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Sudan Children Evacuation; Covering the Campaigns

Aired November 3, 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, caught in the story. Journalists are charged in a charity's attempt to evacuate more than 100 African children to France.

Covering the campaign, everyone loves a winner except the media. How the press chooses the frontrunners in the U.S. presidential campaign just to knock them down.

And it's all in the questioning. What prompts a guest to declare interview over.

It is a major news story either way you look at it. From one side, the French charity Zoe's Arc says it was on a mission to rescue more than 100 orphans from Sudan's Darfur region to start a better life in Europe. But authorities in Chad call it an abduction plot. Among more than a dozen people arrested, three journalists who at the time this program was being taped faced kidnapping charges.

The group Reporters Without Borders says two of the journalists were on assignment for independent media outlets, while the third was on humanitarian leave.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It's a bit complicated. On the one hand, the journalist was doing her job because she had a camera. But on the other hand, she was not sent by her newsroom. And she is a member of the association.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We're here to explain that (INAUDIBLE) was that was his job as a journalist. We're not here to make a judgment on this story. Some of the people will do that. That is not our point. We're here because we did an investigation on an association which we thought was a bit strange.


SWEENEY: Well, regardless of what Zoe Zarc (ph) was trying to do, the dispute raises the question, should the journalists be treated differently? To discuss this further, I'm joined from Paris by CNN senior international correspondent Jim Bitterman and in Brussels by Rachel Cohen, human rights and information officer with the International Federation of Journalists, an organization that represents some 600,000 journalists in 114 countries.

Jim Bitterman, what is being said in France about these journalists and whether or not they should be treated differently from the other people in the plane?

JIM BITTERMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, to begin with, I think I should say that the French government is saying now that it is going to come to the aid of all of the French citizens that are involved here, the six members of this charity as well as the three journalists that are all French citizens.

However, the president, President Sarcozy made it clear in an interview during the week that in fact he is going to make it clear to the president of Chad Dube (ph) that in fact these journalists should be treated differently.

And according to the presidential spokesman David Martinall, they are going to be treated differently. Martinall said that he hoped that the journalists would be freed sometime soon. A lot more quickly than perhaps the members of the charity.

SWEENEY: Rachel Cohen in Brussels, are these journalists in any way protected under international law?

RACHEL COHEN, INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF JOURNALISTS: Well, I mean, there's no international law saying that if you are covering some event or some group that's doing something illegal, you know, you're protected as a journalist.

However, I mean, there is international protection for free expression, media freedom. And you know, it's widely recognized in most countries of the world that journalists working in a journalistic capacity are not involved in the work of the subjects of their stories, but that the work of journalists is separate from the work that they're covering, the work of their subjects, and that you know, they are considered sort of neutral observers and not actors, you know, in their own stories.

SWEENEY: Jim Bitterman, what are the organizations that the journalists work for saying about their individual cases?

BITTERMAN: Well, there are three different organizations involved here. One is Cappa (ph), which is a very large news agency. They have been mounting a campaign on their own, a very interesting campaign to help free their journalist Mark Garmirian (ph).

Garmirian (ph) was basically investigating this story and was along for the ride to sort of see who these people are and what they were up to. And they have been the - Cappa (ph) has been releasing bits and pieces of the video that he shot up until the moment he was arresting, showing how he was in an adversarial role with this charity.

The other two journalists had a little bit more questionable. One was a photojournalist, who was along. Basically, he had not been with the group for a long period of time. He'd been in Chad and was going to take a plane trip back to Paris with the group of children. He did know the group, though, from its activities in Indonesia.

And the third journalist, Marian Yespelerian (ph) from France Trois in Marseilles, she was on leave from France Trois. And some people say that she was actually supporting the group, although she was shooting some video along the way. So her case may be a little bit more particular than the others.

SWEENEY: Jim actually uses the phrase there "along for the ride." Rachel Cohen, I mean, it raises the question about what is known by journalists about the agencies or organizations who are organizing flights for them and the arrangements that they allow to be made for them to travel or indeed made for themselves to travel?

COHEN: Right. Well, I mean, you know, we are big proponents in general of general ethical guidelines for journalists and which are, you know, guidelines that are ethical, as well as, you know, for their own safety. It's really, you know, in our opinion, best that, you know, journalists whenever possible are able to sort of, you know, separate themselves from their subjects. And this would include things like arranging their own travel and you know, arranging their own sort of logistical issues separate from the subjects of their articles.

I mean, obviously, you know, this is making this case more difficult, the fact that they were going to, you know, travel on the same plane.

Now in this case, for a story, you know, you could argue as well that perhaps this was actually part of their reporting process. And this was the reason why they would want to be on the same plane. But you know, it is, I think now, part of the, you know, what's creating more of a problem for them.

You know, whereas really, they - you know, they were there as journalists. I mean, and you know, for journalists who are there in a professional capacity, you know, it's sort of - you know, there's a reason that they were on this plane because they were there working. And you know, that shouldn't be - it's confusing the issue. But really, we hope this will be sorted out very quickly.

SWEENEY: But perhaps one of the issues, Rachel Cohen, that's not making it so clear cut is that there is a view by many in Africa, and I think the Chadian president would not be alone in this, in that people they can do anything they like precisely because it is Africa, whether this case be founded or not on any true basis, but also the journalists, they may not be particularly disposed as they might see them being as part and parcel of this just by the fact of being there?

COHEN: Right. Well, I mean, I think this, you know, this case actually highlights a problem that we're seeing all over the world, which is this idea that journalists are somehow, you know, accomplices or acting with the people in the stories that they cover. And you know, it's clear that for some people, you know, in Chad, in the government there, you know, they are seeing these journalists as actually, you know, being accomplices, colluding and you know, what they see a - you know, they're saying is a criminal act.

And you know, this is really a problem I think that's a global problem in that, you know, many governments are starting to treat journalists more and more not as like - as neutral observers, but as, you know, more active participants in their stories. And it's really - I mean, it's a major problem for us and for our members worldwide.

SWEENEY: What advice briefly would you give journalists who find themselves in situations perhaps unilaterally taking a decision to go in a story and offering the hospitality of the agency or organization that they're covering?

COHEN: Right. Well, I mean, we would say that this is, you know, a very dangerous situation and that journalists should not accept this kind of, you know, hospitality in exchange for access, let's say, because I mean, this is certainly a worst case scenario, you know, being then caught up in something and charged in, you know, in a foreign country, and not, you know, not knowing, you know, what will happen.

But I mean, even in other cases, you know, in terms of objectivity, you know, groups - it's best to try and maintain as much sort of distance as possible from these groups.

SWEENEY: Rachel Cohen of the International Federation of Journalists in Brussels, Jim Bitterman in Paris, thank you both very much for joining us.

You are watching INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. When we return, narrowing the field. We look at which U.S. presidential candidates are finding favor with the media and why some can expect harsher treatment than their opponents. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SWEENEY: Welcome back. It is a year until U.S. voters go to the polls to elect their next president, but it appears the media has already reduced the field of possible contenders.

A report on political coverage suggests news outlets have effectively narrowed the race to five hopefuls. That's despite the fact there are 17 mainstream Democratic and Republican candidates.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism also found the turn of the coverage for the top two frontrunners was less than friendly. Less than 3 in 10 stories on Democrat Hillary Clinton were considered positive in nature, with almost 40 percent deemed negative. Republican Rudy Giuliani recorded a similar figure. As for fellow Republican John McCain, almost half the stories concentrating on him were negative.

One exception to this trend, nearly half the coverage of Democrat Barack Obama was positive. And forget what the public's demand for more coverage of the issues might be. The report also found a majority of stories looked at fundraising and polls rather than the candidates' stand on issues.

The study assessed 48 news outlets in the first five months of this year.

Well, for more on the Project for Excellence in Journalism's findings and the wider coverage of the 2008 hopefuls, I'm joined from Washington by Mark Jerkovitz (ph), the associate director of the PEJ. And here in the studio by Chris Lockwood, the U.S. editor with "The Economist."

Mark Jerkovitz (ph) in Washington, D.C., how does it feel to know that the journalists in the United States may well be out of in touch with the public?

MARK JERKOVITZ (ph), ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, PEJ: Well, that wouldn't be a brand new finding. We see that evidenced in polls very, very frequently. And in this campaign, what we seem to be seeing so far is a very heavy emphasis and what we would call the horse race or political aspects of the campaign. Fundraising, strategy, how are people doing in the polls. Almost two-thirds of the stories so far have broken down that way.

Now the American public says we would like a more substantive diet. We have to take them at their word first and foremost. The most interesting finding, I think, about the horse race levels of coverage here is this is the earliest we've had significant coverage of a presidential campaign. This is the earliest we've had a campaign get to this level of activity. We're so far away from the election.

And yet, given this longer timeframe, we really did see very typical media behavior, which is the focal point not so much on the background of the candidates or their lives or their policy position, but very much on a winnowing of the field and a jostling for position among them.

SWEENEY: Chris, why do you think that there is such already huge media interest? As Mark says, the campaign's underway long before it's underway to a certain degree?

CHRIS LOCKWOOD, EDITOR, "THE ECONOMIST": It's a pretty amazing election. It's the most open election since 1928. There is no president or vice president running at all. And you have to go back 90 years to find a situation like that.

So there's a lot of hard work to be done to work out who the candidates are. There's extremely large number of candidates in the field, started out with more than 20. I think we're now down to about 17 as we heard. So I think people expect this and hope that journalists will help them manage that pressure a little bit by in fact concentrating on the most likely candidates.

SWEENEY: So you're saying that journalists are absolutely within their bands of duties to name five candidates or concentrate on five candidates?

LOCKWOOD: I think so. They haven't predetermined who those candidates should be. Let me give you an example. I'd actually there are five major candidates - six with the addition of Mike Huckabee, not always included. But he's a candidate who's stirring up a lot of interest. And as a result, journalists are starting to write more about him.

I think if any other candidates started to break through, they would see an awful lot of attention. (INAUDIBLE) used to write a lot about John Edwards. We're writing a bit less about him, not because we've decided he's not candidate. It's simply because his polling numbers aren't holