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INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

War in Lebanon and Media's Role on Both Sides of Conflict ; Murder in Moscow

Aired December 29, 2006 - 14:00:00   ET

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


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Iraq's Prime Minister has convened an emergency cabinet meeting as reports suggest Saddam Hussein's execution could be imminent. Hussein's attorneys and Iraqi state television say he has been transferred from U.S. to Iraqi custody. That is an important step ahead of execution.
However, the U.S. State Department reportedly denies there being any handover. Well, let's bring in Arwa Damon in Baghdad. A very hectic few hours for you there in Baghdad. Arwa, update us.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Michael, it is, as you just mentioned, a lot of conflicting reports as to when this execution is going to be taking place. Here on the streets of Baghdad, the Iraqi people are really bracing themselves for this. There are a lot of mixed emotions here.

Some people are very fearful of what the consequences, what sort of violence the execution of Saddam Hussein will bring. Others are very much looking forward to it, looking forward to seeing what they are calling the end of an era in Iraqi history, what they are calling a brutal dictator finally brought to justice.

But a lot of concerns about potential violence, Michael.

HOLMES: And when it comes to the timing of all of this, if he is indeed in Iraqi custody, and if indeed his execution is imminent, this is a very significant weekend.

DAMON: It is, Michael. We are going into Eid and Apha (ph), which is the most religious Muslim holiday. There are those that believe that the Iraqi government should wait until after this period. There are those that believe that the execution should take place right now, immediately. They are saying that if that happens, they will view this as the Iraqi government's gift to them, but there are fears that if this does happen right now, right before we enter this religious period, that that will only bring even more violence, and that it will especially further inflame Iraq's Sunni population, Michael.

HOLMES: Arwa Damon in Baghdad. Thanks, Arwa.

Colleen?

COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Also, in the headlines for you this hour, Islamist forces have pulled out of Mogadishu, but promise to continue their battle against the transitional government. Meantime, Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Gedi has arrived in the capitol. Mr. Gedi says the parliament will vote on a declaration of martial law, and that that will happen on Saturday.

And it is the second day of the Haj. And nearly three million Muslim pilgrims have gathered to pray at Mount Arafat. It's the first major rite in the five day event, which began on Thursday.

HOLMES: Those are your headlines now. More updates coming up.

MCEDWARDS: That's right. Stay tuned. We will bring you up to date all the time here on CNN. Right now, though, we're going to go to INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS.

FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Fionnuala Sweeney in London. Welcome to a special edition of CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we look back at how the media have covered some of the big stories of the year.

Coming up, the war in Lebanon and the media's role on both sides of the conflict.

Plus, murder in Moscow. How the killing of reporter Anya Politkovskya fueled concern over press freedom in Russia.

And defining images. We talk to award winning photographer Finbarr O'Reilly about his work.

And we begin with one of the most controversial and turbulent events of 2006 - Israel's 34 day war against Lebanon, triggered when Hezbollah launched cross border attacks on northern Israel.

More than 1,000 people were killed in the conflict. And in a moment, we hear from journalists who spoke to us during the war. But first, Howard Kurtz files this report on the tone of coverage.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The war in the Middle East has been a challenging one for media organizations to cover. And veteran journalists say a dangerous one as well.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's just a matter of luck. You try to keep yourself safe, but that's all you can do. So we were in an area where all of these katusha rockets were coming in. And of course, we're vulnerable being in this area as well.

So yes, I would say that this is more dangerous than the initial invasion during the Iraq War.

KURTZ: This has been in many respects a war of images. Hezbollah has been giving Western correspondents tours of bombed out areas of Lebanon. But are they being used if they have no chance to do independent reporting on whether there are guerilla fighters and weapons in these residential areas?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Clearly in that environment, in the southern suburbs of Beirut the Hezbollah controls, the only way we can get into those areas is with a Hezbollah escort. And absolutely, when you hear their claims, they have to come with a - more than a grain of salt that you have to put in some journalistic integrity.

They come with a health warning that we cannot vouch for everything that Hezbollah is saying.

KURTZ: The intensity and the fighting has reduced increasingly polarized coverage in the region with the Israeli press closing ranks behind that country's controversial bombardment of Lebanon.

YARON DECKEL, ISRAEL BROADCASTING AUTHORITY: There is a consensus in Israel, and you can see this reflect in the media, that this time, Israel was attacked in a sovereign land of Israel by Hezbollah, a terrorist organization. And Israel is in a war.

