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INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

Pakistan's Judicial Crisis; Madeleine McCann Case; Religious Battle on the Web

Aired May 18, 2007 - 14:30:00   ET

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


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, journalists in Pakistan are warned stay away from reporting the country's judicial crisis or face contempt of court. Defending on Portugal, we look at how the British media are covering the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.

And fighting it out on the web, the very public battle between the BBC and the Church of Scientology.

We begin in Pakistan, a country in the grip of a political and judicial crisis. After President Pervez Musharraf suspended its chief justice for alleged misconduct.

The ouster of Istagrad Choudhury (ph) in March has sparked widespread protests by lawyers and opposition parties. The unrest culminated in a series of strikes and clashes that left dozens dead. Choudhury's (ph) suspension has also led to a barrage of criticism against President Musharraf. Critics argue it's an attack on the independence of the judiciary ahead of elections and a parliamentary vote, one that could extend the general's rule later this year.

Media outlets are also coming under attack with the Supreme Court, imposing tight restrictions on reporting the case. The court warned that any coverage, discussion, and analysis that impede legal procedures will be treated as a contempt of court.

Journalists argue that's a ban on fair reporting in a country where freedom of the press is often questioned. In its annual state of Pakistan media report, Intermedia found five journalists had been killed, 17 arrested, and 61 injured in the past year. It found there were also 11 attacks on media property in that time.

To discuss the situation in Pakistan, I'm joined from Karachi by publisher Hameed Haroon. He's also the president of the all Pakistan Newspaper Society.

And here in London by Shahed Sadullah, editor of "The News" newspaper.

Let me, first of all, ask you, Hameed Haroon in Pakistan why do you think the Choudhury case has gained so much publicity and stirred up so much anger in Pakistan?

HAMEED HAROON, PUBLISHER: I think that the Choudhury case is important because unlike the past, where you had images of the right wing or religious extremists performing the bulk of street (INAUDIBLE) in Pakistan, the street protests linked with the Choudhury case are basically your liberal proactive groups. They're journalists, they're lawyers, they're teachers, and they're other professional groups who don't think in terms of a religious state. They think in terms of functioning democracy in Pakistan.

SWEENEY: Hameed Haroon, let me ask you, if I may, what have the number of attacks on the growth of TV stations, private TV networks in Pakistan, what contribution have they made to strengthening the demonstrations in this Choudhury affair?

HAROON: I think that the television channel or the television station or the monitor is well known for its ability to rise - arouse feelings of immediacy. But I think that one must understand that this must be viewed within the larger context of press freedom - the battle on press freedoms in Pakistan.

Even if we look at the Intermedia report, which has just come in on Pakistan's last year of statistics, it seems to me fairly clear that it is print media which is in the forefront of the attack. It is print media journalists that have been tortured, that have been killed.

SWEENEY: Shahed Sadullah, I mean Hameed Haroon makes the point that it - the number of print journalists who have been targeted for either murder, or abduction, or wounding is actually hugely significant, a shocking number of journalists attacked in Pakistan over the past year. Why do you think the majority of journalists who are being attacked are from the print media?

SHAHED SADULLAH, EDITOR, THE NEWS: Well, I think one of the reasons is that you know, people in the electronic media, the journalists whose faces appear on the electronic media, are the big names like, you know, the Kamran Hans (ph) and the Hameed Mirs (ph) and so on and so forth.

And I think that over a period of time, their profile is far too big for them to face, you know, any such direct action if you - if that's what one would like to call it.

And it is the lesson known people, you know, who sort of attract the physical action, because people are afraid. I think obviously that if you were to act against someone with such a high profile, that would create very much of a noise.

SWEENEY: Hameed Haroon, these people who have a high profile in television in Pakistan, yet it is President Musharraf who has overseen the growth and the rise in private TV networks over the last number of years. So you -- really has created the devil of his own making. How do you think the government can react to having let Pandora out of the box, so to speak?

HAROON: Well, I think there are two ways of looking at this. Sometimes pressures build up in a society. And clearly, President Musharraf has also come to the conclusion that in waging the war against terror, as he wants to wage it, he can't wage it with a silent gag, the majority sitting behind them. This majority has to espouse some views, express itself.

The problem is that television is less understood for its immediate impact because we've been used to state television. But now, I think the print media is catching up in the game as well. And there's been a massive revolution in the print media in the last two months. And I think this would make the metropolitan pages of the big major broad sheet newspapers, "The Dawn," "The News," "The Nation," "The Business Recorder," and "Times" will show you how this revolution is manifesting itself.

