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Middle East Crisis Coverage

Aired August 6, 2006 - 01:30:00   ET


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN HOST: Hello and welcome to this special edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS: I'm Fionnuala Sweeney in Haifa, northern Israel.
HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And I'm Hala Gorani in Lebanon.

Fionnuala and I are both with the same network, of course, but we're reporting on two very different sides of this conflict. A little bit later on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, I'll be speaking to two journalists here in Lebanon. But first, back to you, Fionnuala, in Haifa.

SWEENEY: Well, in just a moment I'll be speaking to two reporters about their experiences, but first, though, CNN's Paula Hancocks takes a look at how the traditionally aggressive Israeli media is covering this conflict.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For the past three weeks, Israeli television has resembled a 24-hour news network.

Every twist and turn in the conflict on Israel's northern border has been reported, questioned and analyzed.

A normal three hours of news a day has turned into 15 and the Israeli media is not afraid to criticize.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have been criticizing the maneuvers of the army. We have been criticized for criticizing the army for doing that. We have been criticizing politicians for the way they take their decisions. We have been criticizing the public for the way they react.

HANCOCKS: The Israeli media prides itself on being a free press. Many editorials in the newspaper have been critical of military operations in Lebanon from day one. But there has been some pressure from the public for news organizations to be more patriotic and supportive of both the government and the military.

One officer wrote an open letter online asking the Israeli media to tone it down, saying this is a war, not a reality show. His site has had more than 2,000 responses so far.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the other side of it, there is a worried customer, a worried Israeli citizen that wants and expects of us to be reasonable and to understand that what we are doing is covering our own war.

HANCOCKS: The intensity of this conflict means the coverage is intense, as is the competition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think in the past it used to be much more that some kind of control from above about what to show and what not and now everybody are aware that in today's world, it is impossible. In today's media, today you can get Nasrallah's speech from the Internet, from al- Jazeera. We get here - on my home I get all of the Arab channels.

HANCOCKS: The Israeli public is far more politically savvy than most. Israel has fought numerous wars and experienced two intifadas. So the people expect the press to cover every political and military move. But they also expect at the same time sensitivity, as every Israeli knows someone in the military who could be involved in this conflict.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Jerusalem.

SWEENEY: Shalom Kitar (ph) was featured in that report and he is standing by in Jerusalem and joins me now along with Tova Lazaroth (ph) who writes for the "Jerusalem Post." Thank you both very much for joining us.

Shalom, the Israeli media has been very critical of how this war has been prosecuted. In the States some sections of the media were critical of how the war in Iraq has been prosecuted and been condemned by the authorities in the States for being unpatriotic. Is there a parallel here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we have our own experience and we all remember that 33 years ago we had an awful war, the '73 Yom Kippur War where the media wasn't critical and was really a job of the media and we think that a good service to the public is to bring all the facts, even if sometimes the facts are embarrassing. I think that good journalism and a good service to the public is to criticize so the opinion makers in the army and whoever is involved can draw the lessons and do better by the fact that the media is trying to draw the attention to mistakes and wrongdoings.

SWEENEY: Does Channel 2 have an editorial policy on this conflict?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our policy is all news that's fit to print. We are bringing all the facts, we are bringing facts not only from the Israeli side, of course, mainly from the Israeli side because we are Israeli, it's our war. Our children are in the army, our relatives live in the northern border, in Kiryat Shmona or in Haifa so we are of course Israelis but in the same time, we are obliged by the facts and if the facts are embarrassing or we have to criticize, we will do it.

SWEENEY: Right, let me bring in Tova Lazaroth here of the "Jerusalem Post." Tova, your newspaper is right of center, it is broadly supportive of this war. What would change your editorial policy as not being in favor of the war?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Heavy losses. Very heavy losses with little success.

SWEENEY: And how much of that would be driven by the public perception of how the war is going?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Both. I think it would be driven - but the losses would drive public perception. If you were seeing heavy Israeli losses without any sustainable gain, if half of the north was still living, and the center and the south continued to have bombardments and you were seeing hundreds of Israeli soldiers coming back in body bags than that would shift the public sentiment and that would in fact shift the policy of the papers.

