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INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

Iraq Situation; North Korean Media

Aired October 20, 2006 - 14:00:00   ET

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


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Becky Anderson at the Frontline Press Club in London. Welcome to INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS here on CNN, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories.
Well, this week, the role of ethics in covering the insurgency in Iraq. Later in the show, calm in the eye of the storm - how North Korea's state media keeps the population on message. And trading blows in the tabloids as the mainstream press wrestles with how to report those allegations. We'll discuss the McCartney divorce and the laws surrounding leaks.

But first, this week, CNN gained an exclusive interview with one of the largest Sunni insurgent groups in Iraq. They also released to us footage of snipers targeting U.S. forces.

Now this led today's management discussions about just how to cover the story. Now the issue at stake was to what extent should the media be used as a mouthpiece for militants and the ethics of broadcasting attack video by such a group.

Well, in a moment, we'll discuss the issues that were raised. But first, this piece from CNN's Michael Ware.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The men who say they blew this American ammunition dump in Baghdad, shaking the capitol, who claim a hand in the killings of four American security contractors in Fallujah in 2004. The men who provided this sniper video to CNN are from the Islamic Army of Iraq, a part of one of Iraq's most powerful insurgent factions, drawn from Sunnis and former members of Saddam Hussein's security apparatus, some of their leaders were American allies in the 1980s.

And hints they may be willing to be so again, bringing with them a key element of the insurgency. Using Islamic army intermediaries, seen in past written questions to the organization's leaders. And received back this sniper footage and this, a professionally produced video featuring what's said to be the group's spokesman, Ibrahim al Shimeri (ph). His face digitally mastered by the insurgents, answering CNN's questions and speaking to the Western media for the first time.

It's a unique insight into what a large chunk of the insurgency wants, including their renewed willingness to talk with the U.S. military.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We in the Islamic army as we have announced many times do not reject negotiations, but only if the Americans are serious.

WARE: This faction has engaged in unsuccessful discussions with the U.S. several times over the last 18 months, according to U.S. government sources and Iraqi politicians.

Their conditions to restart the talks? A time table for troop withdrawal approved by Congress. Formal recognition of the insurgence has interlocutors and a third country broker.

Even the White House is leaving the door open.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: There have been a number of conversations with people who have said that they're willing to negotiate and talk about a peaceful path. And we're willing to do that. But again, the lead player in all this is the government of Prime Minister Maliki.

AWARE: But the insurgents don't want that, believing the Iraqi government to be under the influence of Iran.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Iraq is suffering from double occupation - American and Iranian, because Bush's war fought with taxpayer's money and the blood of Americans has handed Iraq to Iran as an easy bite on a plate of gold.

AWARE: Despite common interests in overthrowing the U.S. occupation, al Shimeri (ph) still draws a line between his group and al Qaeda.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We are different to them because our agenda is local. Theirs is international.

AWARE: As for the prospects of civil war, he says his group believes in religious freedom for Shi'ia to practice their faith freely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We don't attack Shi'ites who don't attack us, but we tire of what is happening to our sons. And you should not count on our patience.

WARE: In its attention to U.S. domestic politics and public mood, this is perhaps the Iraq insurgency's most finely tuned PR maneuver - a crafted and direct message to the American people, making an offer for talks, but with the sniper video also making a threat.

Mark Ware, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: Joining me now to discuss the issues raised in that report are Zaki Chehab, who's the political editor of the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, and one of the first TV journalists to interview an Iraqi insurgent group. And Jim Shuto (ph) of ABC News also joins me for his insight into the possible impact in the United States. He's also reported extensively from Iraq.

And Jim, I want to start with you. The intent here, it seems, is to send the message to Americans ahead of the Congressional elections, at a time when contentious U.S.-Iraq policy is playing a very important role in the way that people vote. How will it go down?

