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Reporting from Iraq; Blair Parting Shot;

Aired June 15, 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 covering the big stories.
This week, becoming a target - a record number of journalists are killed in the most dangerous place in the world to report Iraq. And.


TONY BLAIR, PRIME MINISTER, U.K.: The fear of missing out means that today's media, more than ever before, hunts in a pack. In these modes, it's like a feral beast, just.


SWEENEY: Summing up the relationship between public life in the British media, Tony Blair throws a parting shot.

Bombings, shootings, insurgent attacks - barely a day goes by without a major incident in Iraq, a country now deemed the most dangerous place in the world to report.

Journalist groups say media workers are increasingly being caught up in the violence. And more often, they are the target.

Last month, at least 12 journalists were killed, the highest monthly total since the start of the U.S. led invasion in 2003. From Baghdad, Paula Hancocks has our report.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An Iraqi camera man filmed yet another Baghdad funeral. But this time, it's his colleague, one of more than a 100 native journalists and media workers who paid the ultimate price covering the news since the war began according to the group Reporters Without Borders.

The victims are overwhelmingly Iraqi. After all, it's mainly the Iraqis who can get this close to the violence on the streets, this close to the danger. From the obvious danger of bombs and bullets, to the sinister threat from insurgents and militias.

One of the latest victims, 44-year old Saha Hussein al Hadari, an Iraqi correspondent in Mosul. Al Hadari has survived two abduction attempts and numerous death threats. Those who answered her mobile phone after the killing told the caller she's gone to hell, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Zeneb is also a female Iraqi journalist. Zeneb is not her real name. She's too scared to be identified, lest she too become a target. In her articles, she uses a false name.

ZENEB: What I'm really afraid of is they kidnap me and torture me.and that's difficult for a woman, that's all I'm afraid of really, if they killed me, okay, it's nothing.

HANCOCKS: Zeneb drives herself around Baghdad, covering her head to try and blend in. But the very fact she is a woman driving alone puts her at risk.

ZENEB: The journalist and female journalist, it's a double problem.

HANCOCKS: Her neighbors don't know she's a journalist. Her family doesn't know she still goes out onto the streets to find information. Zeneb was a journalist under Saddam Hussein's regime. She says back then, it was simple.

ZENEB: Before we know who we're dealing with, we know where the challenges are coming from which places now it's coming in any places and we don't know it. Before we know if we crossed this line we that are facing the dangers.

HANCOCKS: Many Iraqi journalists have lost a friend or a colleague to the violence. Others have fled the country. The risks simply becoming too great.

(on camera): There have been more journalists killed in four years in Iraq than during 20 years of war in Vietnam. The traditional status of a journalist as a mutual observer of a war, unharmed by either side, is long gone. The Committee to Protect Journalists say that most of the journalists killed here in Iraq were specifically targeted.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Baghdad.


SWEENEY: Given the dangers, why are journalists still willing to take the risks? Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, telling the story in the most dangerous country in the world to work. Stay with us.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. Killed by a roadside bomb while on assignment, the independent Awsat al Iraq news agency says it's reporter Araf Ali did in the volatile province of Zialiya (ph), north of Baghdad. He's the third employee of the agency to be killed in two weeks. Media watchdogs, the Committee to Protect Journalists, says too many journalists are paying the ultimate price for reporting the Iraq story.

For more, I'm joined by John Burns. He's the Baghdad bureau chief with "The New York Times." And here in London by Mina al-Oraibi of the Alsharq al Awsat newspaper.

John Burns in Baghdad, I mean, Iraq has always been difficult place for journalists to report, but the recent upsurge in killing, particularly of Iraqi journalists, is that merely a reflection of the deteriorating situation in the country?

JOHN BURNS, BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF, NEW YORK TIMES: I think it is. And you said exactly the right thing. It's Iraqi journalists who are bearing by far the worst brunt of this. As you know, there are varying figures that if we take the CPJ figures, I would think that something in the nature of 90 percent of all journalists who have died here have been Iraqis. Their jobs are exceptionally dangerous. And we, foreigners who work here, have all manner of advantages in terms of protections as (INAUDIBLE) that they don't have. And they have my greatest admiration.

SWEENEY: Initially, John, it was international journalists who appeared to be the target of insurgents. Why has it changed now to more Iraqi journalists? And what is the grievance of those many Sunni insurgents who are targeting them?

BURNS: Well, I think two things. I think, firstly, the nature of this war, which is ever more sectarian and on both the Sunni and Shi'ite, and for that matter Kurdish sides, I think there's a deep antipathy towards truth tellers of the kind that work for so many of his Iraqi media. And the other thing is simply what I've already alluded to, which is that we are fortunate enough to be able to protect ourselves very much better.

It's extremely expensive thing to do. And only organizations with very broad shoulders like "The New York Times" can afford to do that.

SWEENEY: Mina al-Oraibi, perhaps you, in some ways, exemplify the perils facing Iraqi journalists. You're living here in London, yet you yourself can't go and report the story in your home country.

MINA AL-ORAIBI, JOURNALIST, ASHARQ AL-AWSAT: Absolutely. I mean, I'd love to be there. I'd love to be covering all these stories, but the danger isn't just so much to me, but to my family, to the people I know.

And as John correctly stated, it's not just a matter of protection, but it's the circles you move in. You can't just go and stay in a hotel and be protected by international security guards. You're having to go back into certain districts of Baghdad and live amongst your family, and pose dangerous to them.

And that's why Iraqi journalists are being intimidated and killed more than the foreigners now.

SWEENEY: I mean, your newspaper is the only international newspaper printed in Baghdad. Initially, plans were distributed throughout the country, but so far it's only Baghdad and in the north and the Kurds area.

AL-ORAIBI: Mm-hmm.

SWEENEY: It's obvious why it's so difficult.


SWEENEY: I mean, do you think it's worth it for the newspaper to keep going? What are the kind of difficulties your newspaper faces on a daily basis?

AL-ORAIBI: I mean, huge difficulties. And it's really very important for us to stay there. And we've made a pact to try to stay there as long as we can. Sharq al Awsat went to Iraqi in 2003. And we had high hopes for Iraq. This was going to be a place where journalists can work freely. There was so much to - there were so many stories that we couldn't report in the previous - under the previous regime that we wanted to report now.

However, as the security situation got worse, our capacity was limited. We can only distribute in Baghdad. We have to think of things like distributing the paper, the vans we can send out. We can't use the same route every day to distribute the newspapers, because then it's easy to get followed and to get kidnapping.

We've actually had to move our office several times. So many difficulties. And more importantly, we try to keep our voice heard. Because we are in Sasha, and we try to be as independent as possible, and those are the voices that need to be kept heard in Iraq.

SWEENEY: Independent voices in Iraq. John Burns, if it's too dangerous for Iraqis to go out onto the street and buy a newspaper, where do they get much of their information?

BURNS: Well, you know, it's absolutely remarkable how the impact that the Internet has made here in a country which has very little literacy, and where many people don't work, and therefore are strained to buy computers.

But the fact is that the Internet made a huge contribution. Some of it, I have to say, from our point of view, somewhat negative because the Internet is so much used by the insurgent groups who have access, ready access to what we write.

And as you know, industrious in the use of their own websites. Iraqis are remarkably well informed about everything from who won the FA Cup final in extra time, to the latest bombing in Kirkuk. This is a war which Iraqis know only too well. And an enormous contribution has been made by the Iraqi journalists.

And I think they should say, not just Iraqi journalists working for Iraqi media, but Iraqi journalists working for people like ourselves, who are enormous risk takers, and very brave people. And we salute them.

SWEENEY: Let me ask you, Mina, as an Iraqi yourself, I mean, there's been a huge change since the fall of Saddam in terms of freedom of expression in Iraq. That must be quite a change, not just for Iraqi journalists to write what they would like to write, but also for the Iraqi public to hear?

AL-ORAIBI: Yes. The media in Iraq is like many other aspects of Iraq, full of contradictions now. So on the one hand, you do have less restrictive laws. You don't have a ministry of information breathing down your neck. You can write what you want to.

However, on the other hand, there is very little organization. There's very little security. So that you can get intimidated into not writing what you wanted. And you can get killed on the road or you can get hassled.

So it's contradictions. At the same time, we have the politicians. You know, we have a lot of Iraqi politicians now who will say whatever's at the tip of the their tongue. And you have one government, but you have different ministers saying different things. It can lead to all sorts of political difficulties, but it's refreshing to see.

At the same time, it shows you how this, you know, the lack of organization there is and coherence in some of the government policies. So it's so contradictions. And it's great that it's thriving, allowing people to make their voices heard. But at the same time, shows you the chaos that we face in Iraq.

SWEENEY: John Burns, I'm wondering do you notice a difference between the interest or the tolerance by the Iraqi government for you and your colleagues working for the international press and the U.S. military? Are they much more savvy in terms of how they deal with the international press?

