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Critique of Worldwide Media Coverage

Aired April 1, 2006 - 21:00:00   ET


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.

Later in the show, digesting the results of the Israeli election. We review the media coverage.

First, though, we begin with some joyous news. The American journalist Jill Carroll has been freed in Iraq. She was kidnapped three months ago in a bloody ambush on a back street in Baghdad. Her translator was killed in the attack.

Soon after her release, Jill spoke of her time in captivity. The 28- year-old said, quote, "I'm happy to be free. I just want to be with my family."

CNN's Nic Robertson reports on her ordeal and newfound freedom.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Less than two hours after she was released, Jill Carroll was already appearing on Baghdad TV, receiving gifts, including a Koran, from the Iraqi politician who helped get her to safety. She'd lost none of her reporter's instinct for telling the story.

JILL CARROLL, FREELANCE JOURNALIST: I was treated very well. It's important for people to know that, that I was not harmed. They never said they would hit me, never threatened me in any way. And I was happy to be free. I want to be with my family.

ROBERTSON: Looking surprisingly relaxed and composed compared to her appearances in the insurgent videos taken during her captivity, she said she had no idea where she was held or why she was released.

CARROLL: I don't know. I don't now what happened. They just came to me and said, OK, we're letting you go now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a negotiation to make you free.

CARROLL: I don't know. I don't know what was going on.

They didn't tell me what was going on.

ROBERTSON: Set free in a dangerous part of Baghdad, she'd walked into a small office belonging to a Sunni political party, clutching a letter written in Arabic asking for help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): At 12:15 this afternoon we got a call from our office in western Baghdad tell us that the journalist Jill Carroll was with them. She was immediately transported under heavy security to the headquarters of the Islamic Party.

ROBERTSON: It seems no U.S. forces were involved in Jill's release, but the U.S. ambassador was quickly contacted by the Iraqis.

ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. AMB. TO IRAQ: I got a call to one of my assistants, perhaps four hours ago or so, from the head of the Islamic Party (UNINTELLIGIBLE), that Jill was with them and that she was not only free but she appeared to be in good health.

ROBERTSON: Before she was taken to the United States embassy, Jill was able to make the call she had only been able to dream of.

JIM CARROLL, JILL CARROLL'S FATHER: We got the call this morning. I got the call a little before 6:00. Jill called me directly. And it was quite a wake-up call, to say the least.

ROBERTSON: For Jill's family, the news they'd been praying for but had dared not expect.

(on camera): Right now, that news is all that matters to her family and friends, but still unanswered, why was she let go and is this an indication Iraqi kidnappers are now less inclined to kill their prisoners?

Nic Robertson, CNN, Baghdad.


SWEENEY: And still to come on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, we speak to two of Jill's journalist friends.

That's in just a moment. Stay with us.


SWEENEY: Welcome back.

She was seized in a Baghdad street and held hostage for nearly three months. Yet upon her release, the U.S. journalist Jill Carroll appeared calm and composed. She said she didn't know why she was abducted nor who her captors were. All she wanted was to get home to her loved ones, those who had pleaded and prayed for her release.

One of those people is close friend and fellow journalist Natasha Tynes, who joins me now from Washington, D.C.

Natasha, I gather that you were one of the people that actually broke the news to Jill's family.

NATASHA TYNES, JOURNALIST: I heard the good news as soon as the news was released on the newswires, and this was through a friend of mine who is based in the Middle East. So my friend called me and told me the news early in the morning, and the first thing I did was to call Jill's sister and tell her just so she can confirm it, and she didn't know. And so that was the good news.

SWEENEY: She has been described as an uncommonly strong character. How would you describe her?

TYNES: She is a very strong character. She is very focused and motivated. She believes in her mission as a journalist and she went to Iraq to pursue her dream of becoming a foreign correspondent and reporting from the war zone, and being strong willed helped her as well get out of this ordeal.

SWEENEY: How did you meet?

