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Media Frenzy Over Disappearance of Madeleine McCann; 24-Hour News Channel About Bangladesh Taken Off the Air

Aired September 14, 2007 - 20:30:00   ET


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Becky Anderson in London. You're watching CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we turn the spotlight on the media industry.
This week, rumor and speculation, the media frenzy surrounding the case of Madeleine McCann.

Transmission lost, the only 24 hour news channel dedicated to Bangladesh is taken off the air. And lifting the veil, we speak to the filmmaker behind the documentary on the lives of women in Afghanistan.

Well, in early May, British girl Madeleine McCann went missing whilst on a family holiday in Portugal. The news sparked a global campaign and unprecedented media interest. Initially, when her parents, Kate and Gerry McCann courted publicity, and they allayed rumor and speculation after they were named as formal suspects.

Well, in a moment, we'll consider how this story has played out across the media. First, this report from Emily Chang.


EMILY CHANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Photographers pursued them as they left Portugal and booked seats on their flight back to England. Once they'd arrived, the media set up camp outside their home.

Madeleine McCann has become the face of a global campaign designed to keep her plight in the international spotlight.

DAVID BECKHAM: If you have seen this little girl.

CHANG: Celebrities like David Beckham and J.K. Rowling have joined in.

ALLAN BIGGAR, PUBLIC RELATIONS EXPERT: I think they got off to a very quick start. And they were very engaged with the media from the beginning. But the key, you know, to any of these campaigns is the two way street. There's got to be receptive media and there's got to be a receptive public to the story.

CHANG: For four months, Madeleine's parents have lived their lives in public to keep the search for their daughter alive. They've had an audience with the pope toward three continents, even hired media consultants. And in doing so, have skillfully masterminded the brand McCann.

BIGGAR: A brand is something which is very clearly identifiable. This is a very identifiable, I think, to most people that you could imagine this is you, that you could imagine is your child.

CHANG: Critics have wondered how the McCanns have waged such a successful media campaign, while suffering the stress of a missing child. The McCanns say staying in the public eye is their only hope to find their daughter.

Emily Chang, CNN, London.


ANDERSON: Well, this story has been treated very differently by the media in Portugal, as opposed to news outlets elsewhere. Let's examine that coverage now. For that, I'm joined from Lisbon by Luis Ribas. He's a senior correspondent with SIC Television, one of Portugal's biggest broadcasters, and by CNN's Paula Hancocks. She's in Port au May (ph) in Portugal.

Luis, let me start with you, if I can. How would you characterize the way that the Portuguese media have covered this story?

LUIS RIBAS, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, SIC TV: I believe we have seen a little bit of everything. Some newspapers have carried too many stories filled with speculation rather than fact. Other newspapers start to the facts. However, there were not a lot of facts in the story. And we still do not have a lot of fact in this story. And so, there was a full range of response to the lack of enough fact to reach conclusions.

Some newspapers and some media were cautious. Others were not. And I believe that the Portuguese media made a mistake that was the same mistake that was made by the British media, which is in the beginning, they were too willing to be part of the search and rescue team, if I can put it that way.

ANDERSON: Paula, we all accept that the media has a responsibility to report the goings on in this case, but it has been difficult, hasn't it? You've heard what Luis has said about the way that he would characterize the Portuguese media's coverage of this story. How would you describe the way the international media then has covered this?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Becky, specifically the British media we start on with that. Certainly, there's been some kind of a relationship built up between those journalists, those cameramen, those producers, and the McCann family, because the McCann family right from day one has courted the media press to try and encourage people to know more about their daughter to give information about their daughter.

And certainly in that respect, we have seen a relationship forming, which is very unusual in this kind of situation. We've seen some media scrums. For example, on the Sunday morning when the McCanns left their villa in Portugal to go to the airport and go back to Britain, now certainly media firms can be very hot, very sweaty. You end up with a couple of bruises. It's a lot of pushing and shoving.

But at that particular occasion, there was no screaming at the McCanns. It was almost more respectful when they're walking into the police station. Some of the paparazzi was saying Gerry, look over here, please. This is not what you usually see in these media scrums. It's usually much more frantic, almost more aggressive to try and get that particular person you need to photograph to turn around, face you so you can get that perfect shot.

