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State of World Media; BP Chief Resigns; Reporting on Africa

Aired May 4, 2007 - 20:30:00   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 handling the big stories.
This week, the boss of BP steps down after a newspaper wins a court battle to publish details about his private life. Mapping out press freedoms, a survey on the state of the world media. And reporting Africa - dominated by negative news, we look at the side of the continent that is often overlooked.

But we begin here in Britain and the resignation of BP Chief Executive John Browne. He left his post after losing a court battle to block "The Mail" on Sunday from publishing details about his private life. In a moment, we'll examine the media frenzy and its motivation behind the story.

First, this report from Jim Bolden.


JIM BOLDEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A sterling career ending in disgrace. BP CEO John Browne stepped down Tuesday, after he admitted to lying in court about how he met his gay lover.

Browne resigned after his legal appeals to prevent a newspaper group from publishing details about their relationship failed. Browne's ex-boyfriend made allegations about Browne and his use of BP resources.

In court documents, the newspaper quotes the ex-boyfriend, Jeff Chevalier, as saying Browne misused company funds and discussed confidential information.

BP says an internal investigation has found no wrongdoing on Browne's part. And for his part, Browne categorically denies allegations of improper conduct regarding BP.

In a further statement released by BP, Browne says he's always regarded his sexuality as a private matter, but he also admitted he lied in court about how he first met Chevalier, his lover of four years.

BP's chairman said in a statement that it was a tragedy that Browne should be compelled by his sense of honor to resign in these painful circumstances. He was popular in financial circles.

DAVID BULK, BGC PARTNERS: His resignation was one of great sorrow, immense surprise. And obviously, people are very, very saddened for him because he was a tremendous icon in British industry and commerce.

BOLDEN: Under Browne's stewardship, BP grew into an enormous oil company. After taking over U.S. oil companies Amoco and Arco and expanding into Russia, Browne was due to retire this July, but that was already 18 months earlier than originally planned. He brought forward the date after BP was slammed for its safety record concerning an oil spill in Alaska and a deadly fire in Texas in 2005.

Jim Bolden, CNN, London.


SWEENEY: "The Mail' on Sunday is part of the group that sought to have the court injunction lifted in order to make public allegations against Browne. The original business story it was investigating was still subject to an injunction at the time this program was being taped.

Phil Black spoke to the paper's editor Peter Wright and asked him why they fought this battle through the courts.


PETER WRIGHT, EDITOR, MAIL ON SUNDAY: We still felt, and this was a very important story which should be published. We then discovered that he had lied in a series of witness statements. And I think that lying to a court under oath is an extremely serious matter.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Is Lord Browne's private life newsworthy?

WRIGHT: It is newsworthy if he goes to a court and tells lies about it. You can't lie to a court.


SWEENEY: That was Peter Wright, editor of "The Mail on Sunday." Browne's resignation raises many questions, especially when it comes to privacy. For more, I'm joined in the studio by James Harding, the business and city editor with "The Times" newspaper and media lawyer Paul Gilbert.

James Harding, did John Browne go because he lied in court or because it was just a scandal one too many?

JAMES HARDING, BUSINESS EDITOR, THE TIMES: No, I think he went - he'd had a very long and difficult year. There had been a battle to try and push him out in the board. There'd been the whole sorry story on what happened to Texas City refinery, where 15 people were killed in an explosion in 2005.

But ultimately, the thing that meant that he could not stay was the lie to the court. Even though he apologized, even though it was a rather flimsy and rather pointless little white lie, lying to court meant that he had to go.

SWEENEY: And Paul Gilbert, what do you make of the judge's reaction to the fact that he may face now face actually a perjury trial?

PAUL GILBERT, MEDIA LAWYER: Well, I think James put it rather well. In fact, the judge called it a white lie. And clearly, this was one of those situations where he made an initial statement. That was the statement on which they went for this initial gagging injunction. And it's in that statement that made - told that the white lie, when he then saw some that were put in Mr. Chevalier, he immediately came clean and said that wasn't correct. We didn't meet in the way that I described. We met in a different way.

And for that reason, that's why the judge's indicated that he doesn't actually think he will refer it to the attorney general. And the attorney general is a person who made that decision about whether they would prosecute him for perjury.

SWEENEY: And of course, it raises an issue in this country, where there are so many kiss and tell stories every week. Practically in the newspaper, but usually about heterosexual relationships. But it raises the question of a man, such as John Browne, who rose to the top of this company, worked in BP all his life, at the age of 59, embarrassed about how he had met his gay lover.

HARDING: Yes, I think this is a really sorry and distressing story for everybody concerned. But certainly for the press, because there is one particular newspaper you heard from the editor of "The Mail on Sunday" there, who is saying look, there were public policy issues here. There were real business issues here.

But you have to stand back and say "The Mail on Sunday" didn't cover the Texas city refinery disaster in a big way. What they wanted to cover was an older man's relationship with a younger man, particularly an older man who kept his homosexuality secret.

This is prurient stuff. And the pretense that it was somehow a big public policy issue, that there was a big political issue here is just that. It's a pretense. And I think that's the one - that's the thing that it discredits "The Mail" and discredits the press.

SWEENEY: But is it actually, you know, only "The Mail" that should be held up here, you know, as an example, as you point out, because I mean Chevalier had gone to any other newspaper, they might have just jumped at the chance as well. I mean, I'm talking about the stigma that surrounds, you know, homosexual relationships with men at the top of British industry.

HARDING: No, I think that is a really good point. I think that one of the things this has raised is the real question of are people comfortable, gay men and women, comfortable talking about their sexuality in the office? Do they feel that would inhibit their advancement in the work place, in big companies? Why don't you see more publicly gay men and women on the boards of big British companies?

But I think there is also a very particular press issue here, which is yes, this is relevant to "The Mail." This is "The Mail" has to answer this question because everybody knew that John Browne was gay. It was an open secret. And the question was why would - did they want to pursue this?

Clearly, his injunction wasn't about the business issues. It was about his private life. And they clearly wanted to bring that into the open.

SWEENEY: Let me ask you, Paul Gilbert, there's also been another story, huge in Britain this week, and it's been the long running saga between "OK" magazine and "Hello" magazine over wedding photographs of the actress Catherine Zeta-Jones. What did that ruling this week by the judges, saying that "Hello" had in fact breached the deal, mean for privacy laws in this country?

GILBERT: Well, you could say that it does extend privacy rights in the sense that what it has allowed, or what the House of Lords have said senior court in the country is that a magazine signed up an exclusive deal to a celebrity for something like a wedding is able to use the privacy rights that attached to the celebrity to bring a claim if another magazine runs a spoiler edition.

And so, to that extent, it has extended privacy rights. But in terms of the actual ability to get a privacy injunction, and Lord Browne is a good example of that, because what was clear in that case was that there were certain things that he could have got injuncted that he could have stopped being published, and there are certain things that he couldn't. And it was that that he took all the way up to the House of Lords. And that's what was decided on.

SWEENEY: I mean, there should be - sorry, you know John Browne quite well. I mean, in terms of - so in a way, you're obviously very sorry that he's resigned under these circumstances. But in terms of privacy laws and privacy issues, what do you think it says about the state of the British media and the appetite of the British public for salacious kiss and tell stories? Or were the British public, do you think, interested in this particular kiss and tell story, apart from outside the city?

HARDING: Well, to be clear, we thought that John Browne had not done enough to handle the problems of Texas city, the cost of lives of his workers. I personally thought that it was a mistake for him to try and keep his private life private for so long, because he made himself vulnerable to this kind of, you know, to this man Jeff Chevalier thing. I'm going to go off and sell your story.

You know, and he clearly made a big mistake. And as Paul said, in choosing to injunct this story, because it created this sort of - was like a dam effect. Wasn't it? And when the dam burst, you know, so did his career.

I do think, unfortunately, people like kiss and tell stories. Of course, they always will. There is a question for the media in everything that we do about where we set the bar, where we set the standards. And that's why this programming exists. That's why we get up every morning and try and make choices about values.

And this is a case I happen to think were to the wrong choice about values was made.

SWEENEY: We have to leave it there. On that note, James Harding, thank you very much. Paul Gilbert, also.

GILBERT: Thank you.

SWEENEY: Still to come on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, media independence around the world. It appears it is in decline. We'll assess the findings of the global survey into press freedom. That's next.


TIME STAMP: 2044:33

SWEENEY: Welcome back. Clues, a government crackdown, and the murder of journalists. It sounds like the plot to a bestselling novel. They are actually among the reasons why press freedom deteriorated around the globe in the past year, according to the Organization Freedom House. Its global survey of media independence shows press freedom has declined in Asia, the former Soviet region, and in Latin America.

This map highlights where things stand. The countries shown in green are deemed to have a free press. Those in yellow are partly free. While those in purple are not free.

The study also found a growing effort to place restrictions on Internet freedom by censoring or shutting down sites that offer alternative sources of commentary. To discuss the findings further, I'm joined by Dr. Caring C, the editor of the Press Freedom Survey. She's in our Washington studios.

Thanks very much for joining us. As author of this report, did anything startle you in particular?

KARIN KARIEKAR, SURVEY EDITOR: While we do see the sixth year in a row a continued decline in the global level of press freedom. And as you mentioned, there are particularly worrying trouble spots in Asia, former Soviet Union, and Latin America.

