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Live from the Arctic; Caught in the Web; Star Struck

Aired September 7, 2007 - 20:30:00   ET


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL 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, live from the Arctic, reporting from one of the most inhospitable places on Earth.

Caught in the Web. The Internet's impact on journalism.

And star struck. Why the tabloids target troubled celebrities.

First, it was an ambitious assignment to say the least. Going live on air from the high Arctic, a place where no other television station had been successful in a live international broadcast. That was the brief for a team from Britain's Channel Four which sent correspondents and crew to the region. They compiled a series of reports and live broadcasts on the Arctic's energy reserves and the countries making territorial claims to them.

The coverage was called the Cold Rush.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're coming to you live from the Arctic and so far north are we in the world that we're unable to reach any satellite that would enable us to transmit televisually and so we're coming to you on the public Internet, thus any disturbance you may detect either in the voice or in the pictures coming to you.


SWEENEY: A team of seven was sent to the high Arctic for the assignment. Among them were Channel Four's science correspondent Tom Clarke and assistant home editor Jane Kinney.

They join me now in the comfort and warmth of the studio.

First of all, Jane Kinney, where did the idea come about?

JANE KINNEY, CHANNEL FOUR HOME EDTIOR: Well, it came about earlier in the year but it was reignited by the planting of the flag by the Russians and then with the both two western ministers, foreign ministers traveling further than any western ministers have ever traveled before and allowing them access to them, we thought, now is the opportunity to go and do it really.

SWEENEY: And briefly, for those of us who might not be familiar with what is taking place there, I mean, there really is a rush there for the natural reserves there and also it is where we are witnessing climate change happening at a frightening pace.

KINNEY: Well, you've got allegedly 25 percent of the world's gas and oil reserves underneath the polar ice cap which is thinning, thereby getting access to it - it doesn't belong to anybody but the Arctic states, the five Arctic states that surround it are all trying to kind of grab a bit of this so they can kind of have access to those oil and gas reserves.

So it is basically a rush to find out who can plant the flag first, really.

SWEENEY: Seems something like the Wild West frontier all over again, Tom Clarke.

TOM CLARKE, CHANNEL FOUR SCIENCE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And that's sort of what we wanted to embody. We were trying to think about how do you marry this story to the fact that climate is changing, ironically possibly due to the burning of fossil fuels that's driving that melting that is allowing these oil and gas companies to get those fossil fuels out.

We went to Hammerfest (ph) which is this classic - it's almost like a Wild West town in the high north. It's a Norwegian town but it's full of American oil men, Somali cleaners who come there to exploit the cash that's coming out. To do a piece about this town which has become sort of the first frontier town in the Arctic to get gas out from underneath Arctic ice potentially. I mean, the sea does freeze over in the winter.

SWEENEY: And how has that happened?

CLARKE: Well, it's two things, really. It's the fact that the price of gas has gone up and it's going to stay up, which makes it economically viable to do more expensive tricky things in expensive tricky places like the Arctic.

And the second thing is the ice a bit thinner so you can be certain that the ice is going to freeze over and make their operations during the wintertime difficult.

And the third thing, using robot subs and stuff like that, you can put all of your gas tapping infrastructure down in the sea bed. It's a very deep sea. There ice bergs over it during the winter time. You don't want to be driving tankers and putting oil rigs out there. You can put all of your gas infrastructure on the seabed and pipe it back into a port.

Then is the other key thing - it's a little bit nerdy, but to get gas to customers normally you need to put it on a pipe and you need your customers quite close to that pipe so in the Gulf States, people in the southern U.S. get their gas, in Britain from the North Sea. This plant turns natural gas into liquid, which you can then, it's called liquid natural gas, put it on a boat and ship it anywhere.

The deals so far are with Spain and the U.S. for the gas from this Arctic reserve.

SWEENEY: Let's talk first of all for a moment about the logistics of this. When you decide to go one of the most inhospitable places in the region, where there is no satellite from which you can use to broadcast, how do you go about the planning?

KINNEY: Well, interesting, that was our key thing, was can we do it and can we go live? And there is satellite but it's zero, it's two degrees satellite. So either I would have to have got my engineer to strap his flyway (ph) dish to his back and climb up to the highest mountain to set it up, which was never going to happen, or we had to find alternative methods. And really, we couldn't use B-Gan (ph), we couldn't use sats, we couldn't use any traditional broadcasting methods. The only way we thought we could do it was by Internet, but we weren't really even sure we could until we actually got there because we had to use public Internet ...

SWEENEY: So B-Gan is a lot safer traditionally for ...