BURNS: Yes. It's night and day. But you would expect it to be. There was no free press as we've been discussing in Iraq until April 2003. This is a very new phenomenon here. And Iraqi government officials are struggling in some ways to deal with the concept of a free press.

So yes, it's true. And it's an imbalance. We need much better access to Iraqi government officials, too, from Prime Minister Malaki on down then we get. And there's, unfortunately, as a consequence of this imbalance, our own coverage of events here tends to be much too America centric, if you will. And that's something that needs to be changed.

SWEENEY: John Burns in Baghdad, as always, thank you very much indeed for joining us. And here, Mina Al-Oraibi, thank you again.



BLAIR: It's like a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits.


SWEENEY: The relationship between the British government and the media. Tony Blair makes an assessment in his final days as prime minister. More on what he had to say and reaction when we return.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. Persuading the press, it's not easy, especially when you're in politics. Outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair this week made a speech in which he summed up the relationship between public life and the media.

He acknowledged his new labor party spent too much time in its early years trying to influence the media. But after 10 years in power, Mr. Blair threw a parting shot.


BLAIR: The media are facing a hugely, more intense form of competition than anything they have ever experienced before. They're not actually the masters of this change. They are, in many ways, the victims.

The result, however, is a media that increasingly and to a dangerous degree is driven by impact.

The fear of missing out means that today's media, more than ever before, hunts in a pack. In these modes, it's like a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits.

I do believe this relationship between public life and the media is damaged in a manner that requires repair.


SWEENEY: During the speech, Tony Blair said the regulatory framework that oversees the media would at some point need to change. Well, for their thoughts and reaction to the British Prime Minister's comments, I'm joined by CNN's chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour and Kelvin McKenzie, the former editor of "The Sun" newspaper.

Kelvin MacKenzie, a man who is famous for writing many memorable headlines in "The Sun" newspaper. Tony Blair in this speech saying he wants to get beyond the headlines. What do you think?

KELVIN MACKENZIE, FORMER EDITOR, THE SUN: Well, it's difficult to know whether this has any substance at all. He could have said this. Any time in the last 10 years, he chooses to say it as he's going through the exit door.

SWEENEY: But of course he does because he said - Tony said it before now that he would have been pilloried in the press. And even now he knows it's controversial.

MACKENZIE: Well, he's going to be pilloried anyway. I mean, it's absurd. Tony Blair had a fantastic honeymoon. Probably had about a seven year honeymoon. Probably the longest honeymoon of any British prime minister.

After all, I can remember Neil Kinnet (ph) getting a fantastic kicking. And he wasn't even the prime minister. John Major got the most tremendous packet load poured on him. And Thatcher was attacked from the left all day and all night.

Blair did just great. What he didn't like was from the moment the Iraq War happened, the media turned. And why shouldn't they turn? We have 160 people dying out in Iraq over the last four years. We have huge billions of our limited resources being spent. There's no end to this war.

Why - what is the job of the media? The relationship between the politician and the press is one of the dog and the lamp post. And that will never change.

SWEENEY: Christiane?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kelvin's right. It is true that after the Iraq War and the subsequent debacle that has become the Iraq War, Prime Minister Blair had suffered a lot of slings and arrows. And many would say rightly. And it's about his policies.

But I think certainly many foreigners here, many internationals who look at the British press, I think they have a slightly different view than Kelvin. It's not - we're not sort of used to this dog in the lamp post kind of relationship.

Not that it has to be respectful, but that there has to be some kind of working relationship between public life and the media that's constructive.

The tabloids have their own domain and their own prerogative and their own agenda. But what's happened is that tabloidization has come into the mainstream press. And there is, and there always has been a difference between tabloid and a non tabloid.

And what's happening, according to their and actually a lot of observers, is now the boundary. It's not just blurred. It's completely non-existent between views and commentary, between news and commentary. And many really have looked at the press here during the Blair years and been actually amazed at the level of vitriol that has been skewed towards it.

SWEENEY: One of the other points Tony Blair made in that speech was he said that the nature of news has changed, particularly in the last 10 years. The 24 hour news blogs, online, etcetera. And does that in itself mandate a change in the regulatory powers over the press here?

MACKENZIE: Well, I mean, regulatory powers, even Blair must accept that the idea of regulating somebody's comments, that is called freedom of speech, and if he's honestly saying that he doesn't want to see us and take a view about some of the absurd form of laws that have been brought into this country, then he should say so.

