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Zimbabwe Accuses Media of Bias; Italian Journalist Freed in Afghanistan; Reporting on Slavery

Aired March 23, 2007 - 14:00:00   ET


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.
This week, the diplomatic pressure mounts on Zimbabwe, as Hirare accuses Western media outlets of bias.

Freedom for an Italian journalist kidnapped in Afghanistan. And reporting on a taboo. The challenges of covering topics like slavery.

We begin in Zimbabwe. And tensions between the government, the West, and media. The regime of President Robert Mugabe has come under intense criticism, accused of cracking down on opponents with brutal force. And fans were ignited after members of Zimbabwe's main opposition group said they were beaten and detained for participating in rallies.

Robert Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since they gained independence in 1980. It's a country with inflation, an excessive 1700 percent, and unemployment estimated at 80 percent.

Well reporting on events inside Zimbabwe has been particularly difficult, as Western news outlets like CNN and the BBC are banned from the African nation.

For some perspective, I'm joined from Bright Bridge on the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe by CNN's Jeff Koinange. Wilson Mbanga, a Zimbabwean journalist who lives in exile here in Britain. He's also the founder and editor of the Zimbabwe newspaper. And from New York by the Zimbabwean ambassador to the United Nations, Boniface Chidyausiku.

Jeff Koinange on the border with Zimbabwe, you're unable to enter the country, right?

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN AFRICA CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And that's because the government of Robert Mugabe says we are essentially enemies of the state.

In fact, where we're standing right now, Zimbabwe's a kilometer behind me. We can't go in, but that doesn't mean we can't cover this story. And what people like Robert Mugabe don't understand, Fionnuala, is the more you restrict the international press, the more they will find ways to get in.

SWEENEY: Oh, well, I'll have to turn to the ambassador straight away for that one. I'm sure you have a response to that comment by Jeff, ambassador?

BONIFACE CHIDYAUSIKU, ZIMBABWEAN AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Well, when people go into Zimbabwe to confirm their perceptions, then they've not (INAUDIBLE) Zimbabwe.

SWEENEY: But how do you know that their perceptions need to be confirmed in the first place and that that's what they're doing?

CHIDYAUSIKU: From practical experience, the reportage that we get on Zimbabwe from major news media is that we see one sided show trying to confirm a certain perception about Zimbabwe.

SWEENEY: Because you don't like what you're seeing?

CHIDYAUSIKU: People used to be allowed to go to Zimbabwe. But when they were in Zimbabwe, they were reporting stories that they wanted to report that way (INAUDIBLE) to the government that was Zimbabwe.

They did not report anything positive about the government of Zimbabwe. The progress we have made in Zimbabwe.

SWEENEY: What progress have you made, if you mind me asking, in terms of inflation at 1700 percent and unemployment at 80 percent?

CHIDYAUSIKU: Well, we came into Zimbabwe 1980 with one university. We have more than 13 universities to date. There's no other country in Africa which has been that double strike.

SWEENEY: Let me talk to Wilson Mbanga. You're the founder of the Zimbabwe newspaper. You're in exile from Zimbabwe for the last four years. What do you have to say in terms of the situation - the reportage? Are people giving a one sided perception of the view of what's taken place in Zimbabwe?

WILSON MBANGA, EXILED JOURNALIST: Well, if Zimbabwe has got nothing to hide, they should allow foreign journalists to come and see for themselves. They are denying access to Zimbabwe - to foreign journalists because they have something to hide.

It is true that Zimbabwe today has more than 18 universities. That's true. There have been gains. But it is also true to say that Zimbabwe today one in four live in exile. Why are they leaving the country if everything is fine?

We have Zimbabweans now poorer today than they were in 1953. So the situation in Zimbabwe for the average Zimbabwean is worse off now than it was in 1980.

SWEENEY: Jeff Koinange, let me turn to you again. You say that the more that people are prevented - journalists - from entering Zimbabwe, the more the story will get out. Without obviously giving any sources away, how easy or difficult is it to get information about what's happening inside the country?

KOINANGE: Very easy, Fionnuala. I think Zimbabweans are sick and tired of being suppressed and repressed by this regime that's been there for 27 years, and are more open.

They want to tell their story because another reason is they'll find out that the rest of the world isn't going to solve Zimbabwe's problems. They are going to have to solve their own problems.

So they're beginning to tell their story. You stick a camera in their faces, you go into their lives, spend some time in their lives, they will tell you their story, because now more than ever, they believe they can finally make that change.

And even as Robert Mugabe declared last week that he wants to run for another six year term, Zimbabweans are sick and tired. Even within his own Zanopea (ph) party, they don't want him to stand for president. They want him aside.

