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Aired July 20, 2007 - 18:30:00   ET


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, HOST: 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, getting the story: Two Israeli journalists are accused of violating journalist ethics in their reports on life in Lebanon.

Facing one last hurdle, Rupert Murdoch edges closer to owning Dow Jones, and with it, The Wall Street Journal.

And later, misleading viewers, number of senior staff at the BBC are suspended over a phone-in scandal.

We begin in the Middle East. This time a year ago Israel and Lebanon were locked in their summer war. More than a month of fierce fighting left hundreds dead and caused major damage to homes and infrastructure in southern Lebanon.

On the first anniversary of the conflict, many media outlets went to Beirut for a progress report on Lebanese. Most are welcome to go about their newsgathering, for Israeli journalists, Lebanon is a no-go zone.

Well, this week, two Israeli reporters were accused of breaching journalist ethics, they were criticized of entering the country on false pretenses by using their Canadian and Brazilian passports to compile reports to be published and broadcast in Israel.

Well, there are two sides to every story. And for more on this, I'm joined by one of those reporters, Lisa Goldman, who complied one of the stories in question for Israel's Channel 10 Television. She also contributes to Corriere della Sera and joins me now from Tel Aviv.

From Beirut I'm joined by Ramez Maluf, a professor of journalism at the Lebanese American University.

Lisa Goldman, first of all, the prospect of going into Lebanon, which is a no-go area for Israelis, never mind Israeli journalists, what prompted you to do it?

LISA GOLDMAN, CONTRIBUTER, CORRIERE DELLA SERA: It was really pure curiosity. I went for a week simply as -- really as sort of tourist. I had Lebanese acquaintances, although they did not know that I was coming to Beirut.

I had a lot of knowledge of Lebanon from the Internet, and I wanted to see Beirut for myself. So I went for a week and met some fantastic people and had some amazing experiences.

And I realized after I returned to Tel Aviv that Israelis simply had no idea of what normal, middle class life in Beirut was like. All they knew about was destruction and war and extremism.

So I rang up Channel 10, and pitched the story to them. They were delighted and asked if I would like to go back. Initially the plan was for me -- I thought I would just go into the studio and talk about my trip and show the photographs I had taken.

But they suggested that I go back and prepare a report. And I agreed. So I returned a week after and stayed there for a day-and-a-half, roamed the streets with a handheld video camera, filmed some footage, did some very innocuous, non-political interviews, put together the report after I got back to Israel.

And after it was broadcast, the response was overwhelmingly positive.

SWEENEY: Overwhelmingly positive in Israel, I presume. But I know that in Lebanon there has been some more negative reaction.

Ramez Maluf, may I ask you what has -- what is your take on the idea of a journalist deciding to go to a country which is a no-go zone? I mean, it is rather courageous in one aspect, isn't it because personally it is very dangerous?

RAMEZ MALUF, JOURNALISM PROFESSOR, LEBANESE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, definitely, it's a very interesting stunt on the part of these reporters. To me what I find very, very interesting is the fact that their editors suggested they come to Lebanon to do this.

What were these editors thinking? I mean, I don't much about Israeli media, and maybe there is a spirit of adventure among their editors there, but in the case of Rinat Malkes, the other reporter, coming here on behalf of O Globo, which is a huge media network in Brazil, what was her editor thinking sending her to Lebanon?

What would he have said had she been detained or arrested? I mean, I find this totally irresponsible. I have a hard time understanding it.

SWEENEY: Let me turn to Lisa, if I may. I mean, Lisa Goldman, it is considered irresponsible on the part of your editors -- your commissioning editors to send you there. And it was a stunt on your behalf rather than serious journalism.

How do you respond to that kind of charge that has been leveled elsewhere as well?

GOLDMAN: Well, I think that is -- obviously I disagree. First of all, you mentioned earlier that you thought that the positive responses had come from Israeli viewers, and that is simply not the case.

I have received dozens upon dozens of congratulatory and supportive e- mails from Lebanese people who viewed the Arabic dubbed translation of my report on Al-Manar television.

And they all say that they were really grateful that an Israeli had come to Lebanon and shown Beirut and presented Beirut as they wished it to be presented. And the fact is that I have been stopped on the street all over Tel Aviv. And they have -- people have said they had no idea that Beirut was like that.

SWEENEY: Let me ask you about one aspect of your reporting, if I may, which was that you reported from Dialiah Square (ph), which you said, you know, had been bombed Israel during the war.

But there has been, and I read this somewhere before we conducted this interview, about criticism that you didn't step further than a certain part of Beirut, that you didn't go beyond Beirut where there had been more bombing.