JIM SHUTO (ph), ABC NEWS: I think the U.S. voting public's always going to be sensitive to a sense of decline in Iraq, deterioration of the situation there. In the past, certainly as these groups have tried to exploit that sensitivity as elections have rolled around in the 2004 presidential election, a lot of people were sure that al Qaeda released the bin Laden statement, because they clearly wanted to - well, certainly remind everyone that they're still there, but possibly influence. And there were various interpretations as to which way they wanted to influence that election.

Now it's a different dynamic. I think in the past, the sense has been if you remind people there's this threat out there that might favor the Republicans, because they tend to pull better on national security.

Now the situation, particularly in these last couple of weeks in Iraq, has deteriorated so badly that just bringing up the issue of Iraq, at least according to some watching the elections in the states, might play better for the Democrats.

So it may have a different - different sides may benefit, but it's certainly a factor. And the only thing that reminds people, that's a sense, reminds people of the situation there is enough (INAUDIBLE).

ANDERSON: There are two issues here, Zaki. Let's tackle the first. CNN could conceivably be accused of being grossly manipulated by this militant group. It had concerns as an organization about using the footage of the snipers, acting as a mouthpiece effectively. And about the authenticity of this video.

But let's just talk about this potential accusation of manipulation by militants. Your response?

ZAKI CHEHAB, AUTHOR, "IRAQ ABLAZE": I really don't think it's serious because one single reason, that this kind of accusation, you know, if we have avoided it from day one, people in the United States and worldwide should be aware about the consequence of the fall of the regime much earlier than we are doing today.

Just only yesterday, Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld have said that we might not achieve the goals we want to achieve. We have made mistakes.

You know, people - journalists who've been covering Iraq War from day one realize there are so many mistakes. But unfortunately, the Secretary of State and many in the administration refused, you know, to take this on board.

ANDERSON: This is an opportunity to show what the militants are thinking. You've been embedded in the past with coalition troops. It is more often that we see journalists reporting a message from coalition forces, as opposed to militant forces.

Your organization, just like CNN, must have had these concerns about this sort of report in the past?

SHUTO (ph): We certainly go through the same debate. And you hold yourself to very similar standards. We'll put it through a test. My editors will ask me to put it through a test when faced with whether it's an insurgent statement or an attack video. Is there something new here? Is the violence gratuitous? You know, if it fails some of these tests, we don't do it.

And oftentimes, for instance, even with a bin Laden statement, we'll be told use a freeze frame. Don't use the moving video. Just pick the portions of it that might be new, because oftentime these statements have so many things we've heard before, some of it just frankly horrible things about Israel, about Americans and so on. You don't have to repeat that every time.

So that's certainly a standard that we put ourselves through. But I think another problem we have with a statement like this is by giving them a chance to speak to the American public, how valuable actually is it in this case, for instance? Because it confirms what we suspect that there are divisions.

So if you negotiate with a Sunni dominated group, it is saying - separating itself from a Shi'ia dominated groups, which it says are backed by Iran. And we know as well separating from al Qaeda international jihadis.

If you're talking just with one segment of a very diversified factional insurgency, how much does that gain you? So you gain a little bit here. These guys make promises to you, but have you really calmed the situation down?

ANDERSON: The other question, of course, is this, isn't it, that you can see this video on numerous websites accessed by anybody around the world -- and on the Internet these days. So is it any different showing up on CNN than being able to access it on any other media?

CHEHAB: Definitely broadcasted on CNN would, you know, take whatever this insurgents are doing back in their country to every single home in the United States, far from that wherever you find American worldwide, they will be watching CNN.

ANDERSON: Insurgency, of course, is available on the Net for all to see, isn't it?

SHUTO (ph): Absolutely. I think it does give more legitimacy. Well, it certainly, as you say, opens up a new audience. The difference between being on a jihadi website, which is accessible in the States, but people tend not to access it, and on CNN, you certainly reach a different audience.

But I also think there's a measure of authenticity or credibility that's added when it shows up on your evening newscasts or our evening or morning newscasts. So it does add it.

And we know that insurgent groups monitor our broadcasts. And certainly, the broadcasts or the writings of - it's been a factor when there have been hostages. They will read your pieces when people are captured there to see how you've portrayed the war. So we know, not only are they savvy at getting their message out, but at monitoring our message. And it's something you have to be sensitive to.