Certainly, there's been a lot - a much different feeling towards this particular story that I've noticed from an international point of view. And some of the international journalists I've spoken to as well have said that - you'd actually be surprised that they've never seen something like that before.

ANDERSON: Are the media responsible for a frenzy of public interest? Or are they just reacting to what has been an enormous amount of interest in this story? Is this the sort of classic chicken and egg, I guess, Luis?

RIBAS: Maybe it's a little bit of both. But we started it. We have to understand that. We started it. We started to give more airtime and more print space to this story than it deserved. And when I say that, I probably use other incidents of children that have disappeared as a level - as a measure of comparison.

How have we covered other stories of missing children? Why have we covered this story differently? I'll get to that in a minute.

But we started giving this story more air time than it deserved. And then, people somehow became mesmerized. And then we have to feed the beast. And so, we should have been more cautious from the onset. I think all the media involved here.

And my own thinking as to how this story gets to where it got to where it did, it's very simple. It's a lovely, amazingly beautiful little girl. And there's no way the public at large, who sees the news, nowadays, is also entertainment. And this is the perfect story for an entertainment driven media era. The news is not the most important thing in newscasts nowadays. It's news and entertainment.

It's a sad reality about what television news and print news has come to, but this is what's happening.

ANDERSON: We all struggle with the way that this story has been covered, Paula, I think, all of us as journalists. Luis referring there to it being not just in news, but perhaps sickeningly, an entertainment story as well. I know you've got a couple of magazines in your hand. I mean, you know, proving that point I think?

HANCOCKS: That's right, yes. This shows how once there's no fact and no actual evidence that you can really report in a story, it turns to other matters. These were a couple of the Portuguese magazines here.

Now this one's a fairly high brow magazine I am told, which basically says what do the police know about Maggie's mother, and then going on to one of the more tabloid-y magazines, "Flash." This says "The Dark Side of Kate McCann.

So not only are some of these journalists and the magazine reporters looking at what's happening at this exact moment, they're looking at the characters behind. It's like the characters in a soap opera. They're deciding to have a character assessment at this point.

But one interesting thing I'd like to point out as well, Becky, is the fact that the McCanns started this. The McCanns started a press interest in Portugal. And in Britain certainly, this was because it was a news story. But international viewers, it was certainly the McCanns that made this into what it is. They had an incredible PR choreographed operation because they were desperate to find out what has happened to their daughter. They wanted people to know about their daughter they went - then they went to Spain.

They went to Morocco. They went to meet the Pope. They got David Beckham to take a message asking for information about their daughter. So this is why it became an international story.

ANDERSON: And Luis, while the media displayed its perhaps best traits in publicizing this little girl's disappearance to begin with, I think we would all admit that it is now showing what is a fairly familiar dark side at this point. You know, we build them up. We take them down. That is what we are accused of on a regular basis in the media.

I want to put this one question to you. Are you proud of the way that this story has been covered? You've been, you know, an integral part of the way this has been covered in Portugal. Do you think this is responsible or irresponsible? And what do we take out of this, Luis?

RIBAS: Well, I certainly on my own hand in my networks work on this story. I don't think we have any regrets. We did the right thing. But of course, you know, I'm talking about my own work. What am I going to say?

But if I thought that I messed up, I'd tell you so. I'm not afraid of fessing up.

But the thing here is that we need to be more careful. We were not - I mean, as a collective, as an entity, we, the journalists, we have moments, I think, we're not proud of. I mean, I just want to add to something that Paula was saying that the family kind of brought us into this. Yes, they did. They were also very busy in general. I mean, they thought that they could recruit us into the search and rescue team. And then when the story goes sour for them, they want us to go away. Oh, please, respect our privacy.

No, you can't mess with us. You're stuck with us. I mean, there's no running away from that. And I think they've learned their lesson. And now they have those high powered lawyers who are trying to get into the spin doctoring business for them, too.

But certain things that I have seen, like a Portuguese newspaper today, and I am not proud of it. I think that's totally uncalled for. It's untoward. They publish excerpts - alleged excerpts of Kate's diary. And this is, for me, one of the low moments, if not one of the lowest moments until now that I have seen as far as objectionable reporting in this story.

ANDERSON: All right, we're going to leave it there. Both of you, we thank you very much indeed for joining us.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, off the air. The only 24 hour news channel dedicated to Bangladesh as its transmission caught. We'll tell you why after this.


ANDERSON: Welcome back. You're watching INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS here on CNN.

Now it was described as a cultural revolution, the birth of 24 hour news channel for Bangladesh. (INAUDIBLE) from its rolling service in March. But after just 5.5 months, the privately run channel was forced off the air by the country's telecoms regulator.

The station was accused of forging a signature to obtain its frequency. Well, the shutdown came less than two weeks after CSB was warned not to air provocative news or video footage of recent student protests in Dacau (ph).

Well, those demonstrations called for an end to emergency rule. Well, Bangladesh's military backed entering government has been in place since January when elections there were canceled. Let's get more on the CSB situation and the current climate, media climate specifically in Bangladesh. I'm joined from Singapore by the managing director of CSB, Fayyaz Chowdhury, who's trying to get the station back on air and here in the studio by journalist Anita McNaught, who's reported for CNN from Bangladesh. Both of you, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

And we'll start with you, Fayyaz. You knew you had an uphill battle. Why do you think the channel was ultimately forced off the air, Fayyaz?

FAYYAZ CHOWDHURY, MANAGING DIRECTOR, CSB: It's really a case of shooting down the messenger. We gave extensive coverage to the recent protests, the street protests in Bangladesh, the student protests. These protests continued for three days. So as a news channel, it was very difficult for us to ignore that.

And our viewership was very, very high. Everybody was watching CSB News. And I guess that was really it. Even the government officials were watching CSB News because it was the fastest and most reliable source of information at the time. And from where I'm standing, it looks like they shut us down because they didn't like what they saw on our channel.

So basically, I mean, we're not at all surprised that they actually.


CHOWDHURY: .they issued us a formal warning basically, you know, trying to not show any kind of footage regarding the protests.

ANDERSON: Right. Case of shooting down the messenger is what Fayyaz suggests, Anita. In the current political climate there, should he or anybody have been surprised that this channel, which was set up as a non partisan channel, would have been shut down or forced off the air?

ANITA MCNAUGHT, JOURNALIST: Well, in theory, no. In fact, yes, as is always the case. Look, the government stated objectives are to build a new form of democracy for Bangladesh. It is widely accepted, generally accepted that part of a functioning democracy is a free media.

What this demonstrates at the moment is that the free media is not able to operate in Bangladesh. And for that reason and many others, journalists and Democrats should be worried about what's going on there.

ANDERSON: Describe for us, if you will, the conditions under which you were working even when you were on air. Just the sort of pressures that you were under from the government and the challenges that you faced?

CHOWDHURY: OK. I'll give you an example of that. As soon as we started broadcasting, I was invited by the head of the intelligentsia to a conference. Other media channels were also there. And they told us very nicely, actually, that they're assuming that we love our country, as heads of the media world, and that we would have to portray the country in the brightest light.

ANDERSON: They were warning you, effectively. Is that what you're saying? They were warning you?

CHOWDHURY: Basically, just a very nice way of doing that. And they also told us that if they found that we weren't portraying the country, and therefore the government in a nice light, then they would assume that we obviously don't love our country as much as they do.

ANDERSON: What are your chances, do you believe, of getting your channel back on air?

CHOWDHURY: At the end of the day, the only thing that I have left is to speak to the government. And I have my hands up in the air, saying, well, you know, do any kind of censorship you want, you know, even, you know, I would be even open to employing anybody from the government if you want.

But we need to keep the channel alive, simple as that.

ANDERSON: Last word to you, Anita. This is a channel that was run in Bangla. It wasn't in English. This is a channel that both you and Fayyaz are suggesting, people were able to get more information about what was going on in the country, which you say is needed.

How does the rest of the world elicit the biggest story from Bangladesh, as opposed to the story which oft times is simply, for example, recently the flooding?

MCNAUGHT: Well, it's hard to break through the stereotype that Bangladesh, unfortunately globally, is made to conformed to. Really a story out of Bangladesh is a flooding story. And stories beyond that just don't get coverage.

But the reality of Bangladesh is far more interesting. At the moment, there is a fight for the nation's soul. There is a fight for democracy, a fight for a new form of governance, and a fight for freedom of speech. The country is wrestling with - it has been on the brink of anarchy. It now may save itself or it may enter a much, much darker period.

You have Pakistan on one side of itself of what happens when military backed governments take over. You have Burma on the other side as an example of where things can go badly wrong.

There's a huge amount at stake here. And this is by far the most interesting story that's going on here. Corruption, a problem worldwide. Bangladesh named it as the number one issue and is trying to tackle it. Has it tackled it the right way?

ANDERSON: And with that, we'll leave it there. Fayyaz Chowdhury in Singapore and Anita McNaught here with me in the studio. We thank you very much indeed for joining us.

CHOWDHURY: Thank you.

ANDERSON: Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, revisiting Afghanistan. A new documentary on the lives of women



ANDERSON: Welcome back with INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS here on CNN. Now Afghanistan. The initial front of U.S. led war on terror. In 2001, CNN aired a documentary on the plight of women living under Taliban rule in Afghanistan.

Well, six years on, CNN revisits the country to see if life has improved there. It's the basis of a documentary, this time by journalist Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, called "Lifting the Veil."


SHARMEEN OBAID CHINOY: In today's Afghanistan, wearing the burqa is no longer required by law. Most are forced beneath the veil by men in their families or communities. For the Afghan woman, there is little difference.

I can't imagine having to do this every day, day in and day out for years and years and years and to have no hope for what the future would hold.

This group of young boys who are just sitting in front of us making fun of us that we are begging, asking us if you really needed the money.


ANDERSON: For more of the CNN special "Lifting the Veil" - well, I caught up with the journalist Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy. I asked her to describe what it was like to film in Afghanistan.


CHINOY: It was extremely difficult in some sense because people are very jaded in Afghanistan now. They don't want to talk to the media. It's like how is this going to benefit us? If we speak to you, will our lives get better? And you can't answer that question.

You know, you can say yes, maybe the message gets out, perhaps people will help you. But really, will there?

And so, sometimes I was left speechless when people asked me that. But being (INAUDIBLE) and being able to understand the language helps tremendously. I was able to go into the homes of people really inside the communities to see how ordinary Afghans are doing, the voices we seldom hear on television.

ANDERSON: How have things changed since the last time you were there for me in 2002? And I'm thinking about access here?

CHINOY: Well, I would say in 2002, the access was far greater because people had this hope, you know, that Afghanistan was going to change, that they want to talk about their problems and they want to talk about the change.

And as you travel through, there was less securities problems. Logistically, it wasn't a nightmare. You know, you didn't have to take security guards with you. Or you didn't have to check the road from Kandahar was actually booby-trapped with bombs and if the Taliban were fighting them. I mean, things were much better, I think, in 2002.

This time around, you know, we had security briefings. And we were told we could go here or not go here. We had local Afghans who traveled with us, who were part of our security entourage. And so, you know, you first a little more unsafe and uncertain. And even the Afghans, I thought, felt a little unsafe taking us certain places, places we could have normally gone before.

ANDERSON: CNN showed a film "Beneath the Veil" some years ago, shot during the Taliban regime. It's now a film in 2007 shot by yourself. How do you think these sort of documentaries change, if any, life for Afghans?

CHINOY: Well, I don't know about changing life for Afghans. But certainly, the fact that people outside Afghanistan think that things are going reasonably well over there, and you know, yes, there's a war going on in the South, but people are moving on. And aid is pouring in. Reconstruction is happening.

And this film really opens up your eyes to the fact that think hard about the plan that you've had for Afghanistan, because it doesn't seem to be working for the majority of people over there, especially the women. So it's a wake-up, I think, call to the rest of the world to think hard about the policies they have implemented in Afghanistan, just like the way "Beneath the Veil", I think, was a wake-up call to the rest of the world about what the Taliban were doing in Afghanistan.


ANDERSON: That was the filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy. Keep an eye out for "Lifting the Veil" this weekend here on CNN.

And that is it for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Do tune again next time though for another look at how the media are handling the big issues.

I'm Becky Anderson for you in London. Thanks for joining us.