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INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

Civil Unrest Escalates in Gaza; Crime Reporting in Focus as Search for Serial Killer in Britain Sends Media into Overdrive

Aired December 22, 2006 - 14:00:00   ET

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


JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Defense attorneys for four U.S. Marines charged with murder in the Haditha killings say their clients believed they were pursuing attackers and were doing what they had been trained to do. Four other Marines face charges for failing to investigate and report the killings of 24 Iraqi civilians.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates now on his way home, after concluding a three day fact finding tour of Iraq. He's going to report back to President Bush over the weekend. Gates did not reveal his findings or any conclusions. He said, though, that Iraq would play a key role in the mission in Iraq.

London's Heathrow Airport remains shrouded in dense fog for the fourth day in a row. Hundreds of flights are canceled. Thousands of holiday travelers have been stranded by all of this.

A similar story going on in the United States. The main airport in Denver, Colorado remains shut down due to a blizzard backed by high winds. They're hoping to reopen at least some of the runways perhaps in a matter of minutes or hours.

A suspect formally charged with the murders of five women in Ipswich in eastern England, 48-year old truck driver Steven Wright appeared in court Friday and was ordered held pending a court hearing in January, on the 2nd of January. The bodies of the five prostitutes were found over an 11 day period this month.

The violence between rival Palestinian factions in Gaza now spilling over to the West Bank, despite the latest truce. (INAUDIBLE) loyalists opened fire on Hamas members in the city of Nablis, taking over streets and halting traffic. Nine people reported wounded. Hamas defeated the long, dominant Fatah party in January elections.

Those are the latest headlines up to the minute. I'm Jim Clancy. But don't go away. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS with Fionnuala Sweeney is straight ahead.

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.

This week, civil unrest escalates in Gaza, as rival Palestinian faction clashed. We'll discuss the response with the press.

And later, crime reporting in focus as the search for a serial killer in Britain sends the media into overdrive. And pioneering coverage, we go inside a startup satellite company in Bangladesh. The latest in a spate of low cost fans in Asia.

Gun battles and ceasefires, the Palestinian territories are being gripped this week by a rising civil crisis that threatens to slide into all out war.

Tensions between rival Fatah and Hamas gunmen reached boiling point in the wake of the decision by Matthew Labat, the Palestinian Authority president, to call for fresh presidential and parliamentary elections. The crisis has inevitably aroused strong feelings in all sections of the press.

And to discuss this further, I'm joined from Cairo by Qassem Ali, the founder of Palestinian TV company and news agency Ramatan. And here in London by Antone La Guardia of "The Economist." He's the author of "Holy Land and Holy War: Israelis and Palestinians."

First of all, Qassem Ali in Cairo, as the executive of Ramattan news agency, let me ask you first of all how often are you able to travel to Gaza and the West Bank to oversee operations?

QASSEM ALI, FOUNDER, RAMATTAN: West Bank is for me for the last five years I haven't been there. I couldn't - there is no permission for me as Palestinian to go in West Bank.

As Gaza sometimes, I manage to cross through the border (INAUDIBLE). But the last year, most of the time, the border were closed. So it's very hard really to manage the war just from Cairo.

SWEENEY: Antone La Guardia, do you think that media coverage of this story has suffered any way because of the recent violence?

ANTONE LA GUARDIA, THE ECONOMIST: I think it has. It's become much more difficult certainly for foreigners to go down to the Gaza Strip. It's become more dangerous. Not only is there risk of clashes and confrontation, but there's also the risk of kidnapping. And a number of journalists have been kidnapped. Fortunately, they've all been released.

So I think we become as for media, much more dependent on what journalists, such as Qassem and his crews, do in the Gaza Strip because of the difficulty of going in.

There was a time when you could simply drive into Gaza without a checkpoint. There's now a very large crossing point, a wall, fences and so on. It's extremely difficult for Palestinians to get out, but also fairly difficult for foreigners to get in.

SWEENEY: Qassem Ali in Cairo, let me ask you. Have your employees in Gaza experienced any difficulty regarding the sensitivities of covering fighting between these two factions in Gaza? Have they been under pressure from either side?

ALI: Under a lot of pressure. Even like wording, when we put it on our website, it's very sensitive. Imagine about in news coverage, especially what we are doing, you know, we're covering TV and news coverage. It's not just for us and for most of the international client and you know, Arabic network.

So - and they know - the factions know that, you know, like all of these pictures and activity affect the whole media all over the world. So it's as any - you know, independent media get a lot of pressure from the both sides. Need you to be, you know, like showing them - showing their story. And we try always to be sensitive to that, to show both stories with very objective way with the professional way.