SWEENEY: So in a way what you are saying is the "Jerusalem Post" broadly reflects public opinion in this war? Does that .

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah. We tend to be - you said right of center and I think we tend to be center. I think - during disengagement we stood for disengagement. A true right wing paper would not have taken that stand. I think we tend to reflect the broad sentiment of the public.

SWEENEY: I suppose that really follows Ariel Sharon because he had moved from right of center to center but .

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah, I think that's right.

SWEENEY: OK. Let me ask you, are you subject to the same criteria as television media in this country when it comes to reporting in this conflict?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Myself personally, I have a very simple agenda. In other words, I don't - in some ways I am luckier that most - I don't have to worry about the broader picture. My agenda is simply to focus on the stories up north. To look at how people up here are suffering as a result of the war and report that back.

SWEENEY: Shalom Kital in Jerusalem, if I could go back to you, the international media here, specifically the television organizations have been subject to Israeli criteria from the authorities about what they can show, what they can't show, what they can report, what they cannot report at any given time. Is that the same for the domestic media?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course. The question is a question of security and of well-being of civilians. If there is a rocket following in a location of Haifa, for instance and by spotting exactly where it fell, I will drive another rocket, it is not doing any good to anybody. I will say there was a rocket, there were casualties and so on. We can not tell the details of the operation.

We will wait an hour or two, whenever we are able to bring the pictures and the information, we will bring it and we will criticize it.

SWEENEY: The paper is very sensitive to international coverage of how this war is prosecuted. Why do you think that is so?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because I think Israel battles on many fronts and one of the battles is the world of public opinion so you have a military objective in the war and then you have, in some ways, your international objectives.

I mean, Israel doesn't help itself if it wins the war on the ground, per se, but loses the respect of the international community.

SWEENEY: The international organizations here are subject to, if that's the right phrase, to a very select operation by the Israeli authorities here. Guests are provided, spokesmen are provided on a daily basis and I'm wondering, does the "Jerusalem Post" - is it subject to the same thing or is that just about getting the Israeli message out to the international media?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think we've certainly made use of it in the sense that it's nice to have somebody say, here's the phone number, here's - but I think we benefit from the fact that we live here, we speak Hebrew and we do a good job on our own at getting those kinds of sources as opposed to somebody who has just come here who kind of needs a little bit of extra help to get their feet on the ground, that's what the assumption is, if they're not wasting time they'll get the message out more effectively.

I think they're less worried about us and therefore we need them less but also, I mean, we're an Israeli newspaper so our agenda is going to be, to a certain extent, an Israeli agenda, and that's going to be taken for granted.

SWEENEY: Shalom Kital in Jerusalem. You mentioned the Yom Kippur War at the beginning of this conversation. How has Israeli media coverage of wars in general evolved over the last number of years?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think that after Israel was established 58 years ago and up to Yom Kippur War our coverage used to be all throughout (ph) patriotic. I mean, we wouldn't criticize whenever there is war because war, the guns are shooting and we have to remain silent.

I think things have changed when we recognized the fact that the media has a role in this. One role is, of course, being tuned to the public opinion and understanding, of course, that we are in war and the tune of our coverage should be sensitive.

But on the other hand there is no wars that there are not mistakes during the war and we have to criticize so I guess since the first Lebanese War in 1982 up until now, the media, while covering, while giving all the respect to everybody - oh, I think you have an alarm there.

SWEENEY: Yes indeed. Shalom Kitar, thank you very much indeed for joining us in Jerusalem. Tova Laseroth here also in Haifa. We do indeed have to end this. Thanks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The soldiers talk about whether they should arrest but decide instead to let us off with a warning and escort us out.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can hear Israeli warplanes buzzing overhead right now so it may be a little too dangerous to travel down there.

SWEENEY: Welcome back to this special edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS.

We've been looking at the media's coverage of the conflict in the Middle East. I'm Fionnuala Sweeney in Haifa, Israel.

