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Critique of Worldwide Media Coverage

Aired February 25, 2006 - 21:00:00   ET


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Becky Anderson, in London. Welcome to CNN'S INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories of the moment.
And we begin this week with the slaughter of a leading Iraqi television journalist. Atwar Barjat (ph) was killed while reporting for the Al Arabiya news channel on the bombing of Sumara's scared Shia shrine. Two of her colleagues were also murdered (AUDIO GAP) towards civil war.

Many say (AUDIO GAP). To discuss this, I'm joined from New York by the CPJ's Deputy Director, Joel Simon, and here in London, Richard Gizbert, a former ABC correspondent who now refused to report from war zones.

And let's start in London. You refuse, as we've suggested, to report from war zones. Why?

RICHARD GIZBERT, FMR. ABC CORRESPONDENT: Well, I did five or six years of war zone reporting through the '90s, the former Yugoslavia, Chechnya, Rwanda (AUDIO GAP). And like most people, I just drifted away from it. There are very few what I would call lifers in the war reporting business. People who are going to do it for an entire career. And it wasn't an issue with my employer when I stopped going in '99. Then after 9/11 it became a bit of an issue. Since 9/11, of course, we've seen the opening of the Iraqi (AUDIO GAP) wars that we've ever had to contemplate as news organizations to cover.

And I chose not to go. Eventually that cost me my job. I brought an unfair dismissal case here in the United Kingdom, which we won (AUDIO GAP), which a lot of people say is going to set precedence, useful precedence, for journalists in positions like mine.

ANDERSON: Joel, just how much pressure are journalists both on the press and broadcast jobs to get into dangerous situations, to report from war zones, for the good of their companies?

JOEL SIMON, COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS: Well, our -- what we focus on in the Committee to Protect Journalists, what we're really looking at and what the survey looks at, is the overall environment in Iraq, and there is no question that Iraq, in our 25-year history, is the most dangerous place to cover.

Sixty-one -- I'm sorry, 64 journalists have been killed in Iraq with the latest deaths of the Al Arabiya correspondents. In addition, 23 media workers have been killed. Last year, 22 journalists were killed in Iraq. But I think what's important to note is that 21 of them were Iraqis. There is no question that Iraq is an extremely dangerous place for foreign correspondents to work, but it's even more dangerous for Iraqi journalists. They're the ones who are actually out there gathering the news. They're the ones who are most at risk. And they're the ones who are being killed.

ANDERSON: This is an important point, isn't it, because 18 months, two years ago, you could see organizations saying well, look, we're going to have to use locals, as it were, on these stories, because it's going to be too difficult for the Western journalists to get in and report from these situations. And now, as we suggest, we're seeing what Joel has said. We're seeing local hires being killed.

GIZBERT: If you look at the list, and you can see it on the CPJ site, of the journalists killed, almost all the names in the last 18 months, two years, are Arabic names. Most of those are Iraqi. And they'll do that on print, they'll do that for crews. I know ABC stopped sending Western crews, London-based crews, a few years ago.

But you can't do that with a correspondent on television. You can't do that typically with a producer from television. So there is a dividing line there, Becky, as to how many locals a Western organization can get away with, and I know that a lot of Western organizations, others -- employees that I speak to that work for other networks -- a lot of them have been pressured to go to Iraq. Many of them have chosen not to go. I think a certain amount of that pressure is unavoidable.

But what ought to happen is if you say no to Iraq, a company's voluntary war zone policy ought to mean what it says. You ought to be protected and not use your job for refusing to go, as I did.

ANDERSON: Joel, why is it that so many Iraqis, as journalists, have been killed in Iraq and elsewhere, of course? Why do you think that is?

And do you believe that more risks are taken by local hires, perhaps, than those who are generic to the environment?

SIMON: Well, there are a couple of points I should make. One is, some of the journalists who have been killed are, as you put it, local hires, Iraqi journalists working for Western media organizations. However, many of those who have been killed are also Iraqi journalists working for Iraqi media organizations. There's been a real growth of Iraqi media. So it's a combination of the two.

But the fact is, how is the news being reported in Iraq. Who is out there gathering the information that's put on the air, that's put in the print media? (AUDIO GAP) is being done by Iraqi journalists quite simply because they're the only ones who can do it. Western journalists are too visible, they're too vulnerable, they can't move around freely, and this is the only way to do the reporting.

