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Europe Launches Criticism of Law Targeting Journalists in Turkey; Media Victory in High-Profile Terror Case

Aired November 10, 2006 - 14:00:00   ET


HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: The headlines. U.S. President George Bush met Friday at the White House with the new Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the new Majority Whip Dick Durbin.
White House Spokesman Tony Snow says Mr. Bush is ready to work with the new Democratic leadership in both Houses of Congress, but he says the president is not about to compromise on any of his principles.

The Iraqi Health Ministry now says between 100,000 and 150,000 people have been killed since the invasion. The figures include those killed in conventional military confrontations since 2004, as well as casualties from the ongoing violence between Shi'ites and Sunnis.

U.S. government sources have consistently estimated a much lower civilian death toll.

Britain's MI5 spy agency is tracking some 30 major terrorist plots, which could involve the use of chemical and nuclear devices. The director of MI5 says agents are tracking about 1,600 terrorism suspects, most of whom are British born and they say linked to al Qaeda.

Prime Minister Tony Blair warns that the terrorist threat in the U.K. will "last a generation."

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismael Haniya hinted he will step down and now head a unity government if that would get Western economic sanctions lifted. Hamas has been trying to form a government with the Fatah faction. The prime minister says Western powers don't want him to be part of the new administration. And he would like the suffering to end.

Violence has flared in southern China with villagers rioting over alleged land grabs. On Wednesday, protestors surrounded a warehouse south of Yungju, trapping officials inside. China is struggling to control rising flare-ups sparked by corruption, forced layoffs, and land grabs without compensation.

And check out this video. It's a tape of a violent arrest by two Los Angeles police officers. And it has sparked an FBI investigation. The tape surfaced Thursday, showing the officers hitting the man as they hold him down. The officers say the man is a well known gang member. And they say he was resisting arrest.

Those are you headlines. I'm Hala Gorani. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS is next.

ADRIAN FINIGHAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Adrian Finighan in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories of the moment.

This week, Europe launches criticism of a law targeting journalists in Turkey. And later, media victory in a high profile terror case. A ban on reporting is overturned, revealing key details. Are laws in Britain relaxing?

Plus, a blogging bonanza on election night. How online commentators rose to prominence during the U.S. midterms.

But first, freedom of the press in Turkey was in focus this week, as the European Union slammed a law that punishes journalists accused of insulting the country. The rebuke was delivered in the E.U.'s annual report on Turkey's future membership.

And as CNN's Alessio Vinci reports now, the issue is arousing strong feelings on all sides.


ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The bridge over the Bosperus (ph) in Istanbul stands as a symbol linking Turkey with the West. But it will take more than just iron and stone to bridge the ideological gap between Turkey and the European Union.

Turkish officials insist the country is on the right path, citing the abolishment of capital punishment, economic growth, low inflation, and granting minority groups more rights. And Turks say pushing the country to move faster is counterproductive.

EGEMEN BAGIS, GOVERNMENT FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER: Just like when you're raising your kid, if when they do the right thing, if you support them, they will continue doing the right thing.

But when you ignore them, or when you shout at them, when they do good things, good deeds, then the kids will be confused.

VINCI: For their part, Turks are fed up with Brussels. Recent polls suggest only 30 percent of them now favor joining the E.U., half the number of a year ago.

What's more, criticism from the outside emboldens nationalists who view E.U. membership as a threat to Turkey.

Lawyer Komal Kerincsiz is an example of just the reason why the E.U. criticizes Turkey for its lack of progress. He has brought suit against dozens of writers and journalists under Article 301, a law which makes insulting Turkish identity a crime.

"We are not talking about freedom of speech. We are talking about protecting the honor of a nation," he says. "Turkey is different from Europe. And we can't be like Europe."

Although nobody has gone to jail because of Article 301 and most cases are dropped, writers like Elif Shatak say in Turkey, the law has a chilling effect on freedom of expression.

ELIF SHATAK, WRITER: I mean, what does denigrating Turkishness mean? I personally have no idea. You know, what does Turkishness? What does it mean to denigrate Turkishness? It is open to interpretations and therefore misinterpretations.

And that's why I think it has been used by some nationalist groups to silence critical minds.

VINCI (on camera): Elik Shatak's book is a top seller in this country. And charges against her have been dropped, although other authors are facing similar charges.

Article 301 was introduced about a year ago to soften existing legislation that restricted freedom of speech in this country and to meet E.U. requirements, but this new law is now clearly backfiring.

(voice-over): In an effort to move talks with the E.U. along, the Turkish officials now say they could introduce changes yet again, such as narrowing the meaning of what constitutes insulting Turkishness.

Change may be slow to come here, but there is plenty of time. Turkey is not expected to become a full member of the European Union for at least another decade.

Alessio Vinci, CNN, Istanbul.