ANDERSON: Zaki Chehab with LBC and Jim Shuto (ph) of ABC, thank you very much, both.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS this week, the party, the propaganda, the parades. You take a look at North Korea's press agenda. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: Welcome back. Act as a mouthpiece at a time of global crisis and shows up a repressive unstable dictatorship. Welcome to the bizarre world of North Korean media.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A patriotic image signals an incoming message from the Communist party. The United Nations has imposed sanctions and a now familiar face of something to tell the outside world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): The U.N. resolution, needless to say, cannot be construed other than as a declaration of war against the North, because it was based on the scenario of the U.S. being keen to destroy the socialist system of Korean style, centered on the popular masses.

ANDERSON: After happily announcing the nuclear tests earlier this month, the channel is now the main source of information on the crisis for North Koreans.

The marching pictures, the strong references to Communist ideology, and the anti-U.S. diatribes all part of a daily diet for viewers. Pyongyang maintains a vice like grip on the media with all senior hiring controlled by the regime.

The state's news website dedicates itself to flattering items. And television focuses on bolstering the personality cult of President Kim, Jong Il and his late father.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Hurray for the revolutionary ideology of Kim, Il Sung.

ANDERSON: This week, North Korean television broadcast lavish celebrations marking the 80th anniversary of anti imperialist pact with China. Amid a growing international storm, the world's last Stalinist state remains committed to keeping its people on message.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: Well, I'm joined now by Vincent Brossel from Reporters without Borders. Vincent recently spent some time in South Korea on a fact finding mission interviewing North Korean journalists who had defected from the country.

Those journalists that you met, why have they defected?

VINCENT BROSSEL, REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS: So they defected because they have been under watch by the political police. They were maybe some - not to critical, but in the sense that maybe they have some question about the - what we call the big lies of the regimes.

For example, one of the journalists we interviewed, he had some question about the fact that Kim, Jong Il was born in a very mountain, what is official version, when the truth is that he was born in Russia.

So he asked some question about it. And after that, the political police started to make some investigation about him. So he thought if I don't escape to China, maybe I can be arrested and sent to a concentration camp.

ANDERSON: There are, of course, international journalists working in North Korea, aren't there, at present. Just explain what sort of conditions they are working under?

BROSSEL: First of all, it's very hard to get a visa. It's a long negotiation. Second, you cannot move freely. You have always two or three or four people watching you, even sleeping in the same hotels. And you, you cannot go out without authorization. You cannot speak to the people in the street without authorization.

So it's very limited work, but the men - I think that there is absolutely no consequences on the North Korean population. I mean, they will never know that - I mean, the international media are interested in North Korea, but they cannot work fully on North Korea.

So for example, in November 2005 when CNN decided to broadcast a special report about human rights, after that, the official news agency said be careful you will not get visa any more if you report about human rights.

So you see that there is always a sort of blackmailing, and that international journalists trying to cover North Korea with more - real reports, not only going to North Korea and like a tourist, it's very, very difficult.

ANDERSON: North Korea is ranked last by Reporters Without Borders with respect to press freedoms. How effective is the machine, the media machine when it comes to telling the story about North Korea as it's playing out at present?

BROSSEL: Yes, I think the North Korean are suffering of this. It means that many - I mean, most of the population have no access to independent information. So the regime, it's one of the success of the regime is to control the mind of the people, to control what they think about the world, to control the - I mean, the ideology of the regime.

So fortunately, yes, I mean, the media have been very successful to manipulate the minds of the people. For example - one small example. In North Korea when you want to insult someone, you say you are like imperialist dog. It mean that all this ideology against America is very deep in the mind of the people. And they are using it like, you know, it's worst insult you can use.

So yes, I think that brainwashing and manipulation is so strong, that most of the North Koreans that don't know about the world.

ANDERSON: Thank you.