One of the things which I think you could say startled us was that it's not just, you know, sort of authoritarian regimes that are cracking down on the press, but that press freedom declines have been seen in a number of countries, which one - you know, normally, one would see as very democratic countries.

Those are countries such as Argentina, the Philippines. Until recently, last year, they include Thailand, some countries in Africa. So it's not just, you know, the worst regimes in the world that are cracking down on press freedom. It's countries which, you know, in many other ways are very democratic and vibrant.

I wanted to ask you, is there any correlation between a crackdown in press freedoms and democracy and also a crackdown on press freedoms and the wealth of any particular country?

KARIEKAR: Yes, definitely. Our research has shown that there's a very high correlation between crackdowns on press freedom and greater democratic, you know, bad trends in democracy.

And in fact, press freedom is usually a leading indicator. We've seen that in our press freedom survey, if a country is cracking down on press freedom, that's usually an indication that they are going to start going after other institutions which can provide accountability, such as judiciary, other civil society groups, NGOs, political parties.

So usually a crackdown on press freedom is an indicator of worse to come in terms of more general democratic trends.

SWEENEY: And how as journalists can we, you know, when we mark World Freedom Press Day, as we have done this week, I mean, how do we actually act as other than a lobby group for ourselves and indeed for, you know, the public that we write and broadcast for?

KARIEKAR: It will definitely, I think, calling attention to the state of press freedom on World Press Freedom Day. And you know, this period is very important.

But in addition, I think journalists can also work to uphold the highest professional standards for themselves, and also to draw links maybe between the fact that press freedom is not, you know, just something for journalists, but that it affects everybody within a country.

It affects, you know, levels of economic development, levels of corruption, levels of government accountability. And so it's not just something that affects the press itself. It's something that affects everyone.

SWEENEY: Dr. Karin Kariekar of the World Press Freedom Survey, thank you very much indeed for joining us from Washington, D.C.

We should note that the U.N. Secretary-General Bang Ki Moon says he is alarmed at the increasing number of journalists being killed for doing their job.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, uncovering Africa, the side to the continent that's not often reported by Western news outlets. More on that when we return.


TIME STAMP: 2049:57

SWEENEY: Welcome back. Now we turn to Africa, a vast and diverse continent often in the spotlight for negative news, whether it's been countries dealing with the AIDS epidemic, poverty, and corruption.

Then there are localized issues, like the crisis in Darfur and the recent crackdown on Zimbabwe's opposition figures. More recently, there's a fallout from presidential elections in Nigeria. A poll that awarded victory to Umara (ph) Yar Adua, the candidate of the ruling People's Democratic Party.

EU observers say the poll was not credible. And the U.S. says it was fooled.

Well, to discuss the media's coverage of Africa, I'm joined in the studio by Azubuike Ishiekwene, director of publications with Nigeria's "Punch" newspaper, journalist Joe Kibazo. And CNN's Africa correspondent Jeff Koinange is also with us.

So Azu of Nigeria's "Punch" newspaper, not particularly a good week for Nigeria?

AZUBUIKE ISHIEKWENE, DIRECTOR OF PUBLICATIONS, PUNCH: That's correct, but there's a context which I'm afraid we have to look at, which in reporting the Nigerian elections, if you don't put what happened last week in context, it's very easy to miss out completely on the whole event.

SWEENEY: So it wasn't corrupted?

ISHIEKWENE: It was not that it wasn't corrupted. But you have to understand the situation that we're talking about. We're talking about a country that has not had its three years of democratic rule in the past.

SWEENEY: So you're saying it was to be expected and that it was part of a process?

ISHIEKWENE: There were challenges, absolutely. That's correct. There were challenges that came up. And I think that the countries dealing with those challenges.

SWEENEY: But Joe, let me ask you, when the world internationally looked - the international community looks at the African continent, why is it that we associate it very often perhaps too negatively with corruption, such as we've seen in the Nigerian elections, even though there might have been progress made, AIDS, poverty, famine, etcetera?

JOE KIBAZO, JOURNALIST: I think there's a mistake that's made by the world in looking at Africa. Nobody says that we're looking at Europe or we're looking at the Americas or we're looking at Asia. However, Africa's taken as one block, whereas what it is many different places, different traditions, different sort of backgrounds.

You do have areas of Africa which do have free press, where the media does actually work. And increasingly across the continent, that is one of the success stories, where things are changing. They have changed the last 10 years. You have private broadcasters coming in. You've got newspapers that have been allowed to publish.

SWEENEY: Jeff Koinange, let me ask you, since we've touched on the Nigerian elections, I mean that was a difficult one for you to cover for CNN?

JEFF KOINANGE: That's right. And you what know what, Fionnuala? I wanted to cover the Nigerian elections this time around, because you know I lived there for four and a half years. But I did a report back in February that did not particularly please the Nigerian government. And the Nigerian Minister of Information said I wasn't welcome to be in Nigeria any more.