KURTZ: And even Arab and Lebanese media outlets that had been critical of Hezbollah have rallied behind the group, deemed a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.

SALAMARI NERRIOTT, ARAB MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Israel is the enemy here. And as far as the Arab media is concerned, the mainstream media is run by governments. And it's not exactly independent in the sense that it is not going to seek to get the balanced coverage of both sides.

KURTZ: A controversial war produces controversial coverage, which is why American news organizations are also drawing flack for tilting one way or the other on a subject in which it's impossible to please all sides.

Howard Kurtz, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SWEENEY: CNN covered the war from across the region, including locations in Beirut and Haifa in northern Israel. Shalom Kital and I spoke to journalists on how they reported on the conflict.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SWEENEY: 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?

SHALOM KITAL, DIRECTOR, CHANNEL 2 NEWS: Well, we have our own experience. And we all remember that 33 years ago, we had awful war, the '73, when people were - the media wasn't critical. And it was really a lousy 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 a good journalism and a good service to the public is to criticize though the opinion makers and the army and whoever is involved could draw the lessons and do better by the fact that the media is trying to draw the attention to mistakes and to wrongdoings.

SWEENEY: Channel 2 had an editorial policy on this conflict.

KITAL: Our policy is all news that 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 Israelis. It's our war. Our children are in the army. Our relatives live in the northern border in Karachi Monar (ph) and Haifa. So we 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: You mention the Yom Kippur War at the beginning of this conversation. How has Israeli media coverage of wars in general - goals over the last number of years?

KITAL: Well, I think that after Israel was established 58 years ago, and up 'til Yom Kippur War, our coverage used to be ultra 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 recognize the fact that the media has a role in all 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 war that there are not mistake during the war. And we have to criticize. So I guess that since the first Lebanese war in 1982 up 'til now, the media while covering - while giving all the respect to everybody, oh, I think you have an alarm there. Don't you?

SWEENEY: Oh, yes, indeed. Shalom Kital, thank you very much indeed for joining us in Jerusalem. Tova Lazaroff here also in Haifa. We do indeed have to end this. Thanks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: To discuss the challenges of covering the current conflict here in Lebanon, I'm joined by Marc Sirois, 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.

Arab media outlets are a lot more comfortable with broadcasting graphic and gruesome pictures of the dead and wounded. Why is that?

MARC SIROIS, MANAGING EDITOR, DAILY STAR: I think there are two reasons. One is that there's 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, specifically satellite channel networks in the Arab world, because those stations are owned by influential families, the leaders in the Arab world. And they want their stations to be showing something that the street can relate to. And that means seeing those gory images, those shocking, horrific images coming out of Kana. So that plays into the politics of what's going as well.

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

SIROIS: And I think it fuels - 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're in competition with one another. And there's a bit of sensationalism going on as well.

GORANI: Now let me ask you about - Brent, about reporting on the actual military aspect of this in southern Lebanon. All reporters - are there reporters on the Israeli 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 billed itself as a very secretive military fighting machine, particularly its guerillas in the southern area, in those places like katushas are being fired.

Hezbollah very rarely opens its doors. It's perhaps only two or three times in the last almost 10 years I've lived in Lebanon that I've been able to go to what's pretty much a stayed Hezbollah army day in positions in the south.

So you get to see their hardware of parades on dog and pony shows and other media looking, but really to get close-up to the action and what you can see 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 really dominated the way that Hezbollah used the media to win, it says, the war to drive Israel from the occupation of south Lebanon six years ago.

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

GORANI: Why not?

SIROIS: 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's going to fall. And to have camera men standing around is a little bit difficult.

GORANI: The idea of the Israeli military has censorship basically restrictions. You can't report casualties exactly the way you would like. Are there those restrictions on the Lebanese side, Marc?

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

Historically, they've had no trouble releasing information about their casualties. They boast about having casualties. But the restrictions of the government are largely theoretical in nature.

GORANI: Why?

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SWEENEY: Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, death of a journalist. How the murder of Anya Politkovskya placed Russia's freedom of the press under fresh scrutiny. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SWEENEY: Welcome back. It was a murder that sparked outrage around the world. The shooting of investigative reporter Anya Politkovskya in her apartment block in Moscow fueled concerns over press freedoms in Russia.

Matthew Chance has this story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She was one of Russia's most outspoken journalists, a fierce critic of the Kremlin and a tireless campaigner for human rights.

Through her reporting, Anya Politkovskya touched the hearts of many. Hundreds gathered to pay their respects.

For years, Anya risked her life covering Russia's war in Chechnya. She was killed in her Moscow apartment building, shot four times at close range.

Security cameras recorded a few glimpses of the man police say may have been the killer. But few believe he was anything more than a hired gun. This had all the hallmarks of a contract killing.

She's hardly the first Russian journalist murdered for her work. The country has an appalling record of protecting its reporters. Advocates for a free press say those who expose corruption, or like Anya, investigate abuses of power, are most at risk.

PAVEL FELGENHAUER, JOURNALIST (through translator): Since 1994, not one murder of a journalist killed for their profession has been solved. I think it's because most of those crimes were initiated by members of the ruling establishment. I doubt we'll ever find out who ordered the murders of any of them.

CHANCE: At the offices of Novagazeta, the Russian language newspaper where Anya worked, staff are regrouping after her murder. The paper's editor says Anya is the third reporter he's lost to assassins in six years.

Russia has a shrinking democracy, he told me. And that poses a real danger to peoples' lives, especially those involved in investigative reporting. If only Russia had independent courts or a law enforcement system that wasn't so corrupt, it could make all the difference, he says.

But Russia today has neither. And now it has one less voice of conscience as well.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SWEENEY: Matthew Chance reporting there.

Shortly after the murder, I discussed the fallout with the BBC's Olexiy Solohubenko.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SWEENEY: How dangerous was Anya Politkovskaya to the political establishment?

OLEXIY SOLOHUBENKO, BBC WORLD SERVICE: She was dangerous in a sense, but she was one of the very few who picked up one of the most painful stories that run in Russia. And that was Chechnya.

The official (INAUDIBLE) says that the Chechen crisis is over, the war is over, and everything is peaceful and hunky-dory. She said no, abuse of human rights is going on. There are people being killed. There's a very dangerous man - has been - that has been put in charge of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadirup (ph), the prime minister, who is probably going to become the president of the Chechen Republic.

She was very, very bold in attacking the really nerve centers of what is one of the most painful and unreserved conflicts. And because of that, I think she was very dangerous.

SWEENEY: Were her writings in Chechnya having an impact on Russian society in general?

SOLOHUBENKO: Short term, no. Long term, yes, because I think short term, she was basically deprived of oxygen. She didn't appear on television in Russia. She was better known abroad than in Russia. She didn't have her newspaper that she worked for. Had a very small circulation and was published only twice a week.

But if you compare it to the Soviet days, it's like Ikanamision (ph) Sokarav, who was a very powerful personality, a very influential personality. Yet he never appeared in Soviet television.

SWEENEY: Will there be mass protests on the part of the journalist block? I'm thinking of, you know, the Russian Union of Journalists and the Media Union, likely you know, because of her death, her murder?

SOLOHUBENKO: I don't think so. I think the climate is such that there's a lot of individual effort by the remaining intellectuals, by the liberal intellectual elite in Russia to raise the awareness of why this death was so dangerous.

For instance, there was a letter written by leading writers of Russia, demanding that the authorities at least express condolences. And President Putin himself express some kind of compassion. And that letter was not broadcast on national television on the commercial channels. It was published on the Internet, which is the last domain where such liberal moves are possible.

SWEENEY: Well, it's interesting you bring up the Internet, because in some of her writings, she wrote, "We are hurtling back into a Soviet abyss, into an information vacuum that spells death from our own ignorance. All we have left is the Internet.

In this stand-off between journalists and their political establishment, who's winning? Who's going to win?

SOLOHUBENKO: I don't think there are winners and losers. I think perhaps the loser is the society and Russian citizens at large.

But the tragedy is that very often, they do not realize themselves, that they're actually in the losing side. There's a kind of a degree of complacency that a pluralism is not necessarily a good thing, that it's good to have a good leader who controls everything, and controls the media as well.

And I think this is a major shift in the Russian society, which is not necessarily perceived in the West. It's not the self censorship. It's not the official censorship, but it's the mechanisms that are put in place that create a climate in which censorship is not necessary.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SWEENEY: Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, beauty and despair in one single photo. The picture that left a mark on an international jury. We speak to the photojournalist in question. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: Hello, I'm Michael Holmes at the CNN Center. More of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS in a moment. But first, we want to update you on the news out of Baghdad.

Let's bring in Arwa Damon in the Iraqi capitol. The latest, Arwa?

ARWA DAMON: Well, Michael, as we have been reporting all night, according to an aide to the prime minister's office, all of Iraq's ministers are in an emergency meeting.