Now, obviously, it puts -- that also means the Iraqi journalists are bearing most of the risks, and that's (AUDIO GAP).

ANDERSON: What can be learned by organizations from the situation in Iraq, where we've seen more journalists killed than in any other or on any other story or any other situation.

GIZBERT: (AUDIO GAP) . Chechnya standard, London-based correspondents, like you, like me, being sent into the former Yugoslavia on three-week rotations, rotated out three weeks later by another team coming in. That's what ABC, I know, has tried to do here with the Iraq war.

But this war is so much more dangerous, that those models simply can no longer apply, and what we've seen some organizations, like the BBC with Caroline Holly (ph), like NBC with Richard Angle (ph), is to find someone young, perhaps an Arabic speaker, who is completely dedicated to the story, who is willing to risk their lives to cover this story, either because they care about the story or they think it's going to be beneficial for their career, sometimes a combination of the two.

Those organizations were flexible, innovative and creative, which is what often they ask their employees to be. Organizations like ABC News, who could have gone that way, instead chose to simply revert to that three- week rotation policy straight out of the Bosnian model, which I don't think one can reasonably apply to one's employees for a conflict the nature of this one.

ANDERSON: It doesn't suggest that they wouldn't be marked for death, but perhaps that's a way of getting around this issue.

GIZBERT: It's a chance -- it's a risk that these people are willing to take, either for the benefit of their careers or because they care deeply about the story, or a combination of the two.

ANDERSON: Joel, we talked a lot about Iraq. Let's just talk about other places that you have highlighted in your most recent report as seriously dangerous for journalists, those areas where journalists are effectively marked for death.

SIMON: Well, we put out our annual report, as you mentioned, just last week, and the countries where journalists are most at risk, I mean I think there are two categories. There are countries where journalists are at risks of violence. Iraq is far and away the most dangerous place in the world.

The Philippines is another very dangerous country for journalists. In fact, we put out a study as you mentioned, "Marked For Death," that determined that the Philippines was the most murderous country. In other words, journalists are deliberately killed in the Philippines at the highest rate, even higher than Iraq, where crossfire is the major source of death.

But the other risk to journalists is from authoritarian countries who put journalists in jail. China is the world's leading jailer of journalists, with 32 journalists in jail, followed by Cuba with 24 and then Ethiopia, Eritrea and Burma are all perennial jailers of journalists.

So there are two kinds of risks. There is risk of violence and then there is risk of government repression.

ANDERSON: OK. With that, we leave it there. We thank you very much indeed for joining us, Joel Simon, in New York, and Richard Gizbert, here in London.

And up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, behind bars (AUDIO GAP) Guantanamo Bay suspects. A film director's mission to shut the military base down.

That's after this short break.


ANDERSON: Welcome back.

Shackled, tortured, interrogated and made to wear orange jumpsuits day after day after day. Well, this is allegedly what happens at the U.S. military camp in Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba. It's a long way from Tipton, in England's West Midland, but that's where three British men ended up after being captured in Afghanistan.

They were released without charge two years later and are now the subject of a film about their ordeal.

Chris Burns with this report.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On his knees, facing this way. Don't let him look. Don't let him look.

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a story told by three youths from Tipton, England.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are now the property of the U.S. Marine Corps! This is your final destination.

BURNS: Ruhel, Shafiq and Asiq (ph), played by three young actors, wind up in the middle of the U.S.-led war on terror in the docudrama "The Road to Guantanamo."

After traveling to Pakistan for a wedding in September 2001, they go on to Afghanistan, around the same time U.S. air strikes begin. They lose their friend Runil (ph) in the chaos as the Taliban regime falls. They're captured. They say they are beaten and interrogated by U.S. and British agents before they are sent to the Guantanamo Bay detention center for two years, without charges.

SHAFIQ RASUL, FMR. GUANTANAMO BAY PRISONER: If you are Arab, that was it, you were a member of al Qaeda no matter what. The stories that we used to hear from the detainees, what used to happen to them in interrogation, and seeing people get beaten as well in front of us.

FILM NARRATOR: Despite international criticism, America insists the conditions inside Camp X-Ray are humane.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECY. OF DEFENSE: We are consistent with the Geneva Convention, for the most part.

