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Media in Pakistan; Female Broadcasters in the Palestinian Territories; Scooter Libby and the Media

Aired June 8, 2007 - 14:30:00   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, muzzling the media. Journalists rally in Pakistan as the government says it will review new broadcast laws. Born to dress up or die? Threats are made to female broadcasters in the Palestinian territories.

And the testimony of journalists helped lead to the conviction of a former White House aide. Now the sentence has been handed down, we examine the case and its impact on the U.S. media.

We begin in Pakistan, where hundreds of journalists joined opposition activists and lawyers to protest new restrictions in the media. New laws were introduced with immediate effect on Monday, giving regulators the power to seize equipment and seal the premises of offending broadcasters.

Three days later, they were suspended pending a review.

Now that ban wasn't enough to stop reporter rallies across Pakistan. Media organizations say journalists have been targeted by President Pervez Musharraf over their reporting of a political and judicial crisis.

In recent months, news outlets have been warned to limit their coverage of (INAUDIBLE) Chowhury's efforts to be reinstated as the country's chief justice.

Journalists say that's an attack on press freedom.


ARCOSA ALAM, UNION OF JOURNALISTS: I think the situation where the President Musharraf is stuck. I don't think (INAUDIBLE) is going to give - I mean, lift all these restrictions. He's just not (INAUDIBLE). At the same time, we cannot afford to keep this grip on this restriction on media. So he's in a Catch 22 situation.


SWEENEY: Last weekend, the transmission of private television station Geo News was blocked by the government after authorities issued a warning to stations not to air coverage of a planned march by the ousted chief justice.

The channel is now back on the air. Let's get more on the situation in Pakistan now. Saleem Bokhari, editor of the news, spokesperson for Geo Television. He is in Islamabad. And here in the studio, Ziauddin, the London correspondent with the Dawn newspaper.

Saleem Bokhari in Islamabad, it has been quite a busy week for you and your television station. Has it been resolved, the situation there?

SALEEM BOKHARI, EDITOR, THE NEWS: Well, you see, it has been partially resolved, because there were discussions between the prime minister, Shoka Aziz (ph), his media managers, and representation also Pakistan's Broadcasters Association, which owns all the private channels.

So these talks have ended with a note that the action on the new amendment, which included so many harsh measures, will be suspended `til such time that a six member committee gives its segmentations and the amendments are looked into once again.

SWEENEY: And M Ziauddian here in London, when you look at the situation developing in Pakistan, vis a vis the media, what are your thoughts?

M ZIAUDDIN, LONDON CORRESPONDENT, DAWN: Well, it's nothing new for the media in Pakistan. They have traveled this lane earlier as well.

See, we have the media, the print media, have suffered under a law, a similar law, that was called president publication ordinance from 1962 `til about 2002. And it was replaced by another law, which is not as - it's less harsher, but it's still harsh.

See, the media in Pakistan is different from the military in Pakistan and the politicians in Pakistan, judiciary in Pakistan. We have inherited a combative character. We have been in the forefront of this struggle like the colonial powers.

It was not like the politicians, who were told of the colonial powers. The military was British colonial army. The civil service was (INAUDIBLE). But the media was very highly combative during the (INAUDIBLE).

And we inherited that combativeness. We have to understand what's happening in Pakistan today in that background.

SWEENEY: Saleem Bokhari, it is the private television stations that appear to be the target of the government at the moment. Why do you think TV stations in particular pose a threat?

BOKHARI: You see, the situation is ever since the CJ issue come up, which is achieved just as when he was suspended, the government could not afford to seize so many people coming on the street. It will be called that journey from Islamabad to Lahor, which is like three hours' journey to 27 hours to reach there. And people coming out on the streets all over on the route.

So you see, the government was really jittery about it. Could not afford this. And then, as the days passed, it was picking up momentum. And the recent values that we have seen of the CJ going to (INAUDIBLE), going to Karachi, and all that, I think it was too much for the government to tolerate because they never wanted this issue to be politicized.

But you see, it has been politicized in a way that people coming out on the street and carrying flags of all different parties, and so much of huge crowd is emerging. The government is slightly unsettled.

SWEENEY: So this is basically to do with the ousted chief justice, who was fired from his job. It isn't part of anything wider or more sinister from your point of view?