Having said that, Nigeria had been doing so well up until that point. They had gotten rid of their foreign debt. The economy was booming. Cell phone industry raking in billions and billions of dollars. Up until that point of the elections, and that's a good friend of mine put it best when he said it's the African shuffle. Take one step forward and two steps backwards. It happens all the time. And it inevitably lets down the continent. Our leaders inevitably let us down.

SWEENEY: And in terms of other countries in the continent that you've had problems getting access to, I mean, Zimbabwe obviously comes to mind?

KOINANGE: No doubt about it. And in Zimbabwe's a no go zone. Inflation, more than 1700 percent. Journalists international broadcasters cannot go into Zimbabwe to report on the Zimbabwe story.

Other places - Somalia. There's a war raging every single day in the streets of Mogadishu. We can go and cover that war. Darfur is a very schizophrenic place. Today, you'll be allowed permission to go in. Tomorrow, you might not get permission.

So it's such a difficult - there's so many good stories we'd like to cover, but we can't get in there.

SWEENEY: We'll get on to the good stories, the positive stories, in just a moment. But Abu, you know, working with Nigeria's "Punch" newspaper, how much access does a Nigerian journalist, for example, have to places like Somalia or Zimbabwe?

ISHIEKWENE: Nigerian journalists access to the places you've mentioned is not restricted at all. I mean, and as (INAUDIBLE) said in his initial comments, we're seeing more of Africa - reporting Africa in the African media.

I remember the Ghanian 50th anniversary independence that was in March. I was amazed by the kind of quality and depth of coverage that that again got across Africa. And there were loads of Nigerian journalists, including myself, who were in Ghana to cover that event because it was a great, you know, and remarkable event.

SWEENEY: And in your view, unprecedented? Or could it have it happened 10, 15 years ago?

ISHIEKWENE: It could not have happened 10, 15 years ago.

SWEENEY: So Joe, what's changed?

ISHIEKWENE: It would have been a lot more difficult, yes.

KIBAZO: What's changed is that the media has been given the space in which to report the democratic processes that what's been changing on the continent of Africa. It doesn't mean that all the politicians like us journalists in the media. We see that Jeff can go into Nigeria.

However, on the whole, things have been changing over the last 10 years. Nigeria actually has a very solid newspaper and broadcasting industry that enables it to go across. The reporters that come from Uganda, reporters there from Uganda, they go from Kenya to cover the whole continent.

So in a way, the space has opened up. And Africans are also starting to report on other African countries and learning, and not really relying just on the CNN, BBC, Deutche Vela (ph) and those kind. So the African story is starting increasingly to be told by the Africans themselves.

SWEENEY: Jeff Koinange, recently in "The Economist," I believe it was, there was a line about why is Africa in such trouble, I'm paraphrasing here, when it - and blaming much of its - on its heritage, its colonial past when you know Asia has taken off the shackles and unburdened itself of the shackles of the colonial past and moved on, when countries like South Korea, for example, would have been poorer than some countries are in Africa today? Is that a fair comparison?

KOINANGE: Well you know what, Fionnuala, we have to move past that now. The first phase of post colonial leadership has come and gone. So we need to get past blaming the colonial past.

And let me tell you something interesting, Fionnuala. Do you know the one country in Africa that registered the greatest growth rate last year? Probably one of the largest in the world. Angola. 17.6 percent GNP last year, but nobody talked about it.

There are other countries like that. We need to move beyond blaming our past and move forward and see what we can do with what we have. Yes, like Joe and Azu just said, there are many problems. We need to get beyond that and start focusing on the positives.

SWEENEY: Focusing on the positives, Joe, Botswana is also a very good news story in Africa and international terms. KIBAZO: Yes, it is. I mean, there's a country that has had stability, that has an economy that has continued growing based on the diamond industry. And it started a television sort of station early in the year 2000.

So there are positive features. But let's not - Botswana is one of the most successful countries within Africa, particularly in the economic front. However, some say not across everything, not across the media spectrum.

But there are others where space has opened up. We shouldn't only look at - there's increasing space in Kenya. There's increased space even in countries such as Uganda, which are challenged by the government.

However, there is - there are hope.

SWEENEY: And a final question to you. If you're around to attend Ghana's 100th year celebration, how do you expect Africa to look?

ISHIEKWENE: I expect that it will be an occasion of far greater celebration than we had in the 50th anniversary. And I also expect that at that time, Africa would not only be telling the success story of Ghana, but would be telling the success story of many more African countries.

And I show you that African countries are on the way to making a success story, not of the individual countries alone, but of the entire continent.

SWEENEY: Gentlemen, all of you, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

That is 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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