Up next, McCartney and Mills, row in the press. We'll take a look at the latest explosive revelations in the bitter break-up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TIME STAMP: 1422:52

ANDERSON: Welcome back. You're watching INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS here on CNN. I'm Becky Anderson.

Trial by press, the divorce of Paul McCartney and Heather Mills is hitting the headlines once again. Now this time, severe allegations leveled against the former Beatle after a purported legal document was leaked to the press.

Well, the story has sparked debate in newsrooms across the world. To discuss this further, I'm joined by leading media lawyer Mark Stephens and by Steve Anderson, creative director of one of the U.K.'s leading independent production houses and the executive producer of a recent documentary on the McCartney-Mills split.

Jack, who leaked the divorce papers and why is the story in itself not one they're going to discuss? Now suffice to say it is, I think, no surprise that this has generated a feeding frenzy in the press, both here in the U.K. and elsewhere. I say no surprise to anybody. Is it a surprise to you, Steve?

STEVE ANDERSON, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, MCCARTNEY VS. MCCARTNEY: No, it isn't. I think it's been the one story that has sold newspapers in Britain throughout the summer. It's been a summer full of war and terrorism, all the stuff that normally drives people away from the papers.

So the popular press in particular has alighted on this particular story. This is the most famous Beatle of all, Paul McCartney, a national legend. Probably married to a woman who was one of the most unpopular people in the country as well. The country's been waiting for Heather to get her come uppance. And they're reveling in every minute of it.

B. ANDERSON: Well, the allegations in these leaked divorce papers are quite spectacular, those that have been published. Litigious, though, surely, should the papers - should TV organizations have published this story? This is ahead of a case.

MARK STEPHENS, MEDIA LAWYER: I think not. I mean, you know, this is clearly public interest, but it's not in the public interest. Of course, we're all interested in it. We're terribly curious. We're always curious about other people's misfortunate, but actually, it's really quite unpleasant.

And for those of us that are lawyers, I mean I've got the papers here, and have read them, they have the ring of truth about them. They are the sort of things that we see day in and day out.

But what we don't expect to see is to see them across the first three pages of the tabloid press to be picked over in excoriating detail in the media.

B. ANDERSON: The question in the newsrooms has been this, hasn't it, Steve, should one go ahead and publish this story? Should one go ahead and produce packages on this story? And the big question in newsrooms will be this. Will one of the parties sue effectively? And I guess what people have decided certainly in the first 24 hours of this story is that they probably won't.

S. ANDERSON: They probably won't. But I think there's certainly some questions about whether these documents have actually been filed in court yet, because there's no evidence that they've actually been physically handed in. And that's something which I think all papers probably should be looking at very closely.

I mean, the reports are citing this document that Mark here is being - - essentially been Heather's divorce petition. We still don't know whether this petition's actually been handed in.

So there is a - there's a potentially very dangerous area here.

STEPHENS: I think the media are in real danger of being hung out to dry here. And I think that some caution would be wise counsel at this particular time.

This is a document that came through from an anonymous fax. It clearly hasn't been filed in court because if you look at the last page, it's not been signed and it's not been dated. So at best, it's a copy of something which may be filed at some point in the future.

And as a consequence of that, if she isn't prepared to stand up and support the allegations which are grossly defamatory and very damaging to Paul's reputation, then anyone who has repeated them, anyone who has published them is going to be liable for damages.

And frankly, I don't think Heather Mills is going to care too much. She's a woman who has suffered pretty grievously at the hand of the press. And if she has - if people end up in the media being a little too keen to publish, then they won't do it.

And it's interesting to see that only one newspaper yesterday was prepared to do it. This story was not an exclusive for The Mail. This story was actually sent into a newsroom, where every journalist - every journalism organization is represented at the Royal Courts of Justice. This was leaked in the most sophisticated way, was sent into a group of journalists specifically trained to spot these kind of documents, to recognize their importance, and to then work out what to do with them.

B. ANDERSON: Steve Anderson, Mark Stephens, we thank you very much indeed.

That is it 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 Becky Anderson. Thanks for joining us.

END

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