BURNS: The film's British director sought to lift the veil on a place that remains shrouded in secrecy.

MICHAEL WINTERBOTTOM, DIRECTOR: If I said to you five years ago there'd be an American prison in Cuba where people were being held without trial, you'd have thought I was crazy.

BURNS: After the Tipton Three were released in March 2004, they told their story to Winterbottom and his co-director, Mat Whitecross, who compiled more than 600 pages of accounts, living with them for a month.

MAT WHITECROSS, CO-DIRECTOR: They're very, very dense with very normal people.

BURNS: The youths did have a mission in going to Afghanistan, though they insist it was humanitarian.

RUHEL AHMED, FMR. GUANTANAMO BAY PRISONER: We just wanted to see what was going on and how were the brothers.

BURNS: And, they say, the detainees they knew at Guantanamo weren't the terrorists the U.S. government portrayed them to be. The West, not just the United States, has been struggling lately to repair its image in the Muslim world. The timing of this film could heighten tensions.

But director Michael Winterbottom says the film has only one aim, to shut down Guantanamo.


ANDERSON: So, rather a potent aspiration there. "The Road to Guantanamo" is just the latest docudrama with a passionate political message.

Film, it appears, is becoming a more popular medium for partisans to express their views. Is this a failing of the mainstream media?

Well, to discuss this I'm joined by Howard Kurtz, of the "Washington Post," and host of CNN'S "Reliable Sources."

Howard, inevitable analogies drawn between "Fahrenheit 9/11" and Michael Moore, a polemic, of course, against President Bush, and Michael Winterbottom's movie, "The Road to Guantanamo." Is that fair?

HOWARD KURTZ, "WASHINGTON POST": It certainly is fair, because filmmaking is becoming one of the weapons of choice in the propaganda war. Michael Moore caused a huge stir in the United States and around the world with his attack on the Bush administration in that "Fahrenheit 9/11" picture that you mentioned, and I imagine that this new film is going to get plenty of attention as well, given the sensitive and controversial nature of the subject matter.

ANDERSON: Is this a failing of mainstream media?

KURTZ: I don't necessarily see it as a failing. What I see it as is advocates, whether it's Michael Moore or this gentleman or other folks who have targets or a message that they want to get out to the world (AUDIO GAP) a way to go around the mainstream media rather than try to get on a five minute interview on television or put up a Web site. If they can make a movie and get that movie shown in theatres or even on DVDs, and get a buzz going and get publicity and get coverage and get people to watch it, that's a very effective long-form way for them to try to push their point of view in this information-saturated society.

ANDERSON: Michael Winterbottom says that his sole reason for making the film was to have Guantanamo Bay shut down. Should he be allowed to use the medium of film for that purpose?

KURTZ: Well, you say allowed. Who's going to stop him? Anybody is free to make any kind of movie they want. What people who see this movie, just as people who saw Michael Moore's movie, need to understand going in is this is somebody with an agenda. This is somebody pushing a point of view, somebody with a political objective. That's fine, but they're not going to expect and should not expect a straight-forward, neutral, objective documentary. That's not the aim here.

ANDERSON: I wonder whether these docudramas, as it were, the use of film for agenda gain, as it were, work as well in politics as they do, perhaps, in the corporate world. I'm thinking about the films against McDonalds and Wal-Mart, for example.

KURTZ: Yes, I was thinking of those as well, because the people who tried to argue through films that McDonalds serves excessively fatty food or that Wal-Mart is a big, heartless corporation that doesn't pay its employees enough benefits, they also decided that the only way to break through the static was to go the moviemaking route, which is fine if you can raise enough money and have enough talent to put a movie together, and you accomplish two things. All the people who see that movie will have had a long exposure, an hour, an hour-and-a-half, two hours, to your point of view, much longer than you would ever get in the mainstream media. And then secondly you get other people talking about it and arguing about it and you get the coverage of the movie, which also serves your purpose, because you want a debate about the very issues in the way that you frame those issues.

ANDERSON: I wonder why, do you think, that this is the era of using film for docudrama, to get one's message out. Why now?

