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Iran's Nuclear Program; Japan's Imperial Family; Mugabe's Birthday

Aired February 23, 2007 - 14:00:00   ET


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Becky Anderson in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories this week.
Well, a big dramatic pressure mounts against Iran. The Islamic republic says it won't retreat in efforts to develop nuclear power. We examine media coverage both within and outside the country.

Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe celebrates his 83rd birthday with a crack down on his critics. And a royal right to privacy. An Australian journalist is embroiled in a row over his book on Japan's imperial family.

Well, Iran is never far off from the media's glare. It's listed as part of George W. Bush's `axis of evil.' Washington links it to the insurgency in Iraq.

Through it all, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to defy diplomatic pressure. Well, this week, saying his country "will not retreat one iota in its path to nuclear victory."

Well, while Tehran's activities are often widely reported in the media, some say it clouds the international community's view of the country.

In a moment, we'll look at Iran's image and how it's betrayed both at home and abroad. First though, Jill Dougherty has a look at Iran through the eyes of one college student.


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For 22- year old Mitra Miri, talk of the U.S. possibly attacking Iran hits home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we're talking about the military option in Iran, what we're talking about is strategic bombing.

DOUGHERTY: Miri is Iranian-American. To be precise, Iranian-Mexican American.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do we do to try to understand Islam? Well, we come here to this room today.

DOUGHERTY: Taking part in a video conference on Iran with students at two U.S. universities and two locations in the Middle East, Miri, a senior at the University of Texas, says she's worried.

MITRA MIRI, STUDENT: I see Iran with many faces. I see my cousins, my aunts, my uncles, my mom (INAUDIBLE) over there. And knowing that I've had much - many of my Mexican side of the family sent over to Iraq to fight, it scares me to think that they could potentially be fighting against each other.

DOUGHERTY: She's visited Iran three times, getting to know her family and how the reality of life there defies stereotypes.

MIRI: As I got to know my cousins, who are all very young, they love pop culture. They love the Western world. And they listen to Britney Spears, Michael Jackson. And I don't know, I realize that they want to learn from us. They, you know, they do love Americans. They - their hearts bled when 9/11 happened.

DOUGHERTY: In 1979, Mitra Miri's father, then a student in the U.S., was caught up in the furor over the Iranian hostage crisis.

MIRI: A lot of people were scared at that time. And they - all they knew was Iranians took over the embassy.

DOUGHERTY (on camera): During this teleconference, the U.S. media came in for a lot of criticism for presenting a simplistic view of a highly complex situation, and for painting Iran as a black hole of danger to the world.

(voice-over): Despite high profile threats by Iran's president, the experts at this teleconference point out, there's a wide variety of opinions among the Iranian people, and within its government, something like the U.S.

Mitra Miri says her family often sits around the table, talking about Iran and the U.S. and maybe Tehran and Washington can do the same.

MIRI: And we all have different views, but it doesn't mean that we can't sit and talk about it, and explain to each other. You don't have to totally understand that you get lots of respect.

DOUGHERTY: Jill Dougherty, CNN, Washington.


ANDERSON: So is the Western media presenting a distorted impression of Iran? And what sort of view do Iranians get of the rest of the world? For more on this, let's bring in Joyce Bamathan. She's the president of the International Center for Journalists, who joins us from our Washington bureau. And CNN correspondent Aneesh Raman, who's reported widely from Iran.

Let's start with you, Aneesh, if I can. What is your experience of reporting from Iran? Some of the limitations that you face?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the biggest one you face at the get go is getting a visa. It's difficult for Western news organizations to get into Iran. When you do, they are typically two week visas. You apply for extensions.

When you arrive as an American, I'm last in line to come to immigration. I'm fingerprinted. All of this is done. Iranians say the government's reciprocity for the difficulties Iranian journalists face in the U.S.

When you get there, you go and sort of register with the Culture Ministry. You have to apply for letters that allow you to shoot on the streets. If you want to shoot inside specific buildings, you need a letter.

We have never been refused a letter. We have never been refused to shoot anywhere. We don't have a minder with us, which I think is because CNN has been going in for some time. Other news organizations do have minders.

But when you're out on the streets, there is this constant presence. And you're able to interact with the Iranians really at will, as far as I've been able to find. It's getting them to open up that's the difficult.

ANDERSON: This is interesting, isn't it, Joyce? Because U.S. media are accused of presenting, as our reports suggested, a black hole of danger and consider the country like that, if you will. That's certainly the perception of those who watch the U.S. media.

And as Aneesh suggests, the access actually not that difficult once you're inside. Is this a fair perception, do you think, the way that Iran is covered?

JOYCE BAMATHAN, INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR JOURNALISTS: Well, I think it is, as Aneesh said, it's a very difficult place for American journalists to get to and to cover.

And as a result, we are seeing sort of a black and white picture of Iran, and not seeing the texture of what's going on. And this is a particularly dangerous thing as the U.S. and Iran move towards the brink of conflict.

And I think that there is a lot going on in Iran, that's important for Americans to know about, in order to make informed decisions. And that information isn't reaching us necessarily.

ANDERSON: One problem, Aneesh, of course, is the way that the media is covering the story. The other interesting story, of course, is the perception of journalism is so incredibly, tightly controlled in what many perceive to be a closed society. Is that the reality?

RAMAN: Look, there are clear limitations to what journalists can do, how much they can criticize the regime broadly, the supreme leader specifically.

But within those limitations, there is boisterous debate within Iran. All the television stations are state run. The newspapers vary. And they're identified as reformists leaning or hard line supporting the government or not.

And increasingly, they've been growing critical of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president, who's bellicose statement, saying that he's doing more harm than good.

There is a disconnect emerging. And they are increasingly dissatisfied with the lack of economic reform, which is why they voted him in. And that frustration is really spilling out more openly than we've seen at all in his time in office.

ANDERSON: And we're talking here about more openly in what might be perceived as the old media. Joyce, and of course, new media having a big effect on Iran and the way that it is perceived, and the way that Iranians get their information.

The online generation, very much providing a catalyst for change, it seems?

BAMATHAN: Absolutely. I mean, you have a huge amount - number of the population is under the age of 20. And as far as we can tell, there are some seven million people out of 70 million who log on in Iran, which is a very, very large number. And that's expected to grow exponentially over the next few years.

ANDERSON: How does what you are hearing about Iran and what you know to be true about Iran compare with other places, where you might have a bigger problem, as it were?

BAMATHAN: Well, I still think it's a very difficult place for journalists to operate. But the fact is it isn't as bleak as you might think. I think that there - it's a much more vibrant place. I think that as Aneesh said, the opposition is lively and very resourceful.

Independent newspapers start up. They're shut down. And then they start up again under the guise of another name. And everybody seems to know who the editors are and the type of reliable information that they're providing.

There's also far more satellite dishes than you might imagine in Iran. And I'm sure Aneesh can talk about that from first hand experience. So that there's access to non governmental television as well.

ANDERSON: We'll have to stop you there. Thank you, Joyce, very much indeed for joining us. Joyce Bamathan in Washington. And of course, Aneesh Raman here in London.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, Robert Mugabe celebrates another birthday in style, as he bans opposition protests. Reporting from Zimbabwe on the challenges facing journalists, after this.


ANDERSON: Welcome back. You're watching INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS here on CNN.

Now he's ruled Zimbabwe for almost three decades. This week, Robert Mugabe is celebrating his 83rd birthday. Now past celebrations has been as legendary as they've been expensive. Last year, tributes to Mr. Mugabe cost almost $1 million. They come, despite the turmoil, that's gripped the country. The inflation is the highest in the world. For fuel, food, and school fees out of reach for many Zimbabweans.

Well, Mugabe's iron fist is extended to his critics. Police have banned protests in part of Hirari. Also, opposition rallies there. And the media haven't escaped either.

Journalists still fled, fearing repercussions. And many have been banned from the country. And it's not just the international media.

For more on reporting from Zimbabwe and the state of the media there, Baisudon Peta joins us from Johannesburg. He's a Zimbabwean journalist, who's (INAUDIBLE) barred. He's also been jailed for his reporting.

And here in the studio, our African correspondent Jeff Koinange. Thanks, both of you, for joining us.

Baisudon, let me start with you. The (INAUDIBLE) Herald newspaper this week publishing a 16 page supplement, filled with birthday messages for many of Zimbabwe's businesses with lines like "you have afford a good fight, good faithful servant of the Zimbabwean people." Your musings on these lavish birthday celebrations, not as well as those I suspect?

BAISUDON PETA, SOUTHERN AFRICA CORRESPONDENT, LONDON INDEPENDENT: Well, I think the businesses in Zimbabwe have always done this. They have to do this.

I don't think they mean what they say in those adverts, most of them, because they know Robert Mugabe's rule has traumatized this once prosperous country, that has now been reduced to a complete basket case.

But to ingratiate themselves to the regime, and to keep in good books there, to say such things.

ANDERSON: What are the highly draconian media laws effectively mean for you, Baisudon?

PETA: I think it's pretty obvious. Over the past four years, you have seen the closure of all the mainstream newspapers in Zimbabwe. The country now no longer enjoys the services of an independent daily paper. There is no private broadcasting allowed. Broadcasting is a monopoly of the states.

The impact of all these media laws in Zimbabwe have been to basically eliminate independent journalism. And it's not good for the country.

ANDERSON: Jeff, as a member of the International Media Pact, we are also not invited or welcome in Zimbabwe at the moment. How does that affect the way that correspondents are gathering their information? How do they know that what they're hearing is true?

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN AFRICA CORRESPONDENT: So obviously now they go underground, Becky. What they do, they get a cameraman on the ground or someone who's willing to risk their lives, because if they are found out with a camera filming the streets, they'll be arrested.

So you rely on somebody. You give them a camera. You tell them to shoot for you. And that is your go to person on the ground, because if we landed in Hirare today, we'd be arrested. We would not be let beyond immigration. They would stop us, send us right back out, and deport us.

ANDERSON: This is the problem, isn't it, Baisudon, gleaning information from the region, when you can't be there yourself. Jeff's just described how we will use people locally. Who do you talk to? And just describe how you go about your news gathering at present?

PETA: Well, despite all the obstacles the regime has put in place, getting information is not much of a big deal. I think getting information out of Zimbabwe is not much of a big problem.

There are reporters who are quite credible, who still are on the ground in Zimbabwe, whom you can rely on if you want information. You can talk to people via telephone. It's your guys who do broadcasting, I think, would face a lot of problems because you need your cameras deployed.

But as Jeff mentioned, many broadcasters are able to smuggle in their cameras. And there are people who can always help them do the job.

I don't think the measures that have been put in place have helped the regime in terms of blocking information from coming out of the country. That is what the regime wanted, but I don't think they have been successful.

ANDERSON: And that's an important point, isn't it, because we heard from Robert Mugabe this week. And he said this. I want to lengthen my term. I can stand next year. I can stand and I'll have another six years for that matter. And what can the opposition do about it? (INAUDIBLE) going to change any time soon? There are things, as Baisudon suggests, that not getting any worse, as it were?

KOINANGE: Well, you have to ask yourself, Becky, how much worse can they get? When are they going to reach rock bottom and decide this is the turning point?

And if Mugabe says he's going to run again, he'll be 90-years old. Picture this. 90-years old if he decides to run again, as the oldest serving African president ever.

ANDERSON: Baisudon, a final thought from you. You work out of Johannesburg at the moment. In the past, you've been accused of aiding terrorism through your reports. For example, that you wrote in the British press.

Do you expect to remain out of the country and in the near future?

KOINANGE: Oh, yes. I have to because if I - I have to continue waiting. As a journalist, I cannot do it in Zimbabwe. They won't give me accreditation. As you rightly say, I am regarded as a terrorist.

And it's not possible to report from Zimbabwe or to get the permission or the authority that you require to be able to function.

So as long as I remain the media, yes, I have to operate from outside the country. As long as Robert Mugabe lives, I don't see any good ever happening in Zimbabwe.

KOINANGE: If I could just add to that. I mean, it's journalists like Baisudon right there who are brave enough to stand up to this regime. Those are the guys on the frontline right now. Because the ordinary citizens cannot fight for themselves. We need journalists like Baisudon. Zimbabweans talking about their country. We can only say so much, but they need to add credibility to that, and take it the next step.

ANDERSON: Well, guys, we're going to leave it there. And we thank you very much indeed, both of you, Baisudon Peta in Johannesburg and Jeff Koinange here in the studio in London with me. Thank you.

Still to come on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS here on CNN, an Australian journalist finds himself at the center of a royal storm. The story and the controversy, up next.


ANDERSON: Welcome back. You're watching INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS here on CNN.

Now the right to privacy versus the right to publish. An Australian journalist is at the center of a row over his unauthorized biography of Japan's Crown Princess Masako.

Japan says its full of errors. And one publisher has canceled its Japanese print run. Well the author accuses Japanese officials of censorship.


ANDERSON (voice-over): Touching on a taboo - Ben Hills at a signing in Sydney. But his book "Princess Masako: Prisoner of the Chrysathanemum Throne."

BILL HILLS, AUTHOR: The book is profoundly sympathetic to Masako's plight. I mean, if I was asked what I hoped the book might achieve in practical terms, I was really hoping that the bureaucrats who control her life just might see it in their hearts to give her a bit more freedom, and to allow her to get a more constructive role for herself in the world.

ANDERSON: Traditionally, negative reporting on the imperial family is off limits. Japan's foreign ministry says this book crosses the line because it contains many factual errors. It now wants an apology.

TOMOHIKO TANIGUCHI, JAPANESE FOREIGN MINISTRY: This book, it's come with absolutely no footnote. So you have to treat the imperial family, which a lot of Japanese people treat as if it is a national treasury, as if it is the most precious thing for their own history. You have to treat the Crown Princess Masako and the imperial household very much carefully.

Masako, a former diplomat, married Crown Prince Naruhito in 1993. She gave birth to her daughter, Aiko, in 2001. But in recent years, Princess Masako has made few public appearances. Hills claims that Masako suffers from severe depression, not the mild adjustment disorder described by the imperial household agency.

While it's protective of the royal family, Japanese officials say they did not force the hand of the Japanese publisher.

TANIGUCHI: We have not got in touch with the publisher by any means. So there is - there's no such thing as censorship. By the way, freedom of speech is very much important, but I don't think freedom of sloppy speech is important.

ANDERSON: Proving that any publicity is good publicity, the imported English version of Ben Hills' book topped the list of bestsellers on at least one Internet trading website in Japan.


ANDERSON: So it seems the Japanese royal family is a taboo so far as reporting is concerned. Joining me now in the studio is CNN's Atika Shubert.

I guess that's not really a surprise, is it, when one considers that, you know, even presidents and prime ministers in some countries, it's difficult to report on.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's not a surprise, but the imperial household agency, which is there to manage the imperial family's affairs and to protect them, really takes a much stricter point of view than a lot of other agencies.

And an example of that is the British Royal Family. That is sort of the coverage of the British Royal Family is the kind of thing that the imperial household agency in Japan wants to avoid at all costs.

ANDERSON: Are you surprised then by any of the publicity around Ben Hills' book?

SHUBERT: Not surprised. It's - they have often taken the stand that they don't want that kind of publicity. And they've repeatedly told reporters that they're very strict with that access. Oftentimes, CNN has asked to interview, particularly Princess Masako. And every time, it's been rejected.

It's virtually impossible to interview a member of the imperial family. And this is because of the imperial household agency.

ANDERSON: How does that affect perceptions of the royal family?

SHUBERT: It's an interesting thing. The public is very sympathetic towards the imperial family. They feel that in a way, as in the title of the book, that they're prisoners of their own image. They're prisoners of this image of the imperial family.

And partly because of this - the very strict traditions of the household agency. And this is an agency that's not designed - not just to protect the image or reputation of the imperial family, but the institution of the imperial family, because it is considered to be the heart and soul of the Japanese nation.

ANDERSON: Are they then, an effective machine when it comes to spinning the story, that they want told about the royal family or not?

SHUBERT: Well, I think that depends on how you look at it. I think certainly for a lot of reporters that want more access, they feel that rather they're sort of stamping out any story about the imperial family. Even the - for example, Princess Masako's condition, which they have called adjustment disorder, is a euphemism clearly for what appears to be depression.

But because it's not termed - and because the imperial household agency is the only source of new information that can verify what's happening inside the imperial family, there's no other way to call it, except an adjustment disorder, because that's what they do, but it makes it very difficult to report.

ANDERSON: Atika Shubert, who for many years worked for CNN in Tokyo. Thank you.

That's 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.



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