Meanwhile here in the streets of Baghdad, rumors are swirling about when Saddam Hussein is actually going to be executed. People are watching this very closely, especially state owned Alirikya (ph) Television. They are expected to be breaking this news if and when it does happen.

There is a lot of apprehension, though, here in the streets. A lot of fears that his death will only bring more violence, retaliatory attacks perhaps against some of the - against the population.

People are really bracing themselves for an apprehension. At the same time, a lot of anticipation among some Iraqis at seeing their former leader executed, their former leader brought to justice, Michael.

HOLMES: All right, Arwa Damon in Baghdad keeping an eye on developments. Thanks, Arwa.

And we will have much more in about five minutes. But for now, let's head back to INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS.

SWEENEY: Welcome back. Haunting, elegant, and moving. This is how the jury described a photograph taken by Finbarr O'Reilly, a journalist working for Reuters in West and Central Africa.

Covering the human suffering, he paints a poignant picture of the stories around him, while focusing on the little things. Shapes and colors.

For his work in Niger, he received the press photo award. We spoke to Finbarr O'Reilly and asked him how his passion for photography developed.

FINBARR O'REILLY, PHOTOGRAPHER, REUTERS: I started off as a text journalist in Africa for Reuters, but often found it difficult to get the stories to play in attention that I felt they deserved.

And so, I would provide pictures with my stories to give them a little bit more distance. And I moved more and more towards pictures as I progressed with my career in Africa in the winters.

SWEENEY: Was it a natural transition for you?

O'REILLY: It was. Africa is a very visual place. And a lot of times, our stories, we tried to incorporate as much color and visuals as we can. And so, photography is just a natural way of reporting from there.

SWEENEY: Let's take a look at - this is the award winning photograph in Africa. Describe - in the picture, obviously, it's a child's hands that look very much like an old man's hands in many ways, quite wrinkled and dry. Tell me, where was the shot?

O'REILLY: This picture was taken in the West African country of Niger during a hunger situation there last year. And this woman, I found, in an emergency feeding center run by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders. There are about a dozen mothers with their children who - most of whom were sort of on the verge of starvation and were receiving emergency intravenous and oral food to rehydrate them and bring them back to life essentially.

And I was watching this woman for quite some time, and just observing her and her interaction with her child. Her name is Fatul Hessemi (ph). And her son is named Alasad Galisu (ph). And there was just this sort of very intimate moment where at first he had his hand on her nose and it gradually slide down onto her mouth. And that's when I captured this particular frame.

SWEENEY: Do you have any idea about his fate, the child?

O'REILLY: I do, actually, yes. A German reporter and photographer traveled back to Niger this year to find out what happened to them. And it turns out they found them roaming on the edge of the Sahal Desert with nomads there.

And Fatul is fine. She's well. She was still wearing exactly the same clothes as she was wearing a year ago when I took my picture, now faded by the sun and tattered by the wind. And Alasad is three-years old, but he's alive, but suffered severely from the malnutrition. And he can't walk and he can't talk. He mostly just clings to his mother.

SWEENEY: How do you explain the sharp and vivid contrast in colors in some of the photos you take? I mean, let's now have a look at another one. It's - it is of a child with green eyes. And really, the very, very striking in terms of its vividness?

O'REILLY: Yes, this picture was taken in Darfur late in 2004. And a lot of times, we see images from Africa that portray the Africans as victims. And I'm really trying to avoid that in the work that I'm doing.

This - the colors there are very vivid. And the people - the character in people's faces is very strong. And this represents the actual character of the people that you meet on a daily basis.

And this young girl was in a refugee camp, having fled violence in Darfur. And just the expression on her face and in her eyes really, for me, summed up a lot of what was going on there, the confusion over the different sides that were fighting Arabs against Arabs - sorry Muslims against Muslims and Arabs against African tribes.

But it's also mixed that it's not clearly defined.

SWEENEY: What draws you to Africa as a journalist, as a photo journalist?

O'REILLY: Well, I first went there as a backpacking student in 1994 and happened to experience firsthand some of what happened in genocide. And then, the elections in '94 when Mandela was brought to power in South Africa.

And so, I felt like I'd experienced the best and the worst of what people had to offer, and what humanity could do to itself, good and bad. And that intensity of experience is something that you do encounter almost on a daily basis there. And that really is the attraction for me.

SWEENEY: Finbarr O'Reilly, thank you and congratulations.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SWEENEY: And that is all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we took a look back at some of the biggest media events of 2006. Tune in again next time for another look at how the media are handling the big issues of the day.

I'm Fionnuala Sweeney. Thanks for joining us.

END

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