And of course, a lot of people is not happy about that. You know, not all happy because everybody want, you know, their own stories. And this is causing a lot of trouble for us, you know. And this is how we live the last five years but now is worse.

SWEENEY: You say that it's more difficult now covering this story in Gaza than it has been over the past five years. It brings to mind the question then is it more difficult to cover civil fighting between Palestinians, among Palestinians, compared to the Israel-Palestinian conflict itself?

ALI: Actually, it's very hard to work under the - all circumstances when the (INAUDIBLE) between Israelis and Palestinians. And because it's Gaza in general, we are in big (INAUDIBLE).

And logistically, it's very difficult and very dangerous. We have at least several of our cameramen get shot, and two producers, in that battle. But it was - it's easier because it's clear. They are not engaged together in the same street between Israelis and Palestinians.

But now, you're covering a story which is according, you know, like in the corner, in your corner, in the office, in the street, here you know, like Fatah or Hamas or different factions fighting. And you are stuck in between.

SWEENEY: Antone La Guardia, recently, "The Jerusalem Post" made a comparison between what's happening in Gaza and the situation in Iraq, where forces initially railed against the occupation, and then all out civil war ensued. Is that a fair comparison in your view?

LA GUARDIA: I think only tangentially. The big difference, of course, between Palestinian areas and Iraq is that you don't have the same sectarian make-up in the Palestinian areas.

So the problem in Palestine is an issue by geology of how do we deal with Israel? Do we negotiate with it? Or do we fight for - do we fight it in the hope of securing a better deal?

Whereas in Iraq, there is now an internal fight among, you know, Shi'ia and Sunnis, between different parts of the country. And it's a much more complex make-up.

SWEENEY: Qassem in Cairo, in your view, we've heard recently from Ayman al Zawahiri, saying that really there should be jihad in Gaza and the West Bank against Israel and indeed the international forces.

Let me ask you. What is the view among the ordinary Palestinians when you talk to them, either your employees or the general mood in Gaza towards what is taking place in the rest of the region?

ALI: You know, like the mood in - especially in Gaza or West Bank, but especially in Gaza, it's going towards radicalism. You know, people, you know, losing everything. They have no hope. They are in jail. Families in jail. And everything - there is no money. There is no life. There is no future for the kids. They are not secure any more. And they are going towards radicalism.

SWEENEY: What do you think about what's happening in Gaza and where it might lead?

LA GUARDIA: Well, I think it's certainly - Qassem's certainly got a point in terms of saying the more the fighting goes on, the more radical it becomes and the harder it is for moderate voices to be heard.

I think, though, that still the majority of Palestinians realize that part of their fight is, of course, against, Israelis and within the land of Palestine. But ordinary Palestinians acutely aware of what the outside world thinks, because they know that only the outside world may have influence on Israel and how it behaves.

So therefore, Palestinians have an innate sense of talking to the media, of talking to the outside world, something which Iraqis don't really have.

SWEENEY: A final word to you, Qassem. How do you imagine running Ramattan in the next year or two? What is your prognosis for running a TV company in Gaza?

ALI: To be fair, like nothing in Gaza, you know, can be secure. Not Ramattan, not my house, not my - our children. No security in Gaza.

Tell me I can hear the news tomorrow like Ramattan get destroyed. Have to accept it. Have to accept my home as getting destroyed. I have to accept everything. Nobody can guess now what's going to happen in Gaza and how we are going to cover it.

But we still - while we are surviving, we will do our work, but the future - I will be lying and tell you I know what's going to happen in Ramattan in Gaza in (INAUDIBLE).

SWEENEY: There we have to leave it. Qassem Ali in Cairo, thank you for joining us. Here, Antone La Guardia in London.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, at the center of a media storm. How a serial killer investigation in Britain is testing the limits of crime reporting. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SWEENEY: Welcome back. You're watching INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Here in Britain, an investigation into the murder of five women has received widespread international coverage with the media accused by some of sensational and irresponsible reporting.

In the wake of arrests, British police have warned that sections of the press have gone too far. Joining me to discuss what's behind the media storm is ITN's Harry Smith in Ipswich, defense lawyer Chris Sallon, Queens Castle, and from New York, CNN's Deborah Feyerick.

Harry Smith in Ipswich, there seems to be an increased appetite here in Britain for crime stories such as this. What do you believe is driving that?

HARRY SMITH, ITN: Well, it is a fairly sensational story. I think it's not just in Britain that it is a big story. What's driving the coverage in particular, I think, is partly the nature of the crime. Five dead young girls who work in this area as prostitutes. But also the intense competition that there is now within the media in Britain, particularly among the tabloids.