FINIGHAN: Well joining me now from Istanbul to discuss this is Erol Katircioglu, a journalist and scholar who faced prosecution under the law and John Pete, the European editor of "The Economist."

First of all, Erol, if I could turn to you. What happened to you under Article 301?

EROL KATIRCIOGLU, JOURNALIST AND ACADEMIC: Well, actually, I was accused and prosecuted under the Article 301. But then, the - what happened is that the court has decided to, you know, drop it, you know. And well, just for the technical reason, I guess.

Well, I mean, it wasn't only me. There were other people, you know. We wrote an article, you know, on an issue - on the court decision postponing the - a conference which was going to be - have at the university.

Well, we said that, you know, this is a kind of insult on the academic freedom and also insult on expression of free speech, you know.

FINIGHAN: As you said, the charges were eventually dropped and that's happened in many high profile cases that come under Article 301 in Turkey before, but has it made you reconsider what you write about and how?

KATIRCIOGLU: Well, it seems to be that critics actually are two. I mean, I agree with the, you know, report because I believe that it doesn't fit the level of the democracy in the - in the, you know, European Union. And also, the level of democracy that we want in Turkey.

So I guess I get the feeling that the development, actually, is just about to decide, I guess, to consider to change in 301 very soon. I believe that before the mid December, I believe, I mean before the summit of the E.U. leaders, I guess this is going to be done, you know.

FINIGHAN: Let's bring in John Pete, the Europe editor of "The Economist." John, what impact is this law, which in itself is brought into replace another draconian morticonian (ph) law, having on Turkey's aspirations to join the European Union?

JOHN PETE, EUROPE EDITOR, "THE ECONOMIST": Well, it's definitely a negative. I mean, there are a whole slew of areas in which Turkey needs to do more to reform in the area of human rights. I mean, relations of the Kurds. And this is just one of them.

And the fact that the Turkish government has still not changed this law is clearly having a very negative impact on its aspirations to join the European Union.

And I think that our guess is probably right to say that they may offer to change its law before the summit in order to keep the negotiations on membership going.

FINIGHAN: Erol, how much press coverage in Turkey does its aspirations to join the European Union get? Do you think the appetite for E.U. membership there is waning?

KATIRCIOGLU: Yes, I agree with you, because as far as I understand that, you know, I mean, the latest poll shows that, you know, 30 percent of the Turkish people support the idea of - I mean, the process of the E.U. And this number - I mean, this percentage was about 60, I guess, last year.

So I mean, we can say that, you know, people are less supportive right now.

FINIGHAN: So what's your feeling about what's going to happen at the December summit? Do you think that they'll be a suspension of talks on Turkey's membership?

PETE: I would expect both sides to make really big efforts to avoid suspending the talks. So what they will look for is some formula which looks as if it's punishing Turkey for not doing everything it's required to do and say satisfies people like the Cypriots, who want that to happen, but nevertheless, finds a way of continuing the negotiations and says we'll carrying on working on these problems.

Nobody wants to completely break off negotiations in Turkey, because the implications of that would be pretty terrible.

FINIGHAN: And as far as Article 301 is concerned, I mean, would the E.U. be satisfied with an amendment to it? Or is it something that in E.U.'s eye should be completely scrapped?

PETE: I think they would prefer Article 301 to be abolished. But it's possible that a formula can be fine for amending it and stopping bringing so many cases. I mean, a lot of cases have happened in the last couple of years.

And it - I could see a compromise being reached on this one. Some of the other issues are going to be more difficult.

FINIGHAN: John Pete, Erol Katircioglu, many thanks, gentlemen.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, inside a terror campaign. The press wins the right to report details of the sentencing of an al Qaeda operative. Has a precedent now been set here in Britain? Stay with us.


TIME STAMP: 1413:57

FINIGHAN: Welcome back. He planned to cause bloodshed on a colossal and unprecedented scale, the words of a British judge this week during the sentencing of an al Qaeda operative who targeted the United States and Britain.

Dhiren Barot plotted attacks on landmarks and trains, hoping to flood the London Underground with the river Thames. He also pursued a dirty bomb.

Now we're only able to report these details now because of an appeal by media groups against the press blackout imposed on the case. A judge said the information may prejudice future trials. The media argued that it was in the public interest.

Well, joining me now to discuss this is Sean O'Neal of "The Times", which was instrumental in mounting the legal challenge and Peter Power, a former anti terror officer at Scotland Yard.

Gentlemen, welcome. Sean O'Neil, we'll start with you. Why was this such an important ruling as far as the media is concerned?

SEAN O'NEIL, THE TIMES: I think for two reasons. We decided to challenge the reporting restrictions mainly because we felt this was a very significant terrorist case, but we thought it would tell the British public an awful lot about the nature of the al Qaeda threat, the fact that it was homegrown, the fact that there were still clear links to the al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan.

