditions the children were being kept in.

And so there were moves behind the scenes and a couple of token gestures, but no real swift action, as they promised, to end it. The action really was just to cover it up and never let us back in again.

SWEENEY: But what is the risk of being caught filming in these places?

ROGERS: You just want to go in the jail. You know it's happening in there.

See, it's actually quite frustrating, isn't it Tony?

HEMMINGS: Yes, absolutely.

ROGERS: The story is in there behind the walls. You want to get in and you want to film it. You don't think about the risks.

SWEENEY: But, of course, it's difficult to get children sometimes to talk in front of a camera at the best of times. Did they have any idea at all that they were talking to journalists or were on camera?

HEMMINGS: No, they didn't.

ROGERS: I think not. No, no, no.

HEMMINGS: They had no idea.

ROGERS: They didn't suspect at all that we were a film crew.

SWEENEY: And there are real penalties for people being caught filming in these prisons.

ROGERS: Yes, we were told, in the worst case, we would be arrested and, perhaps, charged with spying, which, you know, can be a very, very long prison term. And in the best case, we'd be arrested, held for some time. No doubt there'd be some diplomatic wrangling and we'd be deported.

We did hear that one foreign journalist did try to follow up my story from six months ago, and was caught with a hidden camera and deported straight away.

SWEENEY: And, briefly, you both went there to tell the story initially of Rose, the 5-year-old. Do you think telling the story is enough? And would you be prepared to go back again to follow up?

ROGERS: Well, someone once said to me that it's not our jobs as journalists to change the world. It's our jobs to tell the world about things they might not hear of. And if that creates change, then that is a glorious side effect.

And, though, Tony and I are disappointed that we went back six months later and found the situation ongoing, there is an element of hope there. The juvenile justice bill is a lifeline for these children that UNICEF and PRAD (ph) and other organizations are really clinging onto at the moment.

And that, if it goes through, is a fantastic side effect from this.

HEMMINGS: I think it was very important to re-visit on the second occasion, because, you know, probably the first visit had the most impact, I think, Chris, in actually speeding the process up of bringing about this bill.

But it certainly needed re-enforcing and, you know, to give it a kick- start again by our second visit. And I believe, you know, some of the pictures, the images we captured, it clearly showed things hadn't moved a great deal.

SWEENEY: Tony Hemmings, Chris Rogers, thanks very much in deed.

ROGERS: Thank you.

SWEENEY: 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 Fionnuala Sweeney. Thanks for joining us.

END

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