CLARKE: B-Gan you still need to get your information from your camera through the Internet to a satellite. There is still a need, there is still a satellite bridge for B-Gan between you and a node on the Internet at the other end. So it's taking you from an Internet node in Norway to a high speed Internet node in the U.S., London in our case, whatever.

We had no satellite coverage there. Satellites hovering on the horizon. Any building might throw it off, as Jane was saying it. So no sats, we had to do it just on the Internet and at first we had - the hotel we could try and use wasn't very good. Fortunately on Svalbard, this archipelago islands, there's a big scientific research unit, big university, which obviously has a really high end Internet connection.

When we tried it with that, it turned out, yes, in fact, we are going to be able to do this.

SWEENEY: You would like to go back again but obviously in a few months time it's going to be pitch dark 24 hours a day. So how does that factor into your reckoning?

KINNEY: I think we will go back, but I don't think we'll go back - I think we'll go back when we're a little bit further down the international route so when there's a decision made on the international law of the sea as to who owns what bits or who is going to control what bits and how those oil and natural gas reserves split out, so I think it's probably not going to be for a few years yet until we go back.

SWEENEY: It's really hard to underestimate just what is taking place up there in terms of scientific development, business development, the climate change, all almost colliding with each other as the countries around there are colliding with each other.

CLARKE: You see them all married together. For a long time I've just been covering climate change in the Arctic and I was talking with a climate change expert who pointed out to me that he can no longer get a hotel room in Alaska, the place that they used to go and do their climate change ice (ph) works (ph) and there weren't hotel rooms anymore in Alaska because they're all taking up by oil company engineers.

And I'm like, why? And he says because the ice is thinning, the science we've done shows it's thinning, they realize now the opportunity to go back and see whether it's actual commercially viable to exploit oil. And it's fascinating.

And then you talk to oil companies, all the new oil tankers that are being built are being designed to resist ice because fairly soon it's going to be possible to drive an oil tanker from northern Norway, across the North Pole to Japan, to markets in China. We no longer have to go around the Suez Canal and things like that. So it's changed the whole dynamics there and you suddenly realize this is all happening, but it's happening slowly.

I mean, the ice is getting (ph) a bit smaller (ph), we're talking about another 40, 50 years but in the terms of an oil companies' business plan, that's perfectly reasonable strategic planning.

SWEENEY: A serious story, then, for everybody at Channel Four and everyone joining us around the world, but you did have some fun with this, and speaking of ice, your Channel Four logo.

KINNEY: Yes, our foreign editor, Deborah Rainor (ph), had a brain wave, why don't we shoot it through a frozen four, can we make one. And the channel didn't have any models but we had a very excellent director who was able to knock up an amazing model that he flew out, that flew out with us.

CLARKE: It was a little too warm in Svalbard to really hold it frozen as long as we needed it to be. Because we took it out of the - yeah, and it had a little bit of liquid in it.

SWEENEY: Well, on that note, you'll probably have it right the next time you go. Good luck to you. Thank you very much indeed. Jane Kinney, Tom Clarke with Channel Four.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, the Internet, where you can find just about anything at the click of the mouse. Given that wealth of information, what impact does it have on the news trade? We'll consider that when we return.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. The World Wide Web is a useful tool for anyone wanting to find information on pretty much any topic. It also gives anyone a chance to voice their opinion through blogs and other interactive sites. Many of us in the news industry use the Internet in our news gathering, whether it be for background or to utilize so-called user-generated content.

This network, like others, air pictures and mobile phone videos from viewers where we can't be. In our case, they're called "I-Reports."

Well, given the increasing reliance on the Internet, what sort of impact is it having on traditional journalism? Well, here to discuss that is Andrew Keen, he is a British digital entrepreneur and author of "The Cult of the Amateur, How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture and Distorting Our Economy."

Also with us is Tyler Brule, the editor-in-chief of "Monocle," the magazine with a major Web-based broadcast component.

First of all, Andrew Keen, your book has received either rave reviews, sometimes often from the traditional media whose stance you support and also been completely panned by many of those who love Wikipedia and all of the other elements on the Internet people increasingly use for news access.

ANDREW KEEN, AUTHOR, "THE CULT OF THE AMATEUR": Well, I think my book reveals that the emperor isn't wearing any clothes, at least the digital emperor. And the guys on the Internet obviously aren't very happy with that. Not everyone in mainstream media agrees with everything I'm saying and I think the book itself is a little bit more sophisticated than simply bashing the Internet and building up mainstream media.