I mean, is that a -- do you think that is a valid criticism or were there personal safety concerns that made you keep, say, in the area where you wanted to be in?

GOLDMAN: No. I think that the kindest I can say about that criticism is that it is very disingenuous. I certainly was not going to risk my life to -- by going into the Dahiya. I spoke with many people, many people who live in the Dahiya, the southern suburbs. I also spoke with many reporters -- Lebanese reporters and foreign reporters who have been to the Dahiya.

These are people that are -- whose opinion I trust and whose credibility is indisputable. And I think I got a pretty accurate picture. But again, because I didn't see the Dahiya with my own eyes, I only quoted people verbatim and let the quotes speak for themselves.

I did not extrapolate and I stated in my report very clearly that I could not enter the southern suburbs because I would probably be caught by the Hezbollah.

SWEENEY: Ramez Maluf, I mean, is there a case here to be made for perhaps wounded pride that somebody managed to get through security not once but twice in Lebanon to report on a story?

MALUF: Well, I don't know that that is the case. You know, people in Lebanon know that Europeans, Americans travel to Israel. They ask the people at customs not to stamp their passports. And then they come to Lebanon or the other Arab countries.

It is not unheard of. But I think -- my concern with this is the issue of journalism. First of all, it is OK to operate under false pretense if you have to, if you are looking for a story that otherwise you would not be able to obtain. I think that is all right.

And it can be explained and maybe accepted by some editors. But there is nothing that these reporters wrote really -- I mean, seriously, I don't know if you read the story, there is nothing new in any of them.

SWEENEY: But the point is.

MALUF: Also.

SWEENEY: . was it not that it was Israeli journalists.

MALUF: . you know.

SWEENEY: . were going in there for the first time, seeing it from their perspective? It is one thing to read it from other foreign correspondents, but this is something that these people were doing from their country, from their perspective.

MALUF: Well, I don't -- it could be. It could be, if the Israelis don't trust the AP, the Associated Press, they don't trust Reuters, they don't trust Agence France-Presse, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Independent, if they don't trust all of these reporters, then -- and they need to have a homegrown reporter do it, fine.

I find that peculiar, but not that.

SWEENEY: Let me.


SWEENEY: Lisa Goldman.

GOLDMAN: I actually find that response problematic on -- from -- on two levels. One is, the fact is that Al-Manar, LBC, Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, Alhurra, and numerous other Middle Eastern news agencies and media outlets all have correspondents in Israel and the Palestinian Authority who do report live to all of -- broadcasting all over the Middle East.

Now I don't see why Israelis cannot report from Lebanon. The fact is that.

SWEENEY: Because the country is at a state of war.

GOLDMAN: Let them use the wires, well, if we are -- it goes both ways. LBC and Al-Manar are both Lebanese media outlets, and they do have correspondents in Israel broadcasting live to Lebanon. I don't see why it can't go both ways.

The fact is that Israelis were very surprised by the fact that -- by my report. They were surprised by what they saw in my report. It was news to them. So that means that the picture we are getting from the Western media and from the wire services is incomplete.

MALUF: I think one of the aspects here that is really irresponsible is that the visit by these two reporters has made it even more difficult for reputable foreign journalists to come to this part of the world, Lebanon or other parts of the Arab world, and not get kidnapped, assassinated, and, you know, done violence to.

Now all of these very sad and tragic kidnappings and murders of good journalists that occasionally unfortunately happen have been given some credence by the act of these two reporters and the accusations that are often leveled. And they, in my mind, are ludicrous. But these journalists are.

GOLDMAN: I'm sorry, you cannot pin that on me.

SWEENEY: All right. OK. Ramez, just finish your point, if I may, please -- if you may.

MALUF: And the accusations that I believe are ludicrous that are often leveled against these journalists will unfortunately now find greater credibility among segments of the population.

SWEENEY: Lisa Goldman, very -- really, we have to keep it brief, we are about to lose the satellite. But a final word from you on that point.

GOLDMAN: I'm sorry. I don't think it is fair at all to pin responsibility for the kidnappings committed by extremists on one lone reporter. I did not make an irresponsible report. I entered the country legally with my legal Canadian passport. If there are extremists kidnapping journalists, then one should criticize the extremists, not this journalist, that is unfair and not logical.

SWEENEY: There we will have to leave it. Thank you both very much, indeed. Lisa Goldman in Tel Aviv, Ramez Maluf in Beirut. Thank you both very much, indeed, for joining us.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, clinching the deal. Media mogul Rupert Murdoch inches closer to owning The Wall Street Journal. We will discuss the impact on his empire and the media in general when we return. Stay with us.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. It could be considered Rupert Murdoch's greatest gamble. The media mogul's News Corporation is one step closer to owning Dow Jones, the parent company of The Wall Street Journal.