BOKHARI: Well, you see, the position is that government could get hold of these electronic journals through the (INAUDIBLE) operators, which have now acting as a (INAUDIBLE). And they are vulnerable to the government pressure the moment the government (INAUDIBLE) and puts off their - all these journals who are being a nuisance for the government.

So this is the situation that people have also taken very strong exception. And they are reacting - I mean, at every level the human rights organizations are reacting. The media may not reacting. So this is a total fiasco here.

SWEENEY: Let me ask M. Ziauddian here in London.


SWEENEY: Whether or not this is an attack on the media that's usually associated attacks on the media with attacks on democracy. Or do you think it's specifically related to this one case? And it's something that's beginning to gather momentum rather than disappear quietly?

ZIAUDDIN: (INAUDIBLE) one issue. See, The Dawn has been suffering common pressures since 2004. See, we were covering the Balichistan (ph) crisis and the not (INAUDIBLE) crisis. And the government is putting pressure on Dawn to stop that coverage. And we kept on refusing.

And because of that, they stopped our advertisements.

SWEENEY: So there's something wider at work?

ZIAUDDIN: It's wider. It's wider. See, this impression, which Musharraf has tried to create that he has been very liberal with the press is wrong. See, he took over in 1999. And if you recall in 1999, that that quality, information technology has gone so far ahead, it was impossible for any import dictator to control the media in his own country.

So he let it go. And in the beginning two or three years, because of the kind of mismanagement, which was happening during (INAUDIBLE) days, he had this space two, three years of space, where he was not criticized.

And then there was also this promise of his that he will give up the - rather transfer power to a democratically elected government in fears.

So the media was, by and large, rather lenient on him. But after that, they kept on putting pressure on him. And it was a fight between media and Musharaff - direct fight.

SWEENEY: Saleem Bokhari in Islamabad, you say that the situation between Geo TV and the government's been partially resolved. Do you expect it to be fully resolved in the coming weeks, briefly, if I may ask you?

BOKHARI: Well, you see, it all depends on what is going to be the ground situation. If the ground situation deteriorates, if the CJ issue gets to new heights, if the political parties agitation picks up momentum, if the media war with the government is not resolved, I don't think of that partial situation will either work.

SWEENEY: Saleem Bokhari in Islamabad and M Ziauddin here in London, thank you both very much.

Well, still to come on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, a threat is made to staff at a Palestinian television station. Female employees are warned to cover their hair or die. We'll examine the dangers for women working in the media when we return.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. The owner of an independent radio station in Northern Afghanistan has been killed in front of her eight-year old son. Zaki Asaki (ph), who ran the station Peace Radio, was gunned down in her home in the province of Parwa on Wednesday. Police say they're still investigating a motive, although Afghanistan's Independent Journalist Association says Zaki had received threats.

It's the second such killing in less than a week.


SHUKNA BANKZAI, AFGHAN MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: It's a just small symbol of the future of women activists and journalists and freedom, particularly freedom of speech in Afghanistan.

Those who are working for freedom. And of course, it's at the impact of this issue was not get women's to be weak. No, it's make us to be more strong and defined.


SWEENEY: Last week, a news presenter for the privately run Shanfa TV, Shakeeba Sunga Amage, was shot dead at her home in Kabul. Well, the dangers to women journalists are not unique to Afghanistan. A threat to presenters on Palestinian television sparked a protest by staff in Gaza. That warning came in the form of an e-mail from the hardline group known as the Swords of Truth.

It said it would slit the throats of women broadcasters if they didn't cover up on television. Staff say they're taking extra security precautions.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): The statement we received is very frightening, very terrifying, and shows the nature of this bloody group. But anyway, we are continuing our duties. They must not think that women are always the weakest link. The weakest link is breakable.


SWEENEY: Female journalists in many Muslim countries wear head scarves and modest clothing on screen. In some places, women are not allowed to broadcast on television. Let's get a sense of what it's like for female media workers amid the laws, threats, and dangers.

From Ramallah, I'm joined by Wafa Amid, senior correspondent with Reuters. And here in the studio by Mina Al-Oraibi, a journalist with the Hasha newspaper.

What - as a veteran journalist in the West Bank and Gaza, how have things changed over the last number of years?

