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INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

Danger to Journalists Worldwide; The Libby Case; How Governments and Journalists Are Intertwined

Aired March 9, 2007 - 14:00:00   ET

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


PAULA NEWTON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Paula Newton in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we turn the lens on the media industry.
This week, killing the messenger. The startling number of journalists and those working with them who died in the line of duty.

Making reporters testify, will the conviction of a former White House aide set a precedent?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

And it's fit to print after all. How British media outlets fought attempts to gag them and won.

First, in some places, it's becoming almost risk free to kill a journalist. That's the conclusion from the world's most comprehensive inquiry into the deaths of media workers in the past decade.

The International News Safety Institute says it's time for a united approach between news outlets, governments, and even organizations like the World Bank to improve safety standards.

Russia is singled out as one of the most dangerous places to be a journalist, second only to Iraq. Still, that didn't prevent shock with the murder of investigative reporter Anna Polivkovskya, shot dead outside her Moscow apartment in October.

Now police there have another mystery on their hands. Ivan Svranov, a military correspondent for Russia's top business daily "Commercant", fell from the fifth story window of his apartment building. Police suspect suicide. Media watch dog groups are calling for a thorough investigation.

RICHARD SAMBROOK, BBC GLOBAL NEWS DIRECTOR: We found that over the last 10 years, more than 1,000 journalists and support workers have been killed. That's an average of two a week every week for the last 10 years.

The majority of those were journalists working their own countries on issues like crime and corruption. And most of those, 670 of them, were murdered. And out of those murdered, again, a majority of their killers have never been found and never been brought to justice.

NEWTON: The report also notes the case of Terry Lloyd, the ITN correspondent killed by U.S. troops in Iraq in 2003. A British coroner ruled he was unlawfully killed.

The International News Safety Institute says the case demonstrates the need for open investigations. It also wants to tackle what it calls "a culture of impunity."

SAMBROOK: We need accountability. We need the law to come into effect. And for international institutions to think about the wider issues of our freedom of expression. If that many journalists and media workers are getting killed, it has a big impact on freedom of expression. And that, as we know, is related to the successful economic development and democratic development of many countries.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NEWTON: Let's talk more about the International News Safety Institute's report. I'm joined here in the studio by the Institute's director Rodney Pinder. Thanks so much for joining us.

And in Brussels, of course, is Aidan White. And he is the general secretary for the International Federation of Journalists. Thanks so much for joining us.

Rodney, I'm going to say to you, in terms of doing this kind of a survey, what really stood for you when you looked at the results?

RODNEY PINDER, INTERNATIONAL NEWS SAFETY INSTITUTE: I think the real stand out is the number of journalists that are being killed in their own countries. We hear about the big international guys who get killed parachuting into wars and conflicts. And that's right. So they should, they're doing a very brave job.

But so many of those killed are just workday journalists in their own countries, doing the daily jobs. And they're dying as a result. Three- quarters, or 700 of the people that we counted dead, are in their own countries. And the really shocking thing about that is that only one in 10 of their killers has ever faced any kind of justice.

So nine out of 10, the killers go scott free, which just encourages more of the same.

NEWTON: Aidan, you know, I always have this picture of a lot of the journalists that I've interviewed in these developing countries. And you know, like Rodney just said, they know that if they should happen to disappear one day, what is going to happen? What is going to happen to the government? I mean, really, when you put yourself in their shoes, it's very chilling, isn't it?

AIDAN WHITE, INTERNATIONAL FEDERATIONL OF JOURNALISTS: Look, I think the situation facing journalists all around the world is very difficult these days. As media, you know, they've become more powerful. So doing the - a journalist's job has become more dangerous.

I think it's true. There's a real responsibility now to put some pressure on governments to try to keep a close eye on the needs of journalists and media. And I think one of the priorities arising from this report is to put some pressure on governments to honor their obligations and responsibilities to provide more protection for media and for journalists.

NEWTON: Certainly, though Rodney, some of the allegations is that the government is the problem in many of the cases, at least those are the allegations. What can be done?

PINDER: Well, I think first, we've gotten off to a fairly good start with this U.N. Resolution 1738 that was passed last December calling on governments to observe the safety of journalists in these situations, and to prosecute those responsible.

Now that's a political gesture. That, you know, we all know about calls from the U.N. and what governments might or might not do. But it's a starting point.

What we're going to do is we're going to set up a tracker for every incident of harm against journalists. And we're going to record it. We're going to make sure that these figures and these incidents are publicized and brought to the attention of the Security Council and all the governments on it, so that we keep up the pressure.

NEWTON: Aidan, do you have any hope that they will be putting that pressure to bear on the government?