But the book makes two points. Firstly, it discusses the way in which too much of the content on the Internet is either corrupt, incompetent, inane and narcissistic or simply pointless. And on the hand it points out while the user-generated revolution content is going on on the Internet, mainstream media is in deep trouble. And you can't just blame the Internet for that. The Internet is not destroying mainstream media but part of the phenomenon, it's like two escalators, one going up, one going down, and the ultimate consequence of this is more and more user generated content, mainstream media having less and less economic viability. We're seeing the freefall collapse of the recorded music business. We're seeing newspapers, particularly in the U.S., close. We see storm clouds on the horizon both on the television and on the publishing and the movie industry.

So all in all the ultimate consequence for consumers is less reliable information, more cacophony, more chaos on the Internet.

SWEENEY: Tyler Brule, mainstream media as well has its opinions and those who -- columnists have their opinions, so really there is an argument to be made that there isn't much of a difference, it's just the chattering class is holding on to the last bastion of their power.

TYLER BRULE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "MONOCLE": I think there is a question of quality there. And I think what's interesting as well is that, yes, we've seen this explosion of media and there's more media outlets, more traditional media outlets as well, and I think when you cite that you can't just blame the Web, it's very true, because just because you've got more newspapers, more magazines, more TV channels, doesn't mean you've got more talented news editors, doesn't mean you've got other people whispering in your ear who really necessarily know their game. Now, that's also part of the problem as well.

I was in New York two weeks ago talking to one of the deans of Columbia School of Journalism and they said they just despair looking at these new kids coming because they said they're worried they have nowhere to go. Either you can sort of do the celebrity beat or you can go and be on your own blog but nothing in between.

SWEENEY: And how do you think that the traditional media, and I'm thinking of print journalism in particular have adapted to the Internet. Have they done a better job of adapting than perhaps broadcast media?

BRULE: I think there is a lot of complaining going on in mass media and I think people, again, are just pointing to the Web and saying, oh, it's the Web's fault that readership is sagging, that ad revenue is down, and I don't think that's the case. I think that a lot of the erosion in quality of print media started long before the Web and on one side you can say it was because of mergers and of course, shareholders demanding more value, potentially, that's one side of it.

But again, also, if you want to expand the newsstand and there's not a new school of graduates coming out, then who is actually going to be sitting in the editor's chair? So that is part of the problem and you've seen magazines complaining, but on one side, they're reducing paper quality, they're closing bureaus, there's less investment in journalism, so people do look elsewhere.

SWEENEY: Andrew Keen, what do you say to those who say that the Web is fantastic for them because all they would have had as a recourse to the mainstream media would have been writing a letter to the editor.

KEEN: I say to those people that your opinion is all very well but for the majority of the 70 million bloggers who are essentially just people who have electronic diaries, their opinion is not very interesting to anyone except themselves. If they really feel so strongly about understand the world and commenting on the world, I would suggest that they go and apprentice at their local newspaper or radio show. Go and study journalism. Journalism is a profession, it's a trade. It's not something that anyone can do. Just because you have strong opinions doesn't make you into a journalist. All it makes you into a loud, opinionated and often extremely boring loudmouth.

SWEENEY: There are some excellent blogs out there.

KEEN: There are and they're very hard to find. That's the problem with the blogosphere.

SWEENEY: Are you talking about, then, the kind of civil discourse that we have on the Internet where bloggers, you say, are talking about themselves, but also, people are trying to talk to each other and it is the very early days of the Internet, relatively speaking.

BRULE: I think also talking at each other. I think that's also part of it. I'm not sure how much dialogue is really going on because you can look at a lot of quite famous bloggers and there's not that many comments posted at the end. I think it's really about one way and it's broadcasting potentially in the old sense of the word and I don't think it's an active discussion going both ways.

KEEN: Absolutely. I think the biggest problem with the blogosphere is that the utopians idealize this idea of community. They say it represents this wonderful community. But it's not true. Real communities are made up of people of different opinions. The blogosphere is essentially an echo chamber. You go there to confirm your own views.

SWEENEY: But is this not part of the age of celebrity we're in at the moment where everyone is believed to - or told to believe that they have an opinion which is fair enough, everybody has an opinion, but that their opinion is valid ...

KEEN: Absolutely. And that's why the Internet is so interesting. My critique is not of the Internet, it's not of technology. The Internet is a mirror. When we look at it, we're looking at ourselves. Now some of that is great, it's vital, it's irreverent, it's full of energy. But a lot of it is what I call digital narcissism. We're staring at ourselves but it's a mirror that we think should make us look beautiful.

And Tyler, you're the expert on design and style. I'm assuming it doesn't make people look very good often.

BRULE: No, and I think also there's a question of maybe looking beyond the walls here as well. As beautiful as they are. But at the newsroom floor, too, because I think whether you look at this network or the BBC or many others where there is this constant call every 15 minutes, every 10 minutes on the hour for the viewers' view on things. And I think - actually, I don't really care what people think. I want to hear it from you, I want to hear it from Mr. Ware in Baghdad ...

SWEENEY: But this is obviously - an elitist view that you could be accused.

BRULE: And that's fine. I don't think there is a problem with being deemed an elitist. If you want it accurate and you want to make sure it's been fact checked and you're getting it from a trusted source. There's no problem with that.

KEEN: I absolutely agree and I think the biggest problem with mainstream media is that it itself has fallen under the spell of the cult of the amateur. The worst stuff on mainstream media are the reality television shows, the call in radio shows, the "American Idol" shows. Mainstream media needs to be more arrogant. It needs to acknowledge the fact that it has expertise and authority and stress that authority, otherwise it loses its value.

SWEENEY: We have to leave it there or we'll lose our timeslot. Thank you very much indeed Andrew Keen and Tyler Brule.

And still to come on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, troubled celebrities hitting the headlines for reasons other than whatever talent presumably made them famous in the first place. Why can't the media get enough of their personal lives? That story next.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. It's said there's no such thing as bad publicity and that often rings true for celebrities. We've seen actors, singers and socialites hitting the headlines for breakdowns, drug and alcohol addiction, whatever woes befall their lives.

Now in Britain the tabloids have been concentrating more on the personal rather than professional life of the artist Amy Winehouse.

She's been in and out of rehab in recent months amid reports of drug and alcohol abuse while Pete Doherty has also drawn plenty of press attention. His band, Babyshambles, recently released a new single, but he's better known in Britain for his on again, off again relationship with model Kate Moss as well as a string of court appearances on drugs charges.

Well, Amy Winehouse surprised many industry watchers when she appeared and performed this week at the Mercury Music Awards here in London. So as the media continues to hone in on her and other celebrities tackling problems, is the coverage warranted?

To discuss that I'm joined by Katie Banks (ph), senior showbiz writer with "Reveal" magazine.

Is the coverage warranted to the scale that it has been, particularly of Amy Winehouse of late?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I think the problem is a lot of celebrities place their problems in the public domain. With Amy Winehouse, she was seen running down Regent Street covered in blood at 4:00 a.m. in the morning. And also she's been contacting Perez Hilton, telling him about her problems. So it's difficult when journalists know to give up on the story when it's so in the public domain.

SWEENEY: This is a blogging Web site she's contacted.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. He writes global (ph) (inaudible) Web site.

SWEENEY: In the case of Pete Doherty as well as Amy Winehouse, you're looking at two extremely talented people who seem to be living their public trauma - their trauma very publicly. Does the media have a responsibility here? It seems like God forbid nothing happens but we're witnessing something and by bearing witness to something to the extent that we are, is the media at fault here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the media have a responsibility to report the facts and when Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty are doing well (ph) their music, they report that and they talk about their albums and how well they're doing. Unfortunately when they're going through their troubles, everyone wants the news and they want to know what is happening with that as well.

So I don't think the media are to blame because with Pete Doherty, he often contacts the media and talks about the stories himself. I mean, he contacted the papers and said that Kate Moss was a dirty old rag. Now he knew that was going to create headlines so I think sometimes when celebrities actually come to the media, they can't be blamed.

He also does artwork in his own blood and puts it in public galleries and puts his private videos on YouTube.

SWEENEY: But I suppose the art galleries are somewhat different from the media frenzy that surrounds him because that's what he would consider to be art. I mean, contact the media is his own different thing about his relationships.

Really, there is - the lines would appear very blurred between certain artists and the showbiz media and it's not going to be up to the showbiz media to draw the line, is it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the line is hard because I think celebrities do tend to court publicity when they want it and when they don't want publicity obviously their fans still want to hear the stories and journalists still want to publish exclusives.

So I think with Pete Doherty, the problem is he has often courted the press and so now when he's going through rehab, people still want updates. So we're still following the story.

SWEENEY: So for example, if Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse decide they want to live their life away from the public eye in order to do whatever they feel needs to be done, would the media feel responsible enough the leave them alone? Seriously.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the media is always interested in a good story. So if Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse stopped living such extraordinary lifestyles, deeply tainted by drugs, then I'm sure media interest in them would die down and you'd get more stories about their music rather than their drug addiction.

But that would have to mean a whole change in their lifestyle.

SWEENEY: All right. We have to leave it there. But Katie, thank you very much indeed.

And 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.