WAFA AMID, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: Things have changed dramatically, as a matter of fact. The Palestinian Society has been more radicalized. People have been influenced by the poverty, by the international sanctions, the Israeli sanctions. In the past seven months also the second intifada has led to a deterioration of flights in Palestinian territories.

So for instance, in Gaza, Gaza has become much more radicalized than anywhere else in the West Bank. There are also parts of the West Bank like in Nablus, Hebron. And in Genean, where people are more traditionally conservative.

But in particular, you can say that Gaza has been more radicalized as a result of the closure. It's been constantly closed, despite the evacuation of settlers and the troops from the Gaza strip two years ago. Gaza has been turned into a prison. And instead of liberalization, the people have been drawn more and more backward towards poverty.

And with the takeover of Hamas, you can say that people have become more conservative and a little bit more religious.

SWEENEY: So what has taken place in the last week or so, this development regarding the women broadcasters in Gaza and the West Bank? Does it surprise you?

AMID: It does a little bit. Yes, it does surprise me because despite the conservative nature of the Palestinians, the Palestinians in general are not very religious. They're not fanatics. They're not extreme.

So what happened in Gaza during the past week is marginal, is not representative of the Palestinian society. These radical groups are not really - are marginal. They're on the fringe of society. That's why there was a big backlash. And the society was furious.

In fact, most of the - all of the factions, the main factions, including Hamas, have condemned that act by that extremist Muslim group.

SWEENEY: But of course, you know, Al-Oraibi, that the situation in Gaza in particular is extremely fragile at the moment, to put it mildly. But people talking increasingly of the Talibanization of the Arab world when it comes to not just a way of life, but also the media in particular, women in the media.

MINA AL-ORAIBI, JOURNALIST: Absolutely. I think what Wafa was saying was spot on, that there are all these external factors that affect women journalists and affect the media, where a part of our society, the wider society that's going on, in Gaza, like you said, this is a case that it represents the kind of lawlessness that sometimes is taking over in different parts of the Arab world at different times.


AL-ORAIBI: Well, we've got Iraq. I mean, Iraq is another one. Women - female journalists are being targeted daily. Another colleague was killed in Mosul yesterday only. So these problems are - in Iraq, you have it in Palestine. You have it in Lebanon sometimes. I mean, in any war zone, this can happen in places of conflict.

But then again, you also have the pressures in places of relative calm, whether it's in Egypt, whether it's in other Gulf states. There are these pressures on female journalists for lots of reasons.

One is it's a way of trying to control the media. It's a way of trying to control different voices. So whereas for females, it might be I'll cover your hair or, you know, wear a particular type of dress, for male journalists, they get it in other ways of pressures through letters, through death threats, and so forth.

So I think it's just a way of representing the type of pressure that media is constantly going through, but this is another phenomenon.

SWEENEY: Wafa, personally speaking, I mean, is it difficult to for you now to do your job in Ramallah? And I'm thinking particularly in Gaza over the last few years than it might have been in the time of Arafat?

AMID: I think it's much more difficult in Gaza than it is in Ramallah. In Ramallah, the - in Gaza, people do not really - women journalists cannot go out without having, you know, like to wear jackets. You don't have to cover your hair, but you have to dress properly for Gaza.

In the West Bank, it's different. In Ramallah in particular, it's much more open. The people are more liberal. But there have been changes. You go into interview Hamas officials. You cannot go with sleeveless shirt, for instance. You have to dress differently when you go and cover things in Gaza.

And the West Bank, specifically in Ramallah, nothing has changed because the Islamists are weaker. The society is much more liberal. And lawlessness and factionalism has not been as deep and as bad as it is in Gaza and the West Bank, particularly in Ramallah.

I have not felt that I had to change the way I covered - cover stories in Ramallah, for instance.

SWEENEY: Mini Al-Oraibi, is there anyone to protect women in other parts of the Arab world, particularly in countries where the society may not greatly encourage women to be part of the media, and also where in fact the media may not be a welcome development, as you were alluding to earlier?

AL-ORAIBI: I think each country is different. On the contrary, we have seen a lot more support for female voices, female faces in the Middle East, especially in the last 10 years with satellite television. I mean, as satellite television gets stronger and stronger, we see a real upcoming of new women faces and voices.

I think there is support for them and those that protect them, whether it's governments, whether it's different civil society groups. So there are those that protect. But the problem is in places of lawlessness, where it's much more complicated and it's much more about politics, and trying to terrorize society into being quiet.