And we felt there hadn't really been a terrorist case of this nature before the British courts. And we really thought it was quite important, rather than wait perhaps a year, perhaps 18 months until the second trial was complete to actually say to the British public in the wake of 7-7, in the wake of what happened at Forest Gate and at (INAUDIBLE), that there is a real terrorist threat out there, that it's still alive, it's still active. And this is the kind of evidence, the kind of information you should know about.

And it helps put the security alerts that we've seen this summer into a kind of a context.

And I think from second point of view, that the appeal court in lifting, they -- reporting restrictions made a very significant judgment, the three very senior judges said that they had been both judges and barristers in practice for many, many years. And they felt very strongly that our jury system was very strong and very able to cope with the kind of information that would appear in the press, and yet still try the second set of defendants in the same cases. Mr. Barot fairly and properly.

And in making that ruling, I think they've struck a great blow for the jury system. They have said basically that you can trust the jury. You don't have to worry about the jury being prejudice.

FINIGHAN: So Peter Power, given that, given that there are further trials pending, what are the implications for the law enforcement authorities?

PETER POWER, VISOR CONSULTANTS: Well, let's look at three issues here. Firstly, what are we facing? We got a new threat with a new response. And we're all living in the age of what I call new normal. Things have changed. The rulebook on terrorism, if there ever was one, changed after 9/11. And that change was reinforced here in London in July of '05. That's one clutch of issues.

And the other is as more of one, even in appeal cases. Of course, these rules don't apply because a judge alone would invariably be sitting.

And so it is very much a question of jury perception. But I just don't think juries are that dumb and so easily influenced. And there is some evidence certainly from America under the Constitution where the rules aren't quite the same that their jurors would routinely make a decision contrary to the sum of the evidence.

The third point is this, before we look at the security services, that some of these rules are rather quaint and bizarre. Maybe we think - here we are in the days of the Internet on satellite news. And the very fact there are 270 million people each year pass through U.K. airports. Well, it tells you that a sort of quaint assertion that we can deal with this on land masses is really belonging to something 20, 30 years ago.

So Internet and satellite news in particular. So where does it lead these sort of laws? But in terms of the security services, I do know from speaking to senior colleagues who are serving, their immense frustration that they couldn't, for example, in a raid in a mosque in London in Dunsby Park talk about what exactly they seized until it came to court.

And in the two or three years during that period, the allegations that the police were heavy handed or awkward. And it made them look foolish, but they were bound by the rules.

I think the time now is to look at those rules again. We can't have a situation where you could find journalists, politicians, and security services suddenly don't fly at all, because they're privy to this knowledge. But this massive public carry on fine. It's going look so bad.

FINIGHAN: So Sean, is the law as it applies to journalists in the United Kingdom outdated?

O'NEIL: I think it is. I think it's completely anachronistic, but what we have and what is beginning to be acknowledged is we have basically a 19th century system of justice, but we're dealing especially with global terrorism with a 21st century crime.

And we're dealing, you know, a lot of terrorism is carried out now from futures in the Internet. This is where the radical ideation and process is taking place.

And - but that applies also to the knowledge that the bad people have and the availability of knowledge. It's kind of ridiculous from men in wigs to stand up in sort of old court into the old bailey and read to judges great tracts of newspaper articles and say this will prejudice a future trial.

In the case of Mr. Barot, all the jury had to do, and let's face it, they're going to be the 12 people most interested. Not the millions of readers and viewers. But there are 12 people are going to be most interested in Mr. Barot should he stand trial before a jury are the jurors.

All they have to do is go home in the evening, type into his name into Google, bang, there you are. Endless amounts of information, entirely prejudicial, entirely unregulated, beyond the reach of the court.

FINIGHAN: You talked earlier about the frustration by the security services, not being able to release certain information. I mean, there are cases, though, when they do want to play things close to the chest. They want to keep information suppressed, if you like. They don't want it in the public domain.

And do you think that if there was a better relationship between the security services, those charged with law enforcement in this country and the press, then there would be less need, if you like, to resort from the media's point of view, to resort to court to get access to this information, to publish it?

POWER: I think it's a greater dilemma here. I mean, when - I'm reminding myself that as we're sitting here today in London talking about this, next door to 10 Downing Street, the British Foreign Secretary Margaret Bredick (ph) is addressing the group of the worldly people, talking about terrorism. And part of the speech that she is or will be reading contains the words al Qaeda becoming ever more resilient to our attempts to defeat it.

These are quite worrying words, to be honest with you. But you have to ask yourself this. Is it better that the truth be known by all with the risk that alleged guilty people would therefore walk free? Or is it better the other way around, that in fact, the truth is restricted just so the guilty men and women indeed in many cases are likely to be convicted.