WHITE: Well, I mean, I think only time will tell. We're going to see in the next year or so whether or not having adopted this resolution, the governments are really serious about it.

I don't think there's any doubt at all that we've got a serious opportunity here. The U.N. Secretary General has for the very first time got a mandate to produce an annual report on the problems facing journalists and media. And I think that is going to spotlight some of the problem governments. I think that is going to be very important.

But I think there's another issue that we've got to focus on as well from this report, which is it's not just governments who've actually got to change their approach. We've got to have a sea change in the approach from some within our own industry, within the media to actually take this issue far more seriously than they have up to date.

NEWTON: Are you suggesting that training isn't up to speed? What needs to be done there?

WHITE: Some media organizations, particularly in the print industry, wash their hands of this problem. They don't provide training for their journalists or media staff. They don't provide proper equipment.

And very often, journalists are put unnecessarily at risk because of that. So one of the aims of the institute is to try to build a culture of safety within the media as a whole. And I think this report shows that that is something that needs to be adopted urgently as a policy by media organizations themselves.

NEWTON: Don't you worry that people just won't go into the profession any longer, especially in developing countries where it's needed? You need them?

PINDER: Well, we've already seen some worrying evidence that some journalists in particularly dangerous situations, for example, Latin America where they're covering the drug trafficking, we hear the testimony that journalists are leaving that kind of reporting and going into softer areas, like show business, celebrity reporting, and all the rest.

So that is really a worry, because whenever a journalist is threatened and intimidated or God save us killed, then it shuts down a sort of information for the whole global community.

NEWTON: OK, gentlemen, thanks for joining us. I'm sure it's a conversation that will continue on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS.

Still to come on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, journalists as witnesses. A high profile trial in the U.S. raises questions on whether reporters should be forced to testify. Will the case set a precedent? Up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NEWTON: Welcome back. It's the trial that put journalists in the witness box. And in part, it was their testimony that led to the conviction of former White House aide Louis Scooter Libby.

He was accused of lying to federal investigators about who leaked the name of a CIA officer. In a moment, the potential implications for the media and journalists in naming their sources.

But first, Brian Todd with the details on how the case unfolded.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Prosecutors presented nine witnesses, current and former senior government and CIA officers and three prominent journalists, all directly contradicting Louis Scooter Libby's account of his conversations about CIA officer Valerie Plame.

She is married to Joseph Wilson, a harsh critic of the Bush administration's handling of intelligence regarding Iraq. In July 2003, he wrote a critical op-ed piece.

JEFFREY JACOBOVITZ, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: The evidence has showed is essentially panic stricken the White House was over this editorial by Joseph Wilson, and how they were trying to discredit his testimony.

TODD: Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald took the unusual step of playing audiotapes of Libby's entire grand jury testimony for the jury, including one exchange where he recounts what NBC's Tim Russert supposedly asked him.

SCOOTER LIBBY: Did you know that his wife works at the CIA?

PATRICK FITZGERALD, SPECIAL COUNSEL: And you said?

LIBBY: No, I don't know that.

FITZGERALD: And his response?

LIBBY: Yeah, all - something like yes, yeah, all the reporters know it.

TODD: Russert testified he couldn't have said that because he didn't know who that person was until several days later. The defense calls the case circumstantial, and tried to poke holes in the credibility of prosecution witnesses, like former "New York Times" reporter Judith Miller.

Defense lawyers also tried to make the point of how much was on Libby's plate. He was the vice president's chief of staff, as well as his national security adviser. Their contention, if Libby forgot details of the conversations in question, chalk it up to his critical national security workload and a bad memory.

Libby's lawyer surprised many by not having him take the stand in his own defense, and not calling Vice President Dick Cheney to testify, as was widely expected. Both men would have probably faced blistering cross examination by prosecutors.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NEWTON: The trial opens up a wide range of questions for the media. In particular, when it comes to journalists naming sources. Savannah Guthrie is a correspondent with Court TV. She sat in on the trial. And she joins us now from Washington.

Savannah, I can't imagine what it was like. You're a lawyer. You're a reporter. You sat through this every day. I mean, are you still scratching your head about the whole thing, especially when it came to the media's involvement in all this?

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, CORRESPONDENT, COURT TV: I think it was observed by the judge and a lot of people who watched this trial that Scooter Libby wasn't the only one who didn't look good coming out of this trial. The media didn't look great either.

I mean, we heard from reporters who had to testify against their sources. We saw a lot of sloppy note taking. And then we also saw the coziness that can exist sometimes between Washington reporters and their high level sources. And I don't think this trial does great things for the media's reputation.