SWEENEY: There we have to leave it. Mina Al-Oraibi, thank you very much indeed. Wafa Amid in Ramallah, thank you also for joining us from the West Bank.

Well, up on next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, learning lessons from the trial that put journalists on the witness stand. Did the case against a former White House aide set a precedent? That's next.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. It was the high profile trial in the U.S. that put reporters on the witness stand and raised questions as to whether journalists should be forced to name their sources. Former White House aide Lewis Scooter Libby was sentenced this week after being convicted of lying to federal investigators about who leaked the name of an intelligence agent. Brian Todd has the story.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The vice president's confidante speaks publicly for the first time since being charged. Appeals to the judge for leniency.

Lewis Scooter Libby says, "It is respectfully my hope that the court will consider, along with the jury verdict, my whole life."

Minutes later, Judge Reggie Walton says, "The evidence overwhelmingly indicated Mr. Libby's culpability" and slapped a 2.5 year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine on Libby for his obstruction of justice and perjury convictions stemming from the investigation into the leak of CIA Officer Valerie Plame's identity.

SCOTT FREDERICKSON, FORMER SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: Scooter Libby showed no remorse, no acknowledgement of guilt. And I think at the end of the day, Judge Walton felt he was (INAUDIBLE) of such a strong, tough sentence.

TODD: Libby is still not sure whether he'll be free pending appeal or if he'll have to start his term behind bars in the coming months. That will be decided in a hearing next week.

(on camera): If he's allowed to stay out while his lawyers contest the verdict, Libby's appeals could last until President Bush leaves office, opening the possibility of a pardon without Libby ever spending a day in jail.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


SWEENEY: Journalist group said the Libby trial would set a dangerous precedent when it comes to reporters being forced to name their sources. So what, if anything, has changed? Howard Kurtz, media correspondent at "The Washington Post," and host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" joins me now.

So did this trial set a precedent, Howard?

HOWARD KURTZ, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, it certainly set a chilling message to journalists who are afraid now of being hauled before grand juries in other kinds of cases by aggressive prosecutors. And I think it as also scared, potential sources quite a bit about just who they should talk to, what they should say, especially in the area of confidential or classified information.

SWEENEY: And while the trial itself and the verdict has received a lot of press coverage for the story itself, what if any debate has there been in the media about its implications for them?

KURTZ: There's a huge debate right now. A lot of conservative columnists and pundits demanding that President Bush pardon Scooter Libby, that he shouldn't spend a day in jail. And it's very interesting because a lot of conservative activists, back when Bill Clinton was accused of lying to and misleading a grand jury and the whole Monica Lewinsky mess, they were saying oh, perjury's a very important crime. And the rule of law is what's important here. And if you mislead a grand jury, you're undermining the very tenets of the American criminal justice system.

Well, now that Libby unfairly, in their view, has taken the fall in this Valerie Plame case involving the outing of a confidential - of a covert CIA agent, they are singing a very different tune.

SWEENEY: So in terms of sourcing and future cases or in future stories for journalists in the United States, will this trial have changed anything?

KURTZ: I think it has already changed things, because keep in mind that this first became a big issue back in 2003. It was a couple years ago already when we had the spectacle of journalists being hauled before the grand jury under subpoena. We had a New York Times reporter spending 85 days in jail. And I've seen instances of news organizations saying we're not going to publish a certain story involving national security information because we're afraid of getting hauled into court.

Now that's not to say that everybody in American journalism has given up and is not going to be aggressive on this. But you know, you'd have to be nuts after watching what happened to reporters in this case, you know, not to be a lot more careful, a lot more reticent, a lot more cautious about keeping your notes, which can always be subpoenaed now.

But it's also, I think, an interesting spectacle because this Scooter Libby case became a kind of a proxy trial for the Bush administration's prosecution of the war, because that (INAUDIBLE) it was about, manipulating the press, getting information out to the press to make the war effort look better.

And even though that's not what Libby was charged with, nor was he charged with leaking the name of the CIA operative Valerie Plame, he was charged with lying. It really became a kind of a morality play for all of us journalists who covered this.

SWEENEY: All right, Howard Kurtz in Washington. Thank you very much indeed for joining us.

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.



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