But we're dealing with such a unique set of circumstances here. Mass fatalities on the scale of hundreds and thousands that the rules have to be changed a bit.

FINIGHAN: Gentlemen, I have a feeling that this is an issue that we could discuss all day if there was time. Unfortunately, there isn't. Thank you both very much, Sean O'Neil of "The Times," Peter Power, many thanks.

Up next here on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, they've been called the new papparazzi. They're armed with computers and the inside scoop. What impact did political bloggers have on the U.S. midterm elections this week? You'll hear from them right after the break.


TIME STAMP: 1423:14

FINIGHAN: Welcome back. Now the role of the blogger is getting importance in the political realm. These men and women can spread or kill a rumor with the click of a mouse.

In the United States, CNN held its first bloggers party on the night of the midterm elections, bringing together commentators from all over the country.

Meanwhile here in Britain, the country's first political bloggers TV station also tracked the U.S. midterm elections. To discuss all this further, I'm joined now by Iain Dale. He's the chief anchor of 18 Doughty Street Talk TV and Alex Pareene, the editor of "The Wonkette," an influential political blog in D.C.

Alex, we'll start with you. First of all, we say influential. Just how influential, how much credit for what happened in the U.S. midterms can a wonkette take?

ALEX PAREENE, THE WONKETTE: I'd like to take as much credit as I can possibly get away with. We did have sort of minor but very important role in breaking and then furthering the Mark Foley congressional page sex scandal, which I think could be argued was one of the straws that broke the Republican majority's back this year.

So in a small way, you know, we might be responsible for whatever goes horribly wrong.

FINIGHAN: OK, Iain, you've taken this political blogging thing a step further, haven't you?

IAIN DALE, 18 DOUGHTY STREET TALK TV: We have. We've started a TV station. And a lot of our guests are bloggers. A lot of the news coverage that we cover is from blogs, not just in Britain, but in America, too.

And it's a very different way of doing things. We can say things which possibly on CNN you can't say. And we're actually absolutely overt in giving our agenda. We come from a center right perspective.

FINIGHAN: You say that there are certain things you can say that we can't as the mainstream media here at CNN on there. Why do we need a TV station like yours then? Is it just simply because there are too many restrictions upon mainstream political journalists?

DALE: Well, we're totally unregulated on the Internet. We're not subjected to the regulatory rules, which all terrestrial broadcasters and digital broadcasters are subjected to. So we can have programs with attitude, programs with agendas, which on mainstream television in Britain is not allowed.

FINIGHAN: Alex, given all of that, given that the Internet is to a certain extent unrestricted, you can say what you want, how important is it for your credibility that you get things right?

PAREENE: Oh, it's equally as important for our credibility that we get things right as it is for the - you know, the real media or the mainstream media.

I think we maybe get a few more chances, because if we get something wrong initially, we can go back and correct it instantaneously and look at hundreds of people telling us we got something wrong.

But accuracy, in addition to salaciousness is probably equally important in our book.

FINIGHAN: I want to ask you both, starting with you, Iain, what it was like on election night? How much interest in the U.S. midterms was there for a political blogging TV channel based here in the U.K.?

DALE: Well, we've only been on air for a month. So we weren't really sure what the interest would be. And we decided to do a six hour live program.

And bear in mind that we couldn't - we haven't got the finances to have sort of expensive correspondents all over the states. We were relying on the blogosphere to tell us what was going on.

We had double the number of viewers that we normally have for an evening. So there's a huge level of interest. We had huge numbers of people e-mailing, texting, coming on MSN Messenger. I was reading out messages from my laptop in the studio.

We were getting, as it happened, we beat the BBC to - they went on air `til midnight British time. We beat them with the exit polls. And we had an absolutely fantastic time. So there's a huge amount of interest.

FINIGHAN: What about you, Alex? What was it like at "The Wonkette" on the night? I mean, did you beat the mainstream media to the results as they were coming in?

PAREENE: Well, on election night, I was drinking with the mainstream media. I was at the CNN blog party here in Washington. But meanwhile, my writing partner out on the West Coast was definitely doing the important legwork of the night.

And we definitely had a couple of the exit polling numbers up before CNN was quite willing to say it out loud.

FINIGHAN: Alex, do you find that the politicians keep you at arm's length? Do they treat you with caution?

PAREENE: No, I think the politicians themselves definitely keep me as far away as possible. Their publicists and flacks are usually a little more willing to reach out to me, but I think a little bit scarier than maybe the newspapers are, because I can decide that I can write anything I want about them. So.

FINIGHAN: Great, well we wish you both the best of luck. Continued success, Iain Dale from 18 Doughty Street Talk TV, and Alex Pareene from "The Wonkette."

Well, that's all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Tune in again next time for another look at how the media is handling the big issues.

In London, I'm Adrian Finighan. Thanks for being with us. See you again.



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