TYNES: I met Jill in 2002 in Amman, Jordan, where we both worked for the "Jordan Times" in Amman, Jordan. We both worked as reporters there. And then we became very good friends. And then she even came to my wedding and she was one of the supervising ushers at my wedding. And she stayed in my home in Amman last year when she was on her way to Baghdad from Cairo.

SWEENEY: Did you ever worry about her decision to go to Baghdad?

TYNES: Well, of course. I mean, you know, the situation in Iraq is not that safe for anyone. But she always used to tell me that she was being extra careful and she's always dressed in the local dress, and she always goes to the safe places. So she assured me that she was being extra careful.

SWEENEY: Did you think that you would live to see the day that she would be release?

TYNES: Yes. I believed so because I know that Jill is a person that is very rational, and the fact that she speaks Arabic and is very familiar with the culture, they were really two good assets that would help her be freed. And so -- plus, she is a very strong willed, very composed person, and I knew deep down that she would be released.

SWEENEY: What do you think now is the situation for journalists in Iraq in general?

TYNES: Well, I mean, as we all know, the situation is not that safe. There are lots of obstacles and dangers, whether it was kidnappings or bombings or -- and this is what happens when many journalists try to stay in the green zone, which is kind of disappointing, because very few of them dare to leave the green zone or their hotels and venture outside and get the story, but Jill was not one of them, and she wanted to leave her hotel and venture out and get the story from the real people, and this is what happened to her.

So because of the situation in Iraq, sadly enough, maybe we're not getting the full truth of what is happening because journalists are actually intimidated.

SWEENEY: Knowing Jill as you do, do you think that she will at some point want to return to working in Iraq?

TYNES: She is someone who believes in her dream as a foreign correspondent. It has always been her dream. And someone who wants to pursue their dream to the end might consider going back to the Middle East. Maybe not necessarily Iraq, but she believes in what she is doing and this is what she wants to do, so I think we should all support her.

SWEENEY: All right, Natasha, thank you very much indeed for taking the time to come in and talk to us about your friend Jill Carroll.

Well, despite her ordeal, Jill is one of the lucky ones. Since the conflict began three years ago, many reporters have been kidnapped and killed. Iraq's danger is indisputable.

One journalist who knows this more than most is Stephen Farrell of "The Times of London." He was kidnapped by Sunni guerillas near Fallujah then later released.

Stephen joins me now from Jerusalem.

How long ago were you kidnapped?

STEPHEN FARRELL, "THE TIMES OF LONDON": It was coming up on two years, I think. April 2004, just during the first siege of Fallujah.

SWEENEY: And what happened to you, briefly?

FARRELL: I was driving from Amman to Baghdad in an armored car and a lory full of guys with Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades just slewed in front of the car, sprayed us with bullets, dragged us out and took us off to a house somewhere near Fallujah, and after a little bit of violence they just bombarded us with questions for about 10 hours before finally accepting we were journalists and letting us go.

SWEENEY: So you were one of the first journalists kidnapped in Iraq. What do you think of the situation now when you hear obviously the good news about Jill Carroll's release, but how more dangerous, or less, is it for journalists now in your opinion?

FARRELL: It's much more dangerous for journalists. What happened to us was pretty much the first. After that, what you could do just got smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller. The pool of opportunity to work has been whittled away and whittled away.

We're now in a situation where effectively it takes 10-times as much effort to get 1/10 of the journalism out of Iraq that we used to get.

SWEENEY: Can I ask you, now that Jill has been released, given your own experience, after you were set free, what can she expect to go through now in terms of settling back in or post traumatic stress?

FARRELL: Thankfully, my ordeal didn't compare to Jill's. She's been away for three months. I was out within a day.

I certainly -- after you get out, you certainly, if you're going back to Iraq, you watch everything you say, you watch everything you think, everything other people say, very, very carefully. Your mind during the ordeal, it's really speeding along a million miles an hour. You're examining every nuance of everything you say during the kidnap, because you don't want to say something wrong. The slightest little thing that is wrong could set them off.

And that's not something you get out of quickly. After I was released, I found myself doing it for weeks afterwards. Everything other people say, you're scanning it, you're operating on a really high level, and that's not good for you in the long run.