The opportunity to get one more picture then the opposition - the opportunity to get one more detail, one more line, an exclusive interview, it is so great. And the potential rewards in terms of rewardship circulation so great, that I think editors are willing to want to push the boundaries much more.

I have to say there has been criticism, but isn't the situation that we've suddenly got into in this country? I think the tabloids in particular have been pushing the boundaries forward, but over the last five to 10 years. I don't think 10 years ago, we would have seen coverage along these lines.

SWEENEY: And perhaps if we back up a little, Chris Sallon, what in general are the rules governing the reporting of crime cases?

CHRIS SALLON, DEFENSE LAWYER: Well, the rules that govern the reporting of crime cases are statutory. The Contempt of the Court Act, 1981, makes it quite clear that any reporting, which poses a substantial risk to the fairness of the proceedings, mustn't be reported.

And it insists on contemporaneous court proceeding being reported, rather than running commentary from people commenting on the evidence, as it goes along.

And we have these rules in operation in order to safeguard our very delicate system of jury trial.

SWEENEY: And of course, that is a distinction that isn't made in the U.S., Deborah Feyerick, where juries are often grilled quite strenuously about how their knowledge or media knowledge of a particular case?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are. And just because a juror may have knowledge of a case, doesn't mean that person is off the particular trial. During the trial, that person cannot read any sort of newspaper that's relevant to the particular case.

However, they are there. And it's really up to the prosecution to make the case against the defendant. The burden of proof lies on the government, not on the defendant. And that's really sort of the threshold that the jurors use when they're weighing the facts of the case.

SALLON: I entirely agree that not all publicity is damaging to a jury verdict. But in the States, you're allowed to inquire of individual jurors in a saturation publicity case how to - to what extent they have been prejudiced and hear that investigation is not permitted.

In addition to which, jurors are not prohibited from reading newspapers. They're not sequestered. They're not told that they may not look at the television in the course of their jury trial or even their deliberations.

And so, very, very different rules apply here. To which, I have to say, national considerations have to be applied, when news companies, such as the BBC, or even CNN, have to comply when reporting news nationally.

SWEENEY: Let me go back to you, Harry Smith in Ipswich. I mean, you mentioned there are about the tabloids pushing the boundaries. Are you saying then that it really is up to every individual editor of a newspaper or perhaps even a TV news network to decide how far he or she go - can go in pushing the boundaries vis a vis the British law?

SMITH: Very much. I mean, one editor I was speaking to earlier said he'd actually phoned the lord chancellor's department. That's the senior legal office in London to see what advice they were giving. And their advice was simply to go and consult their lawyers and do what they thought was the best thing.

And different news organizations have been interpreting the rules quite differently. As I say, the mass market tabloids have taken at quite different line from some of the more serious broad sheets or indeed the broadcasters.

SWEENEY: Deborah Feyerick in New York, one perhaps has the misguided impression that almost anything goes when it comes to reporting cases in the United States. One thinks of the O.J. Simpson trial, for example, where there was a continuous running commentary. What are the limits, if any, on reporting?

FEYERICK: Well, in the United States, censorship of the press is seen as the greater harm than any harm that might be done to the individual. That's the first thing. So as long as there's a legitimate interest and concern, and the media can demonstrate that, then there's sort of a self responsibility to make sure that what you're reporting is accurate is correct.

Again, because there's sort of a separation between the people who are listening to the case in that courtroom, and those who are reporting on it, and technically, those who are listening to the evidence are not supposed to be exposed to whatever it is is being discussed in the press, then there - the press can report really whatever they want.

And I've seen jurors who have listened very, very closely to the evidence that's presented. And they have made their decision based on that evidence alone.

And reading the newspapers and then hearing the case that's presented in court, you can see why the jurors are reaching the conclusions that they are reaching.

So just because the press prints something doesn't necessarily mean it's going to affect the outcome of the trial.

SWEENEY: Roger, we're almost out of time, but I find a way to Harry Smith there on reporting duty in Ipswich. I mean, do you feel without getting into specifics here, that the boundaries are being pushed again in this case?

SMITH: The boundaries are being pushed. As I say in every story I've covered, I think the boundaries are being pushed just a little more.

Can I say something that there are very few instances in this country of a case being abandoned or a case not going to court because of prejudicial publicity? Each time that's - it has gone to court and defense lawyers have tried to argue that the publicity has been such a nature that it is impossible for their clients to get a fair trial, the lawyers have nodded. They've looked at the evidence. And the judges have said, yes.

But if I properly direct the jury to ignore the publicity, there is no reason why they can't get a fair trial. So yes, the boundaries have been pushed, but I don't think they've yet been pushed too far.

SWEENEY: A final, final word to Deborah Feyerick, if I may. How much publicity has this case in Britain received in the U.S.?

