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French Election Coverage; Russian Protests Overstated by Foreign Journalists?; Coverage of Virginia Tech Shootings

Aired April 20, 2007 - 14:30:00   ET


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Fionnuala Sweeney in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we turn the lens on the news media.
This week, protests in Russia. International news outlets are accused of playing up opposition demonstrations. And going to the polls, we look at the media's treatment of the French presidential elections.

We begin in the United States from the country's worst shooting incident in modern history. Cho Seung Hui's murderous rampage at Virginia Tech attracted wall to wall news coverage, not only in the U.S., but around the globe. Much of that material was generated by eyewitnesses. Some came from the gunman himself.

As investigators trying to piece together what happened, they have the advantage of studying evidence captured on camera by those at the scene, including these images from student Jamal Albarghouti.


JAMAL ALBARGHOUTI, STUDENT: When I saw policeman drawing - taking out his gun and started to looking at a certain - looking for a target to shoot, it was then when I decided to use my camera.


SWEENEY: In a moment, we'll examine how mobile phone video formed a key part of news coverage of the shooting.

First, this report from Chris Lawrence.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): To a trained eye, this exclusive video contains clues about what happened inside.

AARON COHEN, IMS TERROR SCHOOL: Those shots are coming from the same way. Those are consistent. One, two, three, four, five, six shots - seven shots.

LAWRENCE: Aaron Cohen is a former Israeli counterterrorism expert, who trains SWAT teams to ruggedly respond inside schools.

COHEN: This is the real deal. This is a high capacity magazine. What we have here, if you guys can go ahead and freeze this for one second, what we've got here is we've got an urban environment. This is very similar to Iraq, actually. And the distances, the proximity in this type of urban environment is really conducive for a handgun.

LAWRENCE: Which tells Cohen the shooter could have blended in the campus, and didn't need to be an expert shot.

COHEN: And the types of weapons that you can deploy in order to create maximum effectiveness really is nothing more than being this far away from somebody.

LAWRENCE: Just based on the limited video he's seen, Cohen would have gone in very aggressively

COHEN: You got to get as many guns in that building as possible.

LAWRENCE: We freezed the video to examine officers preparing to bust in.

COHEN: It appears to be that they are deploying with long rifles, which law enforcement is sort of keeping in their cars as a result of Columbine.

The problem here, and the problem I have with this scenario, was that I don't see any movement. I need to see guys gone. I need to see them sprinting towards the threat.

LAWRENCE: Police say two doors of the building were chained from the inside. And by the time officers got to the second floor, the shooting was over.


SWEENEY: Those images and others were broadcast around the globe within a matter of hours, highlighting the value of citizen journalism to the media.

For more, I'm joined by CNN's Internet correspondent Jacki Shechner. She's in our Washington bureau. And here in the studio by Van Hill, the director of web and broadcast with Monocle, the magazine with a major web- based broadcast component.

Jacki, it is the TV or rather mobile phone video of Jamal Albarghouti which was shown within hours of the shooting taking place. I mean, we've seen this with the July 7th bombings here in London, video captured on mobile phone. But how new a departure is this? And is it becoming very commonplace now to find this kind of video being broadcast on the more conventional terrestrial networks, satellite networks even?

JACKI SCHECHNER, INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: Very much so. I think the audience in TV consumers are much more accustomed to seeing amateur video. I think that we've jumped over that hurdle of being concerned that it's not professional looking video.

They're more willing to accept something that has been shot by someone on a digital camera, on a cellphone, and not by a professional videographer.

So I think we've definitely crossed that bridge. And we're on the other side of it at this point.

Also, I just wanted to add, it wasn't even within hours, it was basically within an hour. You know, we announced on CNN that this had taken place at 10:06. The first i-report came to us through's new i-report function, where people can send in their videos and their photos and their stories. Less than an hour later, and Jamal's video was here to us by 11:08 a.m. We had it vetted and on the area within a half an hour.

So it was - it almost instantaneous as those sorts of circumstances can be. And it received, you know, two million hits within I think it was the first 24 hours. People going to

So we were showing it repeatedly on our air, but people were also going to the Internet and seeking it out themselves.

SWEENEY: And in a wider sense here, Dan, you know, a lot of people were reading about the accounts. And even journalists getting their information of what happened in Virginia Tech through student blogs.


SWEENEY: This really brings home the immediacy of, you know, instant self journalism these days and diaries. And where does it leave us as journalists, you know, in terms of filtering? And what does it behold for the future?

HILL: I think it's - this filtering role is incredibly important. I mean, in the sense citizen media or whatever you want to call it isn't new at all. If you think - one of the most famous piece of footage of the 20th century is the Zapruder footage of John F. Kennedy's assassination, shot by a guy on a camera, you know, a little sort of Sony camera that he had at the time.

What's different now is that the speed of it, as Jacki said. You know, and the number of things coming in. So imagine a similar event now. You probably have 20,000 people in a crowd like that, each of whom can take a picture, of which 20 percent might be taking video.

So it's what you do with all of that stuff. How do you make the story as with the noise generated by 20,000 people with video cameras basically?

And that's where I think, again, traditional journalism comes in as the filtering process.

SCHECHNER: I think it's changing, too, in that people are learning to work together with traditional media outlets. It used to be that we would go to sites like youtube. We would scour the Internet to look for things like this, these citizen journalism reports when something happened. Now because we've set up the system, people are pushing content to us. They know this is the fastest way for us to find it.

As Dan was saying, sometimes it is difficult to find things on youtube. So this is the fastest way people are finding to get their information to us, to get it out into a broadcast medium.

SWEENEY: We'll have to leave it there. Jacki Schechner, thank you very much indeed for joining us from Washington, D.C., Dan Hill here in London.

Still to come on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, voicing opposition in Russia. News outlets are accused of playing up protests against the Kremlin. Stay with us.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. Opposition groups in Russia are vowing to continue their protests against the Kremlin to fight recent clashes with police that saw hundreds of people arrested.

Among those detained briefly were members of the media. Senior international correspondent Matthew Chance has our report.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Opposition leaders call it `the heavy hand of the Russian authorities', breaking up the country's latest unauthorized pro-democracy march. Hundreds turned out to the city of St. Petersburg, but were met with force. Police say demonstrators provoked the clashes and tried to break security cordons.

Opposition activists say democracy in Russia is under threat. And dissenting voices are silenced under President Vladimir Putin. They say this kind of police action only bolsters their support.

GARRY KASPAROV: This number increases every time. And people show determination and willingness to join these rallies, even knowing that there will be a great danger for their physical safety.

CHANCE (on camera): This was meant to be a show of force by the Russian opposition, but there quite simply haven't been the turnout of people the organizers had hoped for. And the response of the authorities here has been tough.

(voice-over): Russian officials say the opposition campaign threatens to destabilize the country, but organizers say the crackdown exposes the true nature of Russia's authoritarian regime.

MIKHAIL KASYANOV, FORMER RUSSIAN PRIME MINISTER: Just all the few thousand people here just those protestors who want democratic Russia. And against them, 20,000 military. There's military (INAUDIBLE). That's absolutely incredible. That's beyond any imagination what could happen in democratic country.

CHANCE: And Russian opposition activists say they won't easily give up, vowing to build support for their cause in the weeks and the months ahead.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


SWEENEY: While Germany and the U.S. criticize the heavy handed tactics by police at the demonstrations, the Kremlin said foreign media outlets played up the protests.

For more, I'm joined by Yevgenia Albats, a prominent Russian journalist and host of a radio talk show at Eco of Moscow. And here in the studio, by former advisor to Boris Yeltsin and now freelance journalist, Alexander Nekrasov.

Yevgenia, you were at the protest on Sunday. What were they like?

YEVGENIA ALBATS, JOURNALIST: It was very tough. It also - I don't remember anything like that since Soviet times. And you know, I worked as a reporter under Soviets. I should tell you it was very hard. And the police didn't people - they were blood in the streets. A couple of journalists were very badly hurt.

And I want to believe that there will be in some near future a due process that will bring these people, who ordered the bidding of the people on the streets of Moscow and on the streets of St. Petersburg, to justice.

SWEENEY: Alexander Nekrasov, I mean, how likely is that hope of Yevgenia to actually materialize?

ALEXANDER NEKRASOV, JOURNALIST: Well, I don't really see that happening. I think what we can deduce from what happened over the weekend is that the Kremlin doesn't really care what the outside world thinks about its policies.

I think that's now primarily targeted at the domestic audience. I think that in the next several months, or actually the leading to December elections of the duma (ph) and the presidential elections, there will be very strange things happening in Russia. And what I'm seeing now is - and it worries me now is that President Putin seems to think that he can get away with anything.

SWEENEY: But it's precisely because of the outside media coverage of those demonstrations that allowed the United States and Germany to condemn what has taken place.

NEKRASOV: That's the point I'm making, because they knew perfectly well that that will be broadcast on television. They knew perfectly well that we would see (INAUDIBLE) charges by the police beatings off of people. We heard Garry Kasparov, the opposition leader, shouting from the police van, tell your leaders it's a police state.

So as a PR exercise in the eyes of the West, it was a disaster, but they don't care.

SWEENEY: Yevgenia, in Moscow, how much coverage and what kind of coverage did this receive in Moscow in newspapers and on television?

ALBATS: There was almost no coverage on the state owned or state affiliated TV news channels. However, there was plenty of coverage on the Internet and my magazine, in which I'm political editor of. "The New Times" has its own website. So we had our reporters out on the streets. We taped three hours of what was happening on the streets of Moscow and then later on the streets of St. Petersburg with the Portuguese.

And we put these videotapes for download on our website. So everyone who ever wanted to see the reality of those days in Moscow, and (INAUDIBLE) were able and still are able to download those videos from our website.

SWEENEY: And do you know how many people have actually accessed those websites?

ALBATS: Hundred - yes. 108,000 people. 108,000 people visited the website in the first two days.

SWEENEY: And do you know whether or not there have been any attempts to close down websites such as this in the past in Russia?

ALBATS: Yes, there was an attack. There was a couple of attacks on the website. And a couple of times, the website went down.

Then there was certain prevention from the site of who - you know, I don't want to speculate who did that, but we assume that that was government agencies, who create a couple of other problems for the website.

However, you know, there's nothing new for us. And trust me, you know, I lived under Soviets. So we do know how to operate in that kind of reality.

SWEENEY: That's a very ominous statement that Yevgenia makes. And in the run up to the presidential elections next year, you say this was to come in your opinion?

NEKRASOV: Well, I think that first of all Yevgenia mentions 108,000 people. That's not a lot compared to the first state national channel of 107 and something million viewers. So we are seeing that the coverage is sort of, you know.

SWEENEY: Is that because of the coverage?

NEKRASOV: Well, no, no, no. I'm just saying that the coverage was not given by the state media.


NEKRASOV: And what I've read before coming here, for example, this Western newspaper came up with a big story saying that of course all of those protests were funded by Boris Barizovsky (ph), were funded by the Americans. So look to the West. That's where the danger's coming from.

We're seeing in exactly the same way as in "The Soviet Times" that their position leaders and any sort of opposition is immediately labeled traitors.

SWEENEY: We'll have to leave it there. We're out of time, but thank you both very much. Yevgenia Albats in Moscow and also here in the studio, Alexander Nekrasov.

Now still to come on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, French voters go to the polls to elect a new president. We examine how the media have covered the campaign. That's next.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. 12 candidates for one job, it's the first round of voting in France this weekend to find a replacement for the outgoing President Jacques Chirac.

The race is currently dominated by four candidates with posters indicating the race is still too close to call. If no one wins the majority in Sunday's votes, a run off will be held on May 6th between the two top candidates from the first round.

With a record number of contenders, it poses an extra challenge for news outlets. Under campaign rules, the main television and radio stations must give candidates equal coverage in their news broadcasts.

Well, for more on their coverage of the campaign, I'm joined by Ruth Elkrief, journalist and anchor for BFM Television in France. And here in London by Pierre Luccau of the news agency Agence France Presse.

Ruth in Paris, presidential elections in any country are obviously very important, but what if anything distinguishes this election from previous ones?

RUTH ELKRIEF, ANCHOR BFM TELEVISION: I think there has been incredible interest first of all from the French people, the young people who are very interested in this election and it's pretty new.

The second thing is that there are a lot of new TV channels, news TVs, and a lot of foreign journalists who followed this election. And it's also something new for us.

And third and last thing is that this campaign has been also on the web, on the websites with the bloggers. The whole campaign has been very intense on the web. And for us as journalists, it was the first time also that we had these new media competing with us all the time.

But also, where a lot of information were coming out. And we had to treat them after.

SWEENEY: Pierre Luccau, the international media has focused on Segoline Royal being a woman, also focusing on perhaps Nicolas Sarcozy as being the harbinger of change. How much is that reflected within French journalism in this campaign?

PIERRE LUCCAU, LONDON BUREAU CHIEF, AFP: Well, it has been greatly reflected. I mean, as Ruth was saying, I mean, there has been a tremendous interest, not only in France on the - because of this new media scene since last five years, but here - I mean, in the international press.

If you look in the U.S. or here in London, I mean, there has been an incredible coverage. And then you have some - I mean, this feminine of bloggers of Internet sites. But also the role of polls. I mean, there have never been so many polls in France during a political campaign.

So it adds to this uncertainty and to this interest for a new generation of political leaders, not only because Segoline is a woman, which adds to the tremendous interest. She's smiling. I mean, and she's young, but Sarcozy is the same generation in the early 50s.

And then you have this third man, Francois Berut, which also is in the same level of newcomers in French politics, where for so many years, we have had the same people.

Look at you know, Jacques Chirac. I mean, you know, he's - when he has been elected the first time as a prime minister, Leonid Breshnev was the aide of the Kremlin in the USSR, this country where (INAUDIBLE).

SWEENEY: That, of course, going back some years. And in fact, you talk, Pierre, about the last five years and the advancements that have been made in terms of media coverage.

Ruth, let me ask you with this new advent of the bloggers on French society and these elections, what impact, if anything, has it had on the campaign itself?

ELKRIEF: I think it interested a lot of young people. I was telling you I think they are not watching so much TV, the traditional channels. And so they followed the campaign on the Internet. And it's a new way of making - of being committed in politics, who - which began with this campaign on the web.

So it's very interesting because you did not need to have a card of this party to be a militant of a party to be interested to the campaign or to express your sympathy to a candidate.

So we saw the whole campaign. Each candidate having not one or two sides, but many ones. You had also this competition. I told you, with us as downlists.

SWEENEY: Pierre, please?

LUCCAU: Yes, I think the key word is `interactive' as the level of the media because of, you know, the Internet websites, because of these bloggers, but also the same thing at the political level.

You look at Segoline Royal, for example, what she calls the debat participative in fact is the same thing that, you know, what we call town meeting in the United States. And - but it was pretty new for France. It's, you know, direct contact between political figures. And the people were able to ask questions.

Same thing on the TV shows. I mean, they're not been debate between candidates. There have not been really debate between a candidate and journalist, asking question. It was debate between the candidate and people chosen through polls.

SWEENEY: And yet with all this interest.

ELKRIEF: And this one of the regrets we can have as journalists. We saw and we said that this was an incredible campaign, passionate campaign, right. But also, we are very disappointed because all the problems that the issues has been quartered, but never deeply treated, never deeply taken mysteriously by journalists in front of the candidates.

And ah, we hope very intensely that the - the second ballot, in the second tour, there will be debate between the candidates and also real interviews between experts, journalists, serious ones, and the candidates, because it's also one of the consequences. It has been a campaign of people.

We had not in real deep debate on the issues and on - for instance the globalization, for instance the place of France in the world.

SWEENEY: Well, many, many issues raised and to be discussed at greater length. Ruth Elkrief in Paris, thank you very much indeed for joining us. And Pierre Luccau here London of AFP, thank you also.

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

I'm Fionnuala Sweeney. Thanks for joining us.



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