Now, Jill's been away far longer than me. I would imagine that she will probably go through similar things. Very, very, careful.

SWEENEY: Did you receive any counseling?

FARRELL: It never occurred to me, to be honest. I got back to Baghdad the next day. I was not in a great state. And I was rattled. I mean, I knew I was rattled, I could feel it.

So I wrote the story that day, and then the next day I just thought, if I don't get back on a horse, I'm never going to do this. So we just jumped in a car and went straight back down to Karballa, and down another road. And that was really scary. Your mind is just triggered by guys in masks, guys in Kalashnikovs, all the signals that just nearly killed you 48 hours earlier just flashing before your eyes again and again and again. But it was the only way to get through it for me. I'm not suggesting other people should do the same thing.

And after two or three weeks, it kind of faded into the background.

SWEENEY: You're based in Jerusalem, but you travel in and out of Iraq. You've never considered the possibility of not returning there?

FARRELL: Again, no, not really. I think there is a crucial factor here, that I and the colleague I was with, we talked our way out. I think psychologically, that's really important. You get yourself into a situation, and we certainly made mistakes and I made mistakes getting in, but I think -- I suspect there is a big difference between being in a room, completely powerless, and having somebody kick down a door after a day, a week, a month or a year, and take you out and you had nothing to do with it, and actually getting on top of the situation, convincing them and getting out.

In a way, that was the beginning of the recovery therapy. You're establishing a sense of control, even as the incident is going on and you get out. So for me, I felt OK about it. I'm not saying I'd like it to happen again, but.

SWEENEY: But you felt OK about returning.

Let me ask you before we leave it, tough Stephen, you know Jill and you clearly know what kind of character she is like. What will you be saying to her when you next see her?

FARRELL: Everybody is obviously absolutely delighted she's talking with friends and colleagues as we speak in Iraq. She has a personal decision to make, many decisions, one of which is does she stay in Iraq or not.

In a situation like this, I (A) wouldn't ask her any questions, because I hated being bombarded with them, and (B), you just be as supportive as you can for whatever that person's decision is. It's an individual decision.

SWEENEY: Stephen Farrell, of "The Times of London," thank you very much for joining us.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, we look at the media's coverage of the Israeli election.

Stay with us.


SWEENEY: Welcome back.

Apathy and unattainability. These appear to be the catchwords of this week's election in Israel. Voter turnout was low and analyst say most people expected Ehud Olmert and his Kadima Party to win.

Since it was announced last November, the party has captured the public's imagination, a public tired with the right-wing views of Likud and the left-wing Labour Party.

To discuss how the vote was covered by the media, I'm joined from Jerusalem by CNN's Guy Raz and here in London by Alison Smale, managing editor of "The International Herald Tribune."

Guy, first of all, before we get on to how the media covered this election, how do you explain the low voter turnout? And did the media in Israel have something to do with that?

GUY RAZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is no question about it, Fionnuala, because the media essentially was so enthusiastic over the Kadima Party, the Israeli coverage, the domestic media's coverage of the Kadima Party was almost sycophantic. And I think in some ways it turned off a lot of voters.

Look, for the past four weeks -- really for the past eight weeks -- all of the public opinion polling has shown that Kadima was going to take the lion's share of the vote. And so many voters simply decided not to turn out because they just assumed, based on the media's coverage and based on the polling, that this election was a done deal anyway.

SWEENEY: And the media was very pro-Kadima?

RAZ: Yes, they were extremely pro-Kadima, and they really didn't hide it, which is quite extraordinary. There was a real disconnect, a real gap, between the enthusiasm the media showed for this political party and the enthusiasm that the public was showing for the party.

I mean, many people had expected this party to fair far better than it did. You know, there was sort of an informal poll taken among journalists in the country and it was conclusive that most of the reporters, the Israeli reporters, turned out to vote for Kadima.

Many reporters simply became disaffected with the left and the right, like the Israeli public. But what the media really failed to capture was the public's anger and disenchantment with the socioeconomic situation in the country that the left-wing Labour Party really managed to tape into.