GORANI: And I'm Hala Gorani in Beirut. Graphic pictures of the dead and injured of course makes for some gruesome watching but it really depends where you are as to what you actually see on your TV screen. Gary Tuchman now reports on how western media have a very different approach than their Arab counterparts with regards to what they air.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. flag and patriotic American music. Shrewdly used by Hezbollah's TV channel al-Manar.

The news coverage of Israel's bombing in Qana, Lebanon, that killed more than 50 people, many of them children.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Beirut is free. Beirut is free. Beirut is free.

TUCHMAN: Looks very different on Arab channels than it does anywhere else.

On al Arabiya, video promoting coverage of the Qana killings shows an out of context picture of a smiling Israeli soldier.

A promo on al Jazeera made before the bombing but used frequently after it attempts to make the U.S. secretary of state look dishonest and cruel.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: The safety of civilians. That all should be concerned about protecting civilian life, about protecting civilian infrastructure.

TUCHMAN: While western media show casualties, they are nowhere near the number and intensity shown on Arab TV. Octavia Nasr is CNN's senior Arab affairs editor who spends much of her time monitoring Arab media.

OCTAVIA NASR, CNN EDITOR: Basically the way they see it is that this is war, this is real, and this is what happening so if you don't have the stomach for it, don't watch. But they don't feel like they have to cleanse it for their viewers.

TUCHMAN: Arab channels differ from one another in their journalism but after the bombing in Qana, lengthy emotional narratives from witnesses were on them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were not terrorists. These kids were not terrorists. Show them the images of the children. Show these pictures to Bush and Rice.

NASR: On Arab networks you hear more ordinary citizens basically weeping, crying, expressing their feelings, their anger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Twenty-five children were killed under the rubbles. These are the honor of Lebanon.

TUCHMAN: The anger is something all the channels have in common but the channel run by Hezbollah corners the market on sarcasm and scorn and does it with no subtlety.

This video starts with Israeli prime minister stating there is no struggle more ethical than our struggle. As it continues al Manar TV puts a swastika over his arm and an Adolf Hitler style mustache over his lips. Hatred, anger, sadness and emotion, all on the air on Arab TV.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, New York.

GORANI: Well, to discuss the challenges of covering the current conflict here in Lebanon, I am joined by Marc Hirwa (ph) who is the managing editor of the "Daily Star" newspaper here in Beirut and also our Beirut bureau chief, Brent Sadler. Thanks for being here.

Marc, we saw in that Gary Tuchman package that Arab media outlets are a lot more comfortable with broadcasting graphic and gruesome pictures of the dead and wounded. Why is that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think there are two reasons. One is that there has been so many wars here for so long that a lot of people are desensitized to it.

Another one is that the standards of journalism here are still shaping themselves and I think this war is doing it for them.

GORANI: Mm-hmm. Brent, do you agree with that?

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I do. But I think also you have to look at the political agendas of various networks, particularly satellite channel networks in the Arab world because those stations are owned by influential families, leaders in the Arab world and they want their stations to be showing something that the street can relate to, and that means showing those gory images, those shocking, horrific images coming out of Qana. So that plays into the politics of what's going on, as well.

GORANI: And it's a powerful tool to have because we saw after the Qana tragedy where so many civilians died, there was anger on the streets, not just in Beirut but across the Arab world, Marc.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I think it fuels it. It helps to fuel it.

Part of it, too, I think, like Brent mentions, many of these stations are owned by powerful people but they are in competition with one another. There is a bit of sensationalism going on as well.

GORANI: Let's talk about the logistics of covering this specific war. I'm going to ask Brent this. Brent, you've been all over the Arab world. You've covered conflicts all over the world. How is it different covering logistically this conflict from, say, Iraq?

SADLER: Well, Iraq is very different in the sense that you can't physically go anywhere, it's so dangerous, particularly with the kidnappings and beheadings. Here it's dangerous but in a different dimension.