But again, Fionnuala, you know Robert Mugabe. He's going to go down fighting if he does indeed go down.

SWEENEY: Ambassador, may I ask why Jeff Koinange of CNN is not allowed into Zimbabwe to report?

CHIDYAUSIKU: You can hear from what he says, he calls my government a regime. He calls my president all those bad names. Where would we want him into Zimbabwe when he has such an attitude?


KOINANGE: Well, as - you know what, Fionnuala? We've tried to interview President Mugabe on countless occasions, despite what the ambassador is saying that we tell one side of the story.

I'll give you one quick example. We sent our bureau chief and our camera man to Zimbabwe last week. They called ahead in advance and told the president's P.A. that they were coming in. They were only to have a meeting so they could have an interview with the president.

As soon as they arrived at the airport in Hirare, went to immigration, they were handed their boarding cards to go back on the flight outside the country. That's the welcome they got. That's the kind of attitude they had. And with that kind of attitude, we cannot stop this momentum. We have to keep reporting over and over again until they realize they cannot suppress the press.

SWEENEY: And Wilson Mbanga?

MBANGA: You know, it's not only the foreign press that's not allowed to operate from Zimbabwe. Even the independent press, the government has closed down. Five newspapers in the last three years. These are independent Zimbabwean newspapers.

Over 100 Zimbabwean journalists have been arrested one time or another.

SWEENEY: Ambassador?

CHIDYAUSIKU: When you look on the Internet, there's so much new independent news reportage from Zimbabwe. When you look, we have the independent - "The Financial Gazette." We have "The Mirror." Those are independent newspapers in Zimbabwe. There are a number of newspapers in Zimbabwe.

MBANGA: No, "The Mirror" has closed down in the last - the week or so. So you're information is out of date. In any case, it was.

CHIDYAUSIKU: The independent report.

MBANGA: No, it was bought by the spy agency, the CIO. They owned "The Mirror." That effect.

SWEENEY: When you talk about agencies like CNN and the BBC being agents of the state, are not the media that remain in Zimbabwe also agents of the state?

CHIDYAUSIKU: No. What I'm saying is that we have independent press in Zimbabwe. "The Independent" is not owned by anybody. It's an independent newspaper. "The Financial Gazette" is an independent newspaper. They do operate in Zimbabwe.

The Internet - we have various independent Internet websites on Zimbabwe that are operational. Any information you want on Zimbabwe, you don't have to be there. (INAUDIBLE) run away from Zimbabwe, based in London. And you know, you cannot say that there's no independent press in Zimbabwe.

MBANGA: Well, there's only "The Independent," which is truly independent. "The Financial Gazette," as you know yourself, if owned by the CIO. And so does "The Mirror," which is closed down.

So that is all, you know, in Zimbabwe that - you know, that is truly independent.

SWEENEY: Jeff, there may be a point with which you almost agree with (INAUDIBLE) in that he says one doesn't have to be in Zimbabwe to report. But presumably from your point of view would be because the information is somehow trickling out anyway?

KOINANGE: It's trickling out. And it's going to continue trickling out. And as this government continues to suppress the opposition even more when they continue to beat the opposition into a pulp, send them to the hospital, that's going to highlight it even more.

They don't realize it, but this is having a negative effect on the ruling party. Because Morgan Changura (ph) and the other leaders of the opposition. They become heroes in essence. And now it looks like the momentum is building and building. And it's going to reach a crescendo. And this is where it's going to be critical. Will Zimbabwe reel over onto the edge of the cliff? Or will it be pulled back?

This is very critical. It's not just about Robert Mugabe anymore. It's about a country's survival.

SWEENEY: Ambassador, the final word to you?

CHIDYAUSIKU: Yes. Morgan Changura (ph) is a hero of Koinange and the Western press and the Western governments. But back home, he's not a hero to anybody.

When somebody, you know, this causes violence. The state has to react. We are concerned by the reports we get on Zimbabwe concentrates on what has happened to Morgan Changura (ph) and his followers.

SWEENEY: So what is it again about to be in Hirare's interest, to let the press in and report then on what you believe to be the true case of the story to be?

CHIDYAUSIKU: Yes, but for the CNN, it took you 10 tens to speak to my Minister of Information. Were you not interested in talking to him? You only spoke to him yesterday.


KOINANGE: No, we spoke to him long before yesterday. In fact, we spoke to George Turembeau (ph), who I know you know very well. We've been e-mailing him and faxing him the last three months. And he totally ignores our e-mails and our faxes.

It was when the crew arrived at the airport and they were turned back, that we realized oh, so he does get our faxes. So why doesn't he reply? He just replies when it's convenient for him.

And you know, you talk about heroes, ambassador. Come on, let's be fair here. Robert Mugabe was our hero growing up. For the first 10 years of his rule, I admit it. He was the hero of most of Africa.

But since 1990 on down, he has completely driven his country, your country right to the edge of the abyss. And it's about to go over the cliff and take the entire country with him. Come on, that is not heroism. That's just over staying his welcome.

SWEENEY: Wilson?

MBANGA: Well, I think it's disingenuous for the ambassador to talk of, you know, Morgan Changura (ph) is a violent man. When he knows that - when Morgan Changura (ph) went to this prayer meeting on the 11th of March, it was the police who unleashed violence for him. He has scars to show it.

And yes, the government - nobody was heard from the government of what violence he did this against. He has never been prosecuted. Why wasn't he prosecuted for violence?

SWEENEY: All right, we'll have to leave that as a rhetorical question. Wilson Mbanga here in London, Jeff Koinange on the border with Zimbabwe who may not be getting a visa any time soon, and Ambassador Chidyausiku in New York, Zimbabwean ambassador to the United Nations, thank you very much for joining us.

Well still to come on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, freedom for an Italian journalist held hostage in Afghanistan, but at what cost? That story when we return.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. He made the headlines gathering the news. Italian journalist Daniela Mastrogiacomo was freed after being kidnapped in the Helmund Province of southern Afghanistan. The reporter spent two weeks in captivity and returned to his homeland on Tuesday.

As Becky Anderson explains, the terms that led to his release continue to stir debate.


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE) Military Airport, the scene of an emotional reunion, a homecoming that almost didn't happen.

For Taliban hostage Daniel Mastrogiacomo has arrived home. The Afghan government agreed to free five Taliban militants in exchange for his release.

During his two week ordeal of being bound by hand and foot, Mastrogiacomo, a reporter for Italian newspaper "La Republica," was forced to watch the beheading of his driver and move to 15 different locations.

DANIELE MASTROGIACOMO, FREED JOURNALIST (through translator): When you're being threatened with death, when they kill the driver, when you realize that your life is in danger, you live in a state of dream, not connected to reality.

It guards the sovereignty of a nation, its autonomy. And if it manages to say the human mind, then for me, this is positive.

ANDERSON: But national sentiment is clearly divided. Italian newspaper "Il Manifesto" proclaims the agreement was the right way. Whereas "Libero's" front page retorts the government has sold out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I don't think it's right to come to terms with these people. It kind of defeats everything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): A human life is a human life. You need to try everything possible to save a human life. Right or wrong, I think it's right.

ANDERSON: The Taliban has claimed the exchange of victory, casting a shadow on Mastrogiacomo's newfound freedom. Five for the price of one may seem like a good deal in the eyes of the Taliban that reinforces that hostage taking is worthwhile.

ALESSIO ALTICHIERI, CORRIERE DELTA SERRA NEWSPAPER: If I were in the shoes of a terrorist, I would try to hijack an Italian now, not an American, not a British. So at a certain point, the damage has been inflicted on the Italians.

ANDERSON: For now, a life has been saved. But Romano Prodi's government cannot ignore the strong criticism it's received that negotiating with terrorists will only open a door on which they will keep knocking.

Becky Anderson, CNN, London.


SWEENEY: Turning to the other front in the war on terror, the world marked the fourth anniversary of the U.S. led invasion of Iraq. It came as an international media watchdog group reported the deaths of two more Iraqi journalists.

Hamid al Delemi, a producer for al Negran TV was found dead Monday after being abducted as he left the station. And editor of "The Daily Al Safir," Hussein al Jaberi died in hospital after being ambushed outside his Baghdad home last month.

Reporters without Borders say 155 media staffers have died in Iraq in the past four years.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, slavery from past to present. Reporting on a sensitive subject, we'll examine the challenges for journalists after the break.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. A 12-year old boy sold for less than $50. A girl the same age sold to a brothel. A six-year old boy trafficked to beg on the streets for a gang master.

Child slavery, it's a sensitive issue and it's the subject of a BBC documentary to mark the 200th anniversary of the evolution of slavery in Great Britain.

Reporter Rageh Omaar sets out to define slavery in the modern world. Here's a sample.


RAGEH OMAAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Hagesa, the capitol of Somalia land. And it's where my parents live. Every day as they go about their business, they'll encounter children at work. It's inevitable. Like so many cities in the world struggling to rebuild from war, there's really great poverty here. And many families rely on the income of working children.

After a number of meetings between Aran and Malawi's family, the final phase of his sale takes place in the home of Malawi's relatives. His elder siblings are present. It's a formalized ritualized occasion. And only now is the price agreed.