KURTZ: I think technology has a lot to do with it. I think that 20 years ago it was awfully hard, if you weren't attached to a big studio, to make a movie, but now with digital cameras, you not only can make a movie much more cheaply, you can distribute it, you can put it on the Internet, you can print up a bunch of DVD copies. Everybody's got a DVD player at home and you can send it out that way. That's how a guy who made a movie against the Fox Network here in the United States distributed his movie and his message.

So the simple fact that this is the technology and the economics have come within the purview of the average person, somebody without a lot of money, has made this now into a new information tool in the ongoing message wars.

ANDERSON: Howard, we leave it there. We thank you very much indeed for joining us, Howard Kurtz, there in Washington.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, Charles the dissident. The prince versus the press. We consider the latest royal row.

Stay with us.


ANDERSON: Welcome back.

It's been a rough week for the future king of England. Excerpts from his private diaries have been published in a British newspaper. In them, Prince Charles reveals that he considers himself a dissident working against the prevailing political consensus.

To achieve these ends, he's said to have frequently fired off letters to government ministers.

The secret side of Charles was revealed in a court battle as he fought to prevent further details from emerging, but it has sparked a row over the future monarchs role and his relationship with the press.

I'm joined now by the royal watcher, Richard Fitzwilliams.

Richard, the Prince of Wales has always been seen as a bit of an eccentric, a bit of an aristocratic eccentric, if you put it that way. He has had a problem with royal watchers in the past. He talks to his plants. A whole load of issues around Prince Charles. Is this just another example of a guy having bad relationship problems, as it were.

RICHARD FITZWILLIAMS, ROYAL WATCHER: I think that there is no doubt the prince has got a large number of enemies in the media. In fact, worry here that he would take the strongest exception to your description of him purely as an eccentric who might talk to plants and has a few dotty views, firing off missives. You're talking actually about perhaps the world's most successful entrepreneur when it comes to charities, somebody's whose taking issues.

It's interesting that the prince is a complex figure. Sometimes you feel he's a romantic who looks to the past for inspiration. On the other hand, if you look at organic farming, the environment, these issues that he was championing, like homeopathy, long before they became fashionable.

ANDERSON: We have to talk about Prince Charles' role here, don't we, because there are two sides of this point. Should Prince Charles effectively follow the example of his mother, the queen, and keep his private opinions to himself? Or should his views be respected -- and that's a big question. Should his views be respected? Should he have a public audience for them?

FITZWILLIAMS: I think first it's got to be emphasized the prince cannot constitutionally, certainly should not enter into party political argument (AUDIO GAP). That would be very dangerous. We don't know what the queen thinks. That's her strength. Equally, to argue that he should be silent, I think that would be utterly unreasonable. What is the man to do? Being Prince of Wales is a predicament, not a position. We need to know his views on issues of interest. He cannot (UNINTELLIGIBLE) where others might not. Architecture is one, other faiths another.

ANDERSON: Issues of interest, as you suggest. Architecture may be one thing, his views on the Chinese, on China and those who run China might be something completely different.

Should he expect, though, an attentive audience or easy access to the media? This is a big (AUDIO GAP) at this point.

FITZWILLIAMS: I think any campaigner -- I mean, this business of him being a dissident. The prince was called a dissident by Mark Boland (ph), his former aide who has turned against him and is giving evidence against him to associated newspapers in this case. Anyone who is campaigning is campaigning against something they would like to change. They are in that sense a dissident.

ANDERSON: His relationship with the British media has never been good, but it's pretty bad at present, isn't it? Why is that -- Richard.

FITZWILLIAMS: Well, it's pretty bad because of so many ups and downs over the last 30 years you could say. I mean, it's extraordinary. Twenty years ago they were talking about him as renaissance man. I think it was the disaster of his marriage to the Princess of Wales. I think also errors, such as admitting adultery on television in the 1990s, the way he is perceived to have treated the Princess of Wales, difficult in so many ways, though she was. And errors, for example, such as however reluctantly giving the police the go-ahead to prosecute the princess' former butler, Paul Barrow (ph), which was a catastrophic mistake.

ANDERSON: Richard, we leave it there. We thank you very much indeed for joining us, royal watcher Richard Fitzwilliams.

And that's is it for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Do tune in again next time for another look at how the media are handling the big issues. I'm Becky Anderson, in London. Thank you for joining us.



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