SWEENEY: Alison Smale, how did "The International Herald Tribune" cover this story? What was its approach?

ALISON SMALE, "THE INTL. HERALD TRIBUNE": We carry the stories that are written by the very good correspondents at the "New York Times" and the approach was to try and sort of go across the landscape.

But I do think that one quality that came across above all was that because this was a fairly quiet election, for a country that thinks, lives and breathes politics, as Israel does, there was no sort of accompanying violence or really dramatic event.

I think the international media focused quite heavily on sort of the ghost of Ariel Sharon and certainly we did carry a story to that effect, but we tried to look forward. Ehud Olmert is an interesting figure to become prime minister in Israel. And we also tried to prominently analyze the results.

And I do think it's interesting what Guy says, that the socioeconomic situation sort of fell by the wayside a little bit, but it very clearly played a role not only in the fairly good showing by the Labour Party but also in the fall of Benjamin Netanyahu, who was responsible for a lot of financial reforms that bit into Israelis' pockets, and he paid the price.

SWEENEY: How did the coverage of this Israeli election compare to the Palestinian election coverage?

SMALE: I would say that we probably devoted more coverage to the Palestinian elections in part because the outcome was so dramatic, so there was a great deal of coverage afterwards.

However, following the Israeli election, obviously we carried an analysis of the results and at the same time a fairly large article about the simultaneous installation of a Hamas government by the Palestinians.

SWEENEY: The ghost of Ariel Sharon perhaps hung over the international media's coverage of these elections. Was that also reflected in the Israeli press -- Guy.

RAZ: No, no, not at all. Not in the same way.

Now, certainly, at CNN we did cover this issue very heavily, because Ariel Sharon is such a compelling and complex figure.

But by and large, the Israeli media is over Ariel Sharon and the Israeli public is as well. It's interesting, because the Israeli public doesn't seem to be very sentimental about these things. And so Ariel Sharon is basically forgotten.

Now his party tried to tape into his charisma and popularity. The campaign slogan was "The Path of Ariel Sharon," but that really didn't seem to help them with the voting public, who at the same time have also in a sense kind of moved on from the leadership of Ariel Sharon and from that era.

SWEENEY: And speaking of that era, there is now a sense obviously of a disengagement, not just from Gaza but also from Palestinians in general, particularly with the election of Hamas.

I want to ask you, Guy, whether or not the Israeli public reflected that sense in terms of how they voted, who they voted for, and I'm thinking of those socioeconomic issues.

RAZ: Absolutely, and this really is also reflected in the way that the Israeli media and to some extent the foreign media covered this story, because this conflict has now hit a deadlock. It's not necessarily going to become more violent, it's not going to become more peaceful. It is essentially moving in a completely new direction, a completely new paradigm, this paradigm of unilateralism has been established, and it's really a kind of unfulfilling taste, a dose of reality, I would say, not just for the Israeli public but for the foreign press as well.

We are not likely to cover handshakes on the White House lawn any time soon or mutual platitudes or peace agreements being signed. That's not where this conflict is going. Most people in Israel now believe that, and that has a lot to do with why they didn't turn out to vote.

SWEENEY: Alison Smale, do you think the international interest will obviously continue in Israel for stories on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as we see it going in this direction?

SMALE: Clearly, because it has such a large affect and it's like a colossal echo chamber in the world. Because a lot of attention is focused on the Middle East as a region. I mean, Israel exists surrounded by other countries that are certainly in some kind of transition.

I think it's also very interesting that the Palestinians, perhaps because they do live side by side with Israel, they've gone through fairly sort of impressive political transitions in the last year and a half, since the illness of Yasser Arafat and his death, and the installation of the Hamas government marks an interesting stage for them. So I have a feeling that Jerusalem-based correspondents will always have something to occupy them.

SWEENEY: All right, we have to leave it there, but thank you very much indeed, Alison Smale, of "The International Herald Tribune," and Guy Raz, in Jerusalem.

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.



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