FEYERICK: It's been in all of the papers. It's been in all of the papers. People are following it very closely here. So yes. And interestingly, also, we're getting details in the United States that may not even be published over in the U.K., because of the fact that our laws are very different.

So there's obviously to state the obvious, a clear difference.

SWEENEY: All right, we'll have to leave it there. Deborah Feyerick in New York, Harry Smith in Ipswich and Chris Sallon here in London. Thank you very much indeed.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, innovation in Bangladesh as the country gets its first rolling news channel. We'll take an inside look.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SWEENEY: Welcome back. It has been described as a revolution in broadcasting sweeping Asia, the emergence of small, high tech television stations offering news and entertainment to both national and regional audiences at a previously unheard of low cost.

In Bangladesh, there's even more at stake. TV news there is the main source of information and hugely influential. And the country is about to get its first 24 hour rolling news channel.

But given the country's political volatility, can a new service stay above the fray? Anita McNaught reports from Dakka.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANITA MCNAUGHT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a half completed building in a suburb of Bangladesh's capital city, a cultural revolution is underway. This is a new TV station under construction of a type the country's not seen before, rolling 24 hour news.

The newly recruited staff, a mix of first timers and old hands, are all undergoing intensive training. It's a news environment nothing has prepared them for.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is a big tough job. We are going to give new news, fresh and light news. So it is different from other news channels.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is new concept in Bangladesh, but we hope so just we have to win.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In other channel, there - like - they only give the news. They don't give the background information.

MCNAUGHT: The business stand calls for a launch ahead of elections early next year. That means January. It's going to be a baptism of fire for the news channel staff.

Bangladesh has been in a state of political uproar since the government stepped down in October, paralyzed by protests and blockades, as the caretaker administration fails to achieve a consensus about how to elect the next government.

(on camera): According to many in Bangladesh, the media has become caught up in this volatility. Deregulation seven years ago brought in many new private television stations, but now more than half of them are owned by former ministers or close associates of the last government. And so open to charges of political favoritism. Every one here understands that in a country where 40 percent of the population still cannot read or write, television news is hugely influential.

MONJUNUL AHSAN BULBUL, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, DAILY SONGBAD: Everything politicized here. There's a big polarization. Like all professions, the journalist community is divided. Most of the media has been divided in their political ideologies. And that, I consider the major problem.

MCNAUGHT: This from the editor of the country's oldest quality broad sheet. Even print media in Bangladesh are prepared to admit they have problems, too.

BULBUL: Unfortunately, our major media house is not running through a business. It's a political bias, money making, or political benefit meeting organizations.

MCNAUGHT: Fayyaz Chowdury and his wife Donya heads Dakka's newest TV channel. In this heated environment, (INAUDIBLE) your hand in the fire?

FAYYAZ QUADER CHOWDURY, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, CSB NEWS: Well, it's a dangerous time for a lot of people, but it's also very exciting time for a lot of people. I mean, if you're going to do a news channel, then this is the right time. And if you don't do a news channel, then somebody else will.

MCNAUGHT: But Fayyaz Chowdury comes from a prominent family with historic ties to the outgoing BNP government. He knows he's got an uphill struggle to prove his neutrality to this politically sensitized audience.

CHOWDURY: I'm very very well aware of that. And obviously, I'm going to be very careful to portray myself as a balanced source of information. As long as my balance is quite evident on the screen, then you know, I can be respected.

MCNAUGHT: Sanjay Salil media based company MediaGuru is behind the start up of CSB. Last year, they helped open a new TV station in Afghanistan. They're now in discussions with Malaysia, Pakistan, and Thailand.

SANJAY SALIL, MANAGING DIRECTOR, MEDIAGURU: Media in Asia is on boom. The very closer trend is all international big players. They are coming to Asia because, you know, somehow the story that Asia is going to be like big super part in (INAUDIBLE). So nobody wants to miss on that, too.

MCNAUGHT: Starting up a TV channel is becoming remarkably affordable. CSB News is costing around $7 million U.S. from conception to launch. That includes training and all equipment needed for news gathering in broadcast, all put together in six months.

Salil believes the explosion in media will eventually neutralize the issue of bias in broadcasting in Bangladesh.

SALIL: Journalists don't succeed. They have the wrong kind of perceptions. So I think, you know, and people who invest in business, they understand that for a news channel, it has to be credible news channel. Then only the people are going to listen to them.

MCNAUGHT: In a country where journalists are intimidated, attacked, even killed, everyone in the media industry agrees a change has got to come. Many will be watching CSB News closely to see if it is that change.

Anita McNaught, CNN, Dakka, Bangladesh.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SWEENEY: 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.

END

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