SWEENEY: Reporting on such topics like slavery raises many issues. And joining me in the studio is Rageh Omaar, the presenter of the BBC's documentary, "Slave Children." And CNN's Alphonso Van Marsh, who compiled a series of reports on the savory issue for this network.

Rageh, what strikes one there in that clip that we've just seen is that that sale exchange looks as though it's perfectly normal piece of business.

RAGEH OMAAR, PRESENTER, SLAVE CHILDREN: Well, I mean, in so many examples around the world, not just that one in Ghana, I mean, slavery and as it relates to children is part of the economic cycle and the economic system. People are driven to it out of poverty. And people explain it away in many different guises.

I mean, Malawi's mother and other people see it as an apprenticeship, rather than enslaving a child. And of course, Arun on the fishing (INAUDIBLE) for whom Malawi's going to work for cooperated with us and helped us in the making of this, and wasn't someone who, you know, had a record of sort of abusing people. And certainly by his conduct, he didn't come across as that.

But certainly, one thing we found in making this is that it may be normalized, but everyone accepts that this is a practice that is immoral, that it is somehow stained and is unacceptable in this day and age.


OMAAR: No. I mean, some people do explain it as well this is something, it's part of tradition, it's how it's always happened. This is the way things are done here.

But increasingly, even within the Ghanaian government and many of the other countries we visited, there's a recognition by the countries whether in Africa or elsewhere that laws need to be not only written, but put into effect to stop this, that this is universally unacceptable.

SWEENEY: Alphonso, you've just done a series on slavery and - to mark the evolution of slavery in Great Britain of 200 years ago. Slavery, of course, in those days really built up empires. It made empires. Whereas today, it's much more of a global economy.

ALPHONSO VAN MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And that's why it's such an emotional topic. Even 200 years later, people feel that the Britain that we live in today was built on the riches built in the backs of enslaved Africans.

And we even see now leadership here trying to say is it appropriate to apologize for it. There are some people that will argue what happened was a long time, the people that were responsible were long dead and gone. But then there are others who say the prosperity of this country and in other countries that participated in the slave trade, they wouldn't have this prosperity were it not for those earlier efforts, that earlier slave labor.

SWEENEY: And how did you find that when you were actually doing the series, making the documentaries, how did you find people were in responding to the role that Britain may have played 200 years ago?

VAN MARSH: Well, it was really eye opening because as I mentioned, it is such an emotional issue.

For example, if you look at what some would call a modern form of slavery, human trafficking, the bringing of a woman from other countries into Britain, some of them coerced, some of them duped into thinking they're getting better jobs or a better life, and in essence, they're in essence prostitutes. They're made to work in the sex industry against their will.

You talk to some people advocating, and we need to get.


VAN MARSH: .indentured and servitude. They say well, why don't you just walk out of that hotel room or out of that brothel and start your life up again? But there's a climate of fear, the same kind of fear that existed with slavery so long ago that exists today. They're afraid to leave.

OMAAR: And that's what makes it slavery in the modern sense is that if you were to come up with a definition that someone who's not only exploits it, but you know, kept in a brutal condition but who cannot escape that, they're being exploited, but there's no way out for them. And I think that's what brings it up to date 200 years after the abolition of slavery in Britain.

We can say there is modern slavery. Is that people are forced into this situation and often sort of children, that they can't escape it.

SWEENEY: On your travels as you made this series, Rageh, how did you find people towards you? Were they responsive? Were they happy to be filmed? Were they happy to talk?

OMAAR: It took us a very long time to gain, not only the access, but the trust. And we were very, very conscious in this. We didn't just want to parachute in, get our story and pictures and leave, because what we wanted to do was actually bring an audience to witness, not just describe modern slavery, but actually to witness the moments in which, for example, you know, a boy is sold or a girl, Dalan, in Cambodia is liberated from a sort of a brothel, where she was sold into when she was 12 and kept in a cage beneath a floor.

But that put an enormous amount of responsibility on us to sort of duty of care. We couldn't just sort of leave afterwards. And that what was very difficult about making this documentary.

And also, I think describing the situation through the eyes and voices of children. I think there's reports, as we often you know interview child soldiers and child prostitutes around the world, but we often speak to charity workers, aid workers, activists. And rarely just follow the story from A to Z in the voices of children. And that's what we've tried to do, as sensitively and as intimately as we could.

SWEENEY: Alphonso Van Marsh, Rageh Omaar, thank you both very much.

And that is all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Tune again next time for another look at how the media are handling the big issues.

I'm Fionnuala Sweeney in London. Thanks for joining us.



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