NEWTON: We got a sense even from one of the jurors that they didn't think justice was served here. Do you think that the media is going to end up wearing that a little bit, too?

GUTHRIE: Well, I wonder what effect this will ultimately have on the media. I know that a lot of First Amendment groups are up in arms about special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald playing hardball in subpoenaing these reporters and forcing them to testify.

I take something of a different view. I don't feel like the prosecutor had a lot of choice here. This is not one of those situations where some prosecutor, for lack of a better word, is lazy and wants to go after reporter and subpoena that reporter to get all his or her notes about some investigation the reporter did.

In other words, to use the reporter as a short cut. Instead, this was a leak investigation. The crime was somebody allegedly leaking to a reporter. You want to talk to the leaker and you want to talk to the reporter. I don't think the prosecutor had much choice here.

NEWTON: You, being in that position as being, you know, a reporter and a lawyer, is there any way that any of us should be acting in future? What should we be doing differently? Do you think that people need to examine that cozy relationship anymore? Should all of us hide our notebooks? What should we be doing?

GUTHRIE: Well, it's interesting. You know, one of the pieces of testimony that came out had to do with Judith Miller, the former reporter for "The New York Times" to whom Libby leaked some of this information. And there was testimony about how she kept her notebooks in shopping bags under the desk.

And the defense made a big deal out of this and sort of embarrassed her about it. And all of us in the media room though, oh, where are my notebooks right now? And we saw a lot of very sloppy note taking.

I think that journalists need to be more conscientious. I hate to think of it, but really, we should all be doing our jobs wondering if held up to the light of day, if held up to the light of cross examination, would it hold up? Would our work hold up?

And I also think something very important has to happen. These terms that we all throw around in Washington off the record on background, on the record, I think that everybody, including reporters and sources, have different definitions of what those terms mean. And I know I personally, when I'm talking to somebody and they don't want to be quoted on the record, I want to be very explicit with that source.

OK, this is what on background means to me. OK, this is what I think I can do with this information. Do you agree? I think you've got to set out the ground rules, otherwise it just leads to a lot of trouble in the end.

NEWTON: So you think that in the end here then, the journalists have to take responsibility for the fact that they have to be specific? They have to know what they're reporting when, and who they're attributing that to, and the impact that it can have?

I think many times as journalists, we think to ourselves, look, we're just putting the information out there. And we kind of want to try and distance ourselves from that all the time. That's our instinct.

GUTHRIE: Well, I think it's true. I mean, we have to be careful with our sources. We have to not become too cozy with our sources.

But on the other hand, it's not a formal relationship. And a lot of times, there's a dance that goes on. You have to gain someone's trust. And sometimes that involves becoming friendly with a source.

But I just think we have to be really, really careful about what expectations are. And I think if this trial proves anything, it's that even though we may want there to be reporters privilege, meaning we can protect our sources and we don't have to testify in court, this trial proves that the federal courts don't think that that privilege exists.

The Supreme Court doesn't think that that privilege exists. And we may well be forced to testify or go to jail, whether we like it or not.

NEWTON: Oh, gosh, a sobering thought there. Thanks so much. Savannah Guthrie from Court TV, thanks for joining us.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, exercising restraint. British news outlets fight attempts to stop reports on the political funding inquiry. The e-mails you weren't supposed to read and how the media won its case. Up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NEWTON: Well, welcome back. You can't live with them, can't live without them. Journalists and government officials rely on each other to get a story across. Of course, they don't always see eye to eye.

In the past week, lawyers for British Prime Minister Tony Blair failed to stop the publication of a newspaper story about a possible cover-up in the so-called "cash for honors" inquiry. It's the investigation probing claims that political parties offered seats in the House of Lords in return for financial donations and loans on shall we say very favorable terms?

Media gags are usually reserved for stories about the royal family or celebrities. So let's delve into this issue right now, restraining news outlets. And joining me now in studio is Gary Gibbon. He's the political editor for Channel 4 News. And Mark Stephens, who deals a lot in these media law issues.

Thanks for joining us, gentlemen.

Gary, it has been an extraordinary week for us on the sidelines. We've kind of been stunned every day about the new rules - rulings from the judges. Tell us, what happens?

GARY GIBBON, POLITICAL EDITOR, CHANNEL 4 NEWS: I think it's been extraordinary for everybody in the media in legal affairs as well. The injunction is a pretty hefty gagging order, which is normally used, as you say, in privacy cases. And quite often, say a pop star's private life or something like that is being protected. It's not usually used in a situation like this where there isn't even a case in front of a jury.