Here you can get to areas - I was in South Lebanon. I could easily have driven right between the front lines and probably ended up being hit by one side or the other. So you do have freedom of movement in this war, which you have always had here in Lebanon's history of conflict. Freedom of movement, unless you see some change against western journalists particularly as this conflict continues and perhaps explodes with the involvement of al Qaeda type operations like we've seen in Iraq.

GORANI: So Marc, do you think that this freedom of movement that journalists have currently in this conflict means that this story is covered thoroughly across Lebanon as opposed to, say, a story like Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it is being covered much more thoroughly than Iraq for exactly the reasons that Brent suggested. It's not completely safe to be down there, of course, but at least you can get down.

We have the advantage, at the "Daily Star" that we have people that live there and they don't have to get there because getting down there can cost - getting a car and drive can cost $1,000.

GORANI: Right. Now, let me ask you, Brent, about reporting on the actual military aspect of this in southern Lebanon. Our reporters, other reporters on the Israeli side are very close to the military. You see the tanks in the background, you hear the artillery shells going off. How easy is it to get close to Hezbollah fighters?

SADLER: It's extraordinarily difficult, Hala. Over the years Hezbollah has built itself into a very secretive military fighting machine, particularly its guerrillas in the southern area, in those places where Katyushas are being fired. Hezbollah very rarely opens its doors, it's perhaps two or three times in the last almost 10 years I've lived in Israel that I've been able to go to what's pretty much a staged Hezbollah army day in positions in the south.

So you get to see their hardware, parades, on dog and pony shows with other media looking. But really to get close up on the action to see what they're doing, that's just not happening right now.

One other interesting point, I think, is the fact that we're not seeing, are we? We're not seeing any Hezbollah combat video. Which earlier dominated the way that Hezbollah used the media to win, it says, the war to drive Israel from the occupation of southern Lebanon six years ago.

We're not seeing that video from Hezbollah, are we?

GORANI: Why not?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's probably because when they were using those videos earlier, they were choosing the time and place where clashes took place. The Israelis were occupying, they were in their bunkers, they were in their fortified positions and Hezbollah would bring a camera crew along every so often.

Now Hezbollah doesn't know where the hammer is going to fall and to have cameramen standing around is a little bit difficult.

GORANI: Let me ask you about the restrictions on reporting. I ask both of you this question. The IDF, the Israeli military has censorship, basically restrictions. You can't report casualties exactly the way you would. Are there those restrictions on the Lebanese side, Marc?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Theoretically, yes. Trying to get casualty information from Hezbollah, for instance, is a really dicey claim. It's very difficult to say, for instance, the Israeli claims are accurate or whether Hezbollah is trying to downplay it.

Historically they have had no trouble about releasing information about their casualties. They brag, they boast about having casualties.

But the restrictions of the government are largely theoretical in nature.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The state is a very weak thing here. It really is. That's one of the reasons when I hear things like Hezbollah being a state within a state, it's almost nonsensical because there is no state.

GORANI: Mm-hmm. Let me ask you about new media platforms. Of course, blogging is the new thing. Everybody blogs, anchors blog, journalists blog, but also, regular citizens blog. How is that changing the way this conflict is being reported?

SADLER: I think clearly we're seeing it happen here. It doesn't happen in Iraq, because there's no power, you don't have the technological infrastructure in Iraq but here suddenly we're seeing now really a serious upraise in the number of citizen journalists from both sides of the firing line filing blogs, first hand witness accounts of what it's like to be under fire. The fear, the raw end of what's going end.

Journalists usually get to places that are being hit in the aftermath period. Not actually under it. And that's what we're seeing now on blogs from both Israel and Lebanon.

GORANI: All right. Marc Hirwa, managing editor of the "Daily Star" and our Beirut bureau chief, Brent Sadler. Thank you so much. You've been watching a special edition of CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. We are covering this story from both sides of the conflict and from all angles. I'm Hala Gorani in Beirut. Thanks for watching.

SWEENEY: And I'm Fionnuala Sweeney in northern Israel. Thanks for watching. Tune in a gain next week for another look at how the media are covering the big issues.



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