SWEENEY: But is the press getting in the way of the relationship between politicians and the public?

AMANPOUR: That's what they certainly think. I think often, sadly, the press is actually out of touch with the people. The press has its own agenda. And the people are often way beyond in the realm of much more common sense and much more desire to hear facts and objective truth.

I'm a fact based reporter. I don't engage in commentary. So already, I would rather see a much clearer delineation, even in our fragmented media world, even in our blurring of the lines between commentary and what I now call fact based reporting, which I now call myself a fact based reporter.

That's a new definition, if you like, in today's changing world. But I think what it has done over the last several years, there is an unbearably poisonous cynicism. And that is true, no matter which way you look at it, between public life and the press.

We believe we have a certain agenda and a certain right. They believe they have a certain agenda and a certain right. And the two are absolutely, 100 percent butting heads.

And what he said was there needs to be a change of context or some kind of understanding that we all operate in a new context, both political people and the press.

SWEENEY: Is there a cynicism in the press here that's more prevalent than perhaps in other newspapers and media in other countries?

MACKENZIE: I certainly think that, by the way, I'd like to do one other question first.


MACKENZIE: .which is the fact based reporter. Actually, I think you'll become a dinosaur. And I think.

AMANPOUR: Well, I disagree. People want to know what's right. Not what's right, I'm sorry. The facts.

MACKENZIE: I agree. I know you disagree with me, but I'm saying to you what I think you'll become a dinosaur. When you see the guy who's the political editor of the BBC now, he is mixing up quite a few thought processes as he delivers.

And actually, it's quite theatrical and quite interesting. If you're just delivering straightforward, this is what the certain comments, this is what the other side say, by the way, ratings are low enough for 24 hour news right now. You'll just see him go completely down the plank.

And so, actually, on the question of the relationship between the journalists, whether TV or press journalists, they are pretty rock and roll right now. And one of the issues there is that these guys, the politicians, are just simply lying their heads off.


SWEENEY: Do you believe that also.

MACKENZIE: I think when they're asked questions, they - because they're concerned about how their answer is going to be interpreted, they are.

SWEENEY: By the media?

MACKENZIE: By the media. They are by commentators more than by.

AMANPOUR: My point exactly.

MACKENZIE: .is that they are scared. They are frightened like hell of actually what happens to their careers.

Whereas I think they should simply say actually, we got that one wrong. Actually, you're wrong about that. This is working just great. Or we got to have time before we can tell what this policy.

AMANPOUR: He's right about that. But unfortunately, as we know, we run a 24 hour - we operate in a 24/7 news environment, us on CNN. And we know that we demand answers from them, whoever it might be, military leaders, political leaders, sports leaders, celebrities, whoever it is. We want an answer now. And then in the next minute and then in the next minute. It has to feed the beast, so to speak, in a new way every spike of the news hour.

MACKENZIE: But if you took something like the Iraq War, President Bush told us that there have been a great victory. It was a (INAUDIBLE). Right? Here we are, three-quarter years later, and actually people are dying every day, and there are bombs going off.


MACKENZIE: So when ordinary people see us, they say well, hold on a second. I was told by the leader of the free world that this game was all over. And so, is it really - isn't the press simply report or - on television, by the way, reflecting these kinds of issues? Or is it actually that the politicians themselves are such huge whopper tellers these days?

SWEENEY: So we're into a new era, anyway, with all the technology and news available to us these days, that it will not be just a fact based reporter. There will always be.

MACKENZIE: No, I think we can say it's been a pleasure knowing you. And I'm afraid the game is now up.

AMANPOUR: You're very clever and you're very funny. But actually, what people are saying, and if you log on to the blogs, and if you look at some of the blogs, what people want is an idea of what actually is going on out there. They also want commentary, but they also want to know what is the objective facts that are going on. And then I'll make up my mind.

There's no doubt the commentary is the wave of the present. But then equally no doubt, that there is a huge appetite. And we know at CNN because we have programs that actually spike in the ratings for actual news. We - it just is. I mean, there's been moments when, you know, you can think, well, the whole thing is going to go down into the commentary drain, if you like, and stay over there.

But I think over the last couple of years, and particularly over Iraq actually, people have sort of come back to not just wanting their commentary, but also to want to know what's going on in the world. We want to know what's going on in the world.

SWEENEY: OK, we have to leave it there because we're out of time. But Kelvin Mackenzie, Christiane Amanpour, thank you very much indeed.

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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