And what's happened is the BBC got hold of the story about what's going on in the honors case. And they made what they may now reflect is the slight mistake of ringing up the police to check it. And the police applied to the attorney general for this gagging order.

And he granted it. Again, slight unusual departure, this from any normal practice. The problem then develops that not everybody's allowed to see that gagging order, don't even know the terms of it. It doesn't necessarily apply to everybody.

So a newspaper gets hold of the same story or a version of it from another source, goes to press with it. The judges try and stop that. They even make the point of re - saying to the editor do the people who are carrying out distributing your newspapers in a lorry, do they have mobile phones? Can we stop them?

And the newspaper editor rolls his eyes, smiles, and lets the vans go off. And the story gets out there anyway.

NEWTON: It was a situation where the BBC was scooped on its own scoop by "The Guardian" newspaper because of all these court dealings.

GIBBON: That's certainly what it feels like to some people inside the BBC. But the people at the top of the BBC are saying they acted with propriety. Had to do what the law was telling them to do, and had to check their story with the relevant authorities.

I think we're seeing a little bit here, some of the scars of what happened to the BBC over what became known as the David Kelly or the Hutton affair, the dossier affair. And I think the psychological scars of that may have dictated some of their actions in rather cautiously playing it strictly by the book when some people would have just gone straight to air or straight to press with the story.

MARK STEPHENS, MEDIA LAWYER: I think almost in cautious there. I think that one of the real things about this is that the management of the BBC has been coweled (ph) by the Hutton experience, where the government really bullied them over coverage of the death of Dr. David Kelly.

And as a result, they've been very sort of scared, really, to stand up to the government. And any other news organization would probably have said that this judge has got this decision wrong. Let's skip off straight off to the court of appeal because judges get things wrong all the time. You know, we have strong rules against prior restraint. And there's a consequence of that, of decades of law on our side. Let's go for it.

The BBC didn't do that. I mean, you know, days later, they're still finding themselves in a rather ludicrous situation, where you know, a paper reviews, they can't show the front page of "The Guardian." Or they can't show other newspapers when perhaps Sky or CNN or ITV are actually showing the front pages of these newspapers. And of course, they're on the newsstand, which is a ludicrous situation.

NEWTON: It was a stressful week in many editorial newsrooms this week. Wanted to know, though, from a legal point of view, at what point do you look at the government's behavior and say this is way out of bounds?

STEPHENS: This was just so off the reservation, that it, you know, you began to say where's my binoculars? Please can you, you know, this is unprecedented. In 30 years of legal practice involving cases involving the royal family, involving senior politicians, involving common criminals, I've never been involved in a case where an attorney general, whether conservative labor, whoever, has ever taken this kind of action. It is entirely unprecedented.

NEWTON: Gary, because of that, do you believe that the media now, if this happened again next week, would really function differently? They would behave differently?

GIBBON: Well, I think there's a - we had a story about the attorney general's legal opinion of the reasons for war and going to Iraq. And we made the decision on Channel 4 News that, reluctantly, we wouldn't actually ring the government first and tell them. We told them at about two minutes before transmission, because we were fairly sure that they would at least ponder, if not actually bring, some sort of gagging order on us.

Different circumstances. They would say it was a privileged document or something like that. Or a secret document shouldn't be out there in the government domain, not because of an impending trial.

But I think people might go down that route and not actually put things to people if they think the government's going to be what could be argued to be pretty heavy handed.

I should say I think the attorney general's almost - you can almost sympathize with him sometimes in these cases. This is normally a position in British public life with only lawyers like Markum and anorax (ph) like me would have heard of. But he's now on the front pages more often than anyone else.

And what happened here.

STEPHENS: (INAUDIBLE) than Tony Blair.

GIBBON: He is. He might even run for leadership. But the - what happens to him, he's sitting there. And the police come to him in this very sensitive case, saying that they want a gagging order. Attorney general working for a government that is under investigation is just going to say yes.

Whatever the police say, he's going to say yes. And I don't think he necessarily, he may reflect, look to this as carefully as he may have.

STEPHENS: I mean, he says that he didn't give special treatment, but you know, you have to think if this was any other case, it wouldn't have happened.

We've seen, you know, quite unbelievably intrusive coverage into police investigations, into some murders and (INAUDIBLE) and all sorts of gory crimes over the years. But as soon as it comes to a political crime, cash for honors, then suddenly.

NEWTON: Gag order.

STEPHENS: Gag order for the first time in history.

NEWTON: OK. Thank you, gentlemen, thanks for joining us. We'll continue to follow this issue as well.

Well, that wraps it up for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Join us next time for another look at how the media are handling the big issues.

I'm Paula Newton in London. Thanks for joining us.

END

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