In the past week, members of the Dow Jones board endorsed the $5 billion buyout offer. Some Wall Street Journal staff members are opposed to the buyout. They are worried that Murdoch's control of the business daily could erode the paper's editorial independence.

The deal still faces one more hurdle, it must be approved by members of the Bancroft family, which has a controlling stake in the company. That decision could be made as early as next week.

Well, the buyout would enhance Rupert Murdoch's international media empire and could have a major impact on the media landscape across the U.S. To discuss the deal and its potential implications, I'm joined by Andrew Neil, a newspaper editor, publisher, broadcaster, and former executive of Murdoch's FOX network. And from New York, Matthew Bishop, The Economist's chief business writer and American business editor.

Matthew Bishop, let's start with you. Why is it Rupert Murdoch's greatest gamble?

MATTHEW BISHOP, CHIEF BUSINESS WRITER & AMERICAN BUSINESS EDITOR, THE ECONOMIST: Well, I don't if it is his greatest gamble. It certainly is the most he has ever paid for -- or the highest price he has paid above what an entity is worth. He is paying about $2 billion more than The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones are really worth.

And I think he is doing it because he has just wanted to have a trophy business newspaper for a very long time. And I think he will invest heavily in it and actually be good for the newspaper in the end. But he is paying a huge price.

SWEENEY: He is paying a huge price, and causing a huge family rift as well. So this isn't really a story about Rupert Murdoch expanding his empire, it really is about a generational battle between -- within this family about the future direction of its paper.

BISHOP: It is. I mean, the family, I think, there is going to be a lot of people who won't ever speak to each other again within the Bancroft family. And Mr. Murdoch has been brilliant in understanding the politics within the Bancroft family and pitching the price just right to play off the younger generation who are quite keen to get the money against the older generation who, you know, feel much more personal loyalty to the newspaper.

SWEENEY: Andrew Neil, does that tactic sound familiar to you?

ANDREW NEIL, FORMER NEWS CORP. EXECUTIVE: Oh yes, he is wonderfully charming when he wants something, and terribly ruthless once he has got it. And he will have charmed a huge chunk of the Bancrofts out of their trees.

And don't forget, the Bancrofts, as they sit today, have the potential, because of the huge valuation that Murdoch has put on it that Matthew was talking about, as it stands at the moment, they are a 60 percent -- 67 percent richer than they were in April of this year.

If they say no to this deal, which they won't, they would be a lot more than 67 percent poorer. So he has got them where he wants them. There are a few holdouts, but they will be overwhelmed by the majority of the Bancroft family.

SWEENEY: And the question here that is always raised when Rupert Murdoch expands his empire is one of editorial integrity. I mean, how much leeway does he have to get directly involved or interfere, as some might say.


NEIL: He has got -- well, he owns it. There is an interesting thing in Britain and the United States, that if you own a newspaper, you are not allowed to interfere in it. Everyone else is except the owner.

Well, Mr. Murdoch doesn't take that view. He will interfere, intervene as much as he sees fit make The Journal a more successful newspaper. He will be cribbed and confined by this board of independent directors.

But when I was The Sunday Times in London, we had a board of independent directors as well. I consulted my driver more often than I would consult the board of independent directors. He knows how to get around them. He will get through that. In effect, it will be no constraint at all.

SWEENEY: Matthew Bishop, do you agree essentially he will get to do what he wants to do with this? Or how much leeway does he have to interfere with a business newspaper's editorial judgment.

BISHOP: Well, I think Andrew is right. He clearly can do what he likes. I think his biggest constraint is going to be the market for business news, which I think is a much more demanding marketplace than the market for political opinion.

And you know, he really can't afford to have any suggestion that the quality of the reporting and the independence of the reporting of the business coverage in The Journal is being interfered with. Because people would run away from the brand very fast.

So he is going to have The Financial Times very eager to point out any slips on the reporting side. So I think he knows that and he wants a business paper because of the brand. And he is not going to destroy the brand by interfering willy-nilly.

As for the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal, I mean, if he did interfere, he would probably move it to the left, which would be an interesting phenomenon. But I suspect he will let them flourish in their idiosyncratic way anyway.

NEIL: Well, he agrees with the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal anyway. It is his kind of right-wing Republican politics. He once said to me that reading the op-ed pages of The Journal was like having a strong cup of caffeine every morning. It got him going and it told him what to think.

And Matthew is right that he is seen to skew the business news coverage of The Journal to suit his own interest, as he has down in nearly every other newspaper that he has owned, then the market will take a judgment on that. People will not like that. People won't trust him.

The problem is that sometimes he just can't help himself, that he won't be able to stop himself from doing it.

SWEENEY: And in terms of investment, how likely is he going to invest, as Matthew believes in.


NEIL: He will put a lot of money. You know, the -- on a straight valuation basis he is paying a lot. You know, everything Rupert Murdoch has bought, he paid a lot. I was with him in '94 when FOX got the rights to the NFL. And everybody said he paid far too much.

He paid far too much for the FOX stations. He always pays too much. The way to value this is not what the value is now, but what he can make it. You add in the Murdoch magic, the rest of his paper's business resources.

He is now starting what will become The Wall Street Journal financial channel, and his global reach that he has, add all that together and you will have a far more vibrant if rather more politically interesting company.

SWEENEY: And journalistically, where do you think he can take the newspaper in terms of investment? Where does it need to improve? Or where would he see it might need to change?

NEIL: Oh, he believes that the journal is overmanned. He believes there are far too many journalists not writing enough words. So I don't you will see a huge investment in the print journalism.

What he will attempt to do is roll it out more successfully across all the platforms in a digital age. After many wrong starts, Rupert Murdoch finally got the measure of the digital age. And both on satellite, on screen and online, you will see The Journal brand rolled across the world.

And he it, for all of his faults, the only true global media mogul. And with The Journal, he gets a truly global brand.

SWEENEY: Should we expect redundancies Matthew Bishop?

BISHOP: Well, I imagine so. But as Andrew says, I mean, the key point is, is he is good for global business coverage because he will invest in The Wall Street Journal as a global newspaper that really is reporting globally.

And for the past few years, The Journal, as has the FT, have been reducing their global coverage to some extent because they have had to be closing bureaus abroad and reducing the number of journalists out there covering the more interesting parts of the world, like China and India, which are really where the business stories of the future are.

So I think we are going to have a much better global business coverage as a result of this deal than we would be having otherwise.

SWEENEY: There seems to be no stopping him.


NEIL: Well, I would just say this, I wouldn't want to be the Beijing correspondent of Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal. You would have to think about every word you write. He has already thrown the BBC off his Star Satellite because they have offended the Chinese.

He wouldn't publish Governor Patten's memoirs because it offended the Chinese. And his son James -- or was it Lachlan? I can't remember, one of them said that the Chinese were right to treat the Falun Gong Christians the way they had, which was oppressively.

So I wouldn't like to be the guy writing these stories.

SWEENEY: We will have to leave it there.

BISHOP: Yes. I don't think I will apply for that job.


NEIL: Good move.

SWEENEY: On that note, Matthew Bishop in New York, thank you very much, indeed, Andrew Neil here in London.

NEIL: Thank you.

SWEENEY: Still to come on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, deceiving viewers, the BBC takes action after it finds itself at the center of a fake phone-in scandal. That story after the break.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. The BBC has suspended some senior editors after the public broadcaster revealed it had unearthed a string of fake phone-in competitions. Media observers say the scandal has tarnished the corporation's reputation and trust with its viewers.

Phil Black has more.


PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The BBC has spent a lot of time apologizing lately. First for the children's show "Blue Peter," fined $100,000 for faking the result of a phone-in competition.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We would like to say sorry to you, because when this mistake happened, we let you down.

BLACK: Then there was this program promotion, wrongly suggesting the queen stormed out of a photo shoot with Annie Liebovitz.

Now the crisis deepens and the BBC is again featuring in its own news bulletins.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A crisis of trust. The BBC reveals a list of programs which deceived viewers and listeners.

BLACK: The broadcaster has admitted six other television and radio shows have deceived the audience.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everyone in the industry is really shocked by the revelations. The last thing they expected was the BBC to be guilty of this.

BLACK: Three shows made to raise money for charity, also cheated their viewers. On "Comic Relief" and "Sports Relief," staff members stood in as winners of competitions. And on "Children in Need," an entirely fictitious winner was named on-air.

This is an embarrassing time for a broadcaster whose brand is built on integrity, accuracy, and trust.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I should stress that we are still talk about a tiny minority of the tens of thousands of programs the BBC broadcasts every year, literally tens of thousands.

BLACK (on camera): Public outrage is fueled by the fact the BBC is publicly funded with a budget of more than $7 billion a year. Part of that budget will now go towards winning back the public's trust, including a training plan for its army of staff to teach them the definition of honest programming.

(voice-over): All phone-in competitions have been suspended, and so have an unknown number of senior staff. But the BBC is not the only British broadcaster trying to get its house in order. Commercial network ITV was also recently found guilty of misleading viewers through phone-in competitions.

Phil Black, CNN, London.


SWEENEY: And that wraps up 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.