SWEENEY: Shahed Sadullah here in London, may I ask you, is it true, as Hameed Haroon points out, that the print media in the Pakistan is catching up with the obvious immediate impact of the broadcast media, which of course, I mean, that's had a huge impact in this Choudhury affair because if you recall, the coup happened in 1999. And most people in Pakistan didn't know about it until state television told them the next day when it was all over?

SADULLAH: Yes. Well, Hameed is in Karachi. And he's obviously much better place to assess than I am. I'm 5,000 miles away. But I must tell you that I don't - that was not my impression.

You see, you mention that Pakistan has a very small literacy rate. Hameed was mentioning newspapers like "The Business Recorder" and "The News" and "The Dawn" and so on. And these are all English newspapers.

Now I know that they write very openly in the open in columns of all that. But the number of people out of there, 35 percent of literacy, who can even read an older newspaper is probably no more than 20 percent of that.

And the number of people who can read an English newspaper is probably no more than 2 percent of that. So the English newspapers, yes, they do go out to the decisionmaking sections of the population, but that's a very, very small number.

The people who come out on the streets, who you see on the streets, have probably not read very much of an English newspaper ever. That said, I think if you look at the impact in a country where educational standards are low, it is obvious that the visual will have much, much greater impact than the written word.

SWEENEY: There we have to leave it. Hameed Haroun in Karachi, and here in London Shahed Sadullah, thank you both very much indeed.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, a British girl disappears from a holiday resort in Portugal. We look at how the media is covering the case. That when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SWEENEY: Welcome back. It has generated media coverage and interest around the world. We're talking about the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, the four-year old British girl who police say was abducted from a holiday resort in Portugal on May 3rd.

The coverage is being particularly extensive here in Britain. Tabloid newspapers scream the latest development and broadcast outlets stake out positions for running live shots.

Interest has also extended to the Internet, where reward funds have been set up. Also, J.K. Rowling and entrepreneur Richard Branson are among those contributing to a multi million dollar reward for information.

Celebrities include footballer David Beckham. They've also made appeals for help in finding Madeleine McCann.

It is worth noting that the time this program was being filmed, there was no sign of the child. ITV's Mark Austin is in Praia da Luz. I asked him to give us a sense of the media's presence in the Argov (ph).

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK AUSTIN, ITV NEWS CORRESPONDENT: There are camera crews from right across Europe. There's a Brazilian camera crew here. I know that it's been shown on television in India. It's international, this story. It's captured the imagination, not only of people in Britain, but right across Europe and internationally.

SWEENEY: Now this is a story that stayed on the front pages for a number of weeks now and is dominating the bulletin headlines on television networks. How much is that being driven by the family themselves? How much are they giving you, the networks, journalists, in terms of driving the story on? And vice versa, how much are you doing to drive the story forward?

AUSTIN: Well, first of all, it is being driven by the story itself. It's not often that a three-year old child is abducted from a holiday apartment in the south of Portugal. So that is driving the story.

The other thing that's driving the story is the way the parents have behaved since the abduction took place and the way, I wouldn't say they've managed the media, but the way they maintained their profile by making statements on certain days. The whole Madeleine campaign that has taken off with posters everywhere. It's not just a campaign here, of course. It's a campaign back in Britain, a massive campaign there.

So a lot to do with the way the parents have handled it.

But what we're talking about here, Fionnuala, really is an almighty collision between an aggressive, a very hungry British media and the judicial system and a police, which is predicated largely on secrecy. It is a very different system to that which operate in Britain. And certainly, to that which operates in America.

SWEENEY: And of course, we've seen the British press, tabloids, and of course your own network, ITN, do its own investigations and go to the police and give them tips. I mean, how is that going down with the authorities there?

AUSTIN: If you don't have police briefings, and you're not getting facts on a regular basis, then people start to go off and do their own investigations. They start to speculate. Rumor persists. You know, the investigation that took place at a house very close here, close to here, the search that took place there was as a result of a journalist, a British journalist going to the police and saying I think there's something suspicious about this guy.

So you've got this problem of the media feeding the media. And it's all caused by the lack of fact, the lack of information coming from the Portuguese police.

SWEENEY: A final question, there had been anticipated that there would be a drop-off in media interest following Madeleine's fourth birthday last weekend. That has not happened. How long do you think the networks, the papers, will keep up their interest in this story?

AUSTIN: I think that's very difficult to say. I think it was Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair's spin doctor, who said that even the best story, even the most interesting story has a life cycle of about two weeks. Well, there's two weeks now in this story. And I can tell you, the press interest is as big as ever. And I think the truth is that there will continue to be interest in this story until Madeleine is found one way or the other.

And now, the problem comes, of course, if she's not found. And then, it will take another big story to come along and reduce the interest in the story of Madeleine.

But at the moment, as you say, two weeks on, interest is as great as ever.

SWEENEY: Mark Austin, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

For more on the media's coverage of this case, I'm joined by Adrian Monk, who's a former executive at ITN and Sky News and now head of journalism at London City University and Oliver Wright, Home news editor with "The Times of London" newspaper.

Oliver Wright, how has "The Times" being covering this story?

OLIVER WRIGHT, HOME NEWS EDITOR, THE TIMES: Well, I mean, really, from the disappearance onwards, there's been a huge amount of interest in this story.

We've got two full-time reporters out there at the moment. And at one stage, we actually had three reporters in Praia da Luz.

We've just tried to cover the story as comprehensively as we can, but without, as you really don't want to do in these situations, going too much into speculation. And you know, I think as we're all aware, there's an awful lot that we don't know at this stage.

SWEENEY: And Adrian Monk, is this a new departure for the British media, covering a story under the noses of the Portuguese judiciary, walking that fine line between respecting the police authorities and also the criticism or implied criticism that they're not doing their job?

ADRIAN MONCK, CITY UNIVERSITY: I think it shows you just how fragmentary Europe is. If you think about the European Union, all these guys have the same passports. They're part of the same big political organization. When it comes to actually dealing with law enforcement authorities, they really don't know the systems. And they really don't know the traditions and the way of operation of these individual forces.

If you look at the response to the true murders in Belgium, which are very high profile murders, again, a different police force, a different way of doing things.

And this is true across the European Union. I think it really does show to you how different things are in different parts of Europe, and that despite the fact that there's a unified coordinated European Union really every state, every different authority does its thing in a different way.

SWEENEY: Mark Austin mentioned it was the family also, the parents, and how they've handled this situation that has also contributed to driving this story forward. But it seems very clear to even perhaps the untrained eye that they're getting a lot of help in terms of staging events or making the media have to attend something every day, providing the media with something to work with.

MONCK: I think if you look at the media advice they're getting, which is coming from the holiday provider they were with, it's obviously attuned to the needs of the British media and of the wider international media, too. And it's achieved to the idea that you need to provide regular - regular events, regular things to prompt stories, to prompt new angles on stories. And they're feeding that because they understand that that's the best chance they have for a positive result in their search for Madeleine.

SWEENEY: Mark Austin's line that Alistair Campbell, former spin doctor for Tony Blair, says a story has two weeks in it. What do you think is the interest in this story? How long would it be?

MONCK: I think if you look at something like "Sohm (ph)", which went on for three, three and a half weeks, I think you can see the story like this probably has greater legs than two weeks.

But in news, it's the next story that's going to affect the story that you're dealing with. And we don't know what the next story is. That's the interest, the fascination of the news world and journalism.

SWEENEY: Yes, final question to you, Oliver Wright, how long do you intend to keep your two full-time journalists out in Portugal? And how much depends on how the other networks and newspapers are keeping their people out there?

WRIGHT: First question, certainly the foreseeable future. I don't think we'll be moving out there for the next few weeks.

I think it's much less a question of what the other newspapers and other news networks do. Much more a case of what Madeleine's parents do while they're still out there. I certainly can't see us pulling out.

SWEENEY: Oliver Wright, Adrian Monck, thank you both very much indeed.

And still to come on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, painting their own distinct picture of events, the BBC and the Church of Scientology clash over a documentary. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SWEENEY: Welcome back. Now to the very public battle between the BBC and the Church of Scientology over a documentary by the corporation, a fight that both sides took to the Internet, even before the show aired. Savila Vargas has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, "SCIENTOLOGY AND ME")

SAVILA VARGAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the verbal tirade that's launched a war between the Church of Scientology and the BBC.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You were not there. You did not hear or record all of the interview.

VARGAS: This shouting match featuring BBC correspondent John Sweeney and Scientology representative Tommy Davis was one of two posted on the Internet site Youtube, caught during the filming of a documentary called "Scientology and Me."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some people say it's a (INAUDIBLE) cult.

VARGAS: In a previous altercation, Davis, who had his own crew of Scientologists filming, had strong objections to Sweeney's repeated use of the word "cult".

DAVIS: And the reason you keep repeating it is because you wanted to get a reaction like you're getting right now. Well, buddy, you got it. Right here, right now. I'm angry.

VARGAS: Scientologists are so angry, that not only are there reports of a possible lawsuit, but the Church has now put out its own documentary in retaliation, called "Panorama Exposed."

The film takes a behind the scenes look at the BBC program, promising to blow the lid off what it calls the show's unethical practices.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our cameras follow the actions of reporter John Sweeney and reveal a side of the BBC that is both dark and disturbing.

VARGAS: It shows Sweeney interviewing several high profile Scientologists, asking them if they felt brainwashed, and shows the reporter shouting at actor John Travolta at a movie premiere.

(on camera): Despite the controversy, the BBC aired "Scientology and Me" , offering links to its footage on its website. Both "Panorama's" editor Sandy Smith and John Sweeney expressed remorse over the incident, with Sweeney adding, "I look like an exploding tomato and shout like a jet engine. And every time I see it, it makes me cringe."

And while he says he apologized, he says his outburst was provoked by the constant monitoring he received from Scientologists, while doing the story, posting this statement online.

"I have been shouted at, spied on, had my hotel invaded at midnights, denounced as a `bigot' by star Scientologists and chased around the streets of Los Angeles by sinister strangers."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SWEENEY: As Sabila Vargas told us, both the BBC and Church of Scientology used the Internet to get their message across. For more on this, I'm joined by CNN's Internet correspondent Jacki Schechner. She's in our Washington bureau.

On the face of it, if Youtube allows us to see behind the story, so to speak, Jackie, and raises our game as journalists, is that not a good thing?

JACKI SCHECHNER, INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: I think it's a wonderful thing. And it's actually something that's been happening for some time now.

When we started to pay attention to blogs, as they became more and more popular and more and more prevalent, they started paying closer attention to the mainstream media or MSM as they call it.

And that's held journalists accountable for what they report. There are some very specific examples, if you want to talk about Dan Rather an his retirement, and how that was pushed to the forefront by bloggers, who dug into some memos that were broadcast on "60 Minutes," too.

That was really one of the prime examples of how citizens paid close attention to journalism. And for lack of a better phrase, called somebody out on their work.

SWEENEY: But where is the whole trend of viewer democracy going, democracy journalism going with the advent of Youtube?

SCHECHNER: Well, I think that we as journalists broadcast or report for an audience. And you can't forget that there are consumers of what we do.

I think the behind the scenes view is actually very interesting. It proves journalists are human. They will make human mistakes. They will have human reactions.

I think the best thing that journalists can do is be honest and forthcoming about how they report, what they report, and the emotions they feel sometimes while they're reporting.

I actually think it's making for better journalism and more honest journalism more than anything.

SWEENEY: And what about the issue of video ambushing, which the Church of Scientology employed? Is that something that you think might be a growing trend when organizations or perhaps even individuals feel that they're the subject of an investigative report?

SCHECHNER: Ambush is a really interesting word. I think that the advent of technology that makes it easier for people to catch things on camera, to catch them on your cell phone, I think that that's making it easier for anybody with that sort of technology to make their voice or their video seen or heard.

But I don't know if it's necessarily a negative thing. I think the more people who have access through the Internet is actually opening up some interesting dialogue.

One example is here in the United States, Youtube is offering presidential candidates a chance to put video online and then have people respond to their questions, and then have the candidates give the chance to answer back.

So it's an instantaneous video dialogue that's happening.

SWEENEY: But does that raise the question then does this dialogue ever end if one can keep posting a response and a right of reply on the Internet, for example?

SCHECHNER: Well, it ends when somebody is tired of addressing it anymore. I mean, what do they say that when you hit a tennis ball over the net, if there's nobody there to hit it back, that's when the game ends?

I think that when somebody finally has just had enough, or frankly the audience engaged has had enough, that's where it peters out. And you don't hear about it any more.

You can go back and forth and back and forth, but one organization on the side of this spat, for example, is going to have to decide they've had enough and just end it. But the Internet itself is endless. So we can go on and on and on, as long as they want it to. They're going to have to pull the plug when they're done.

SWEENEY: Well, we have to pull the plug now. But Jacki Schechner, CNN's Internet correspondent, thank you very much indeed for joining us from our Washington bureau.

SCHECHNER: Of course.

SWEENEY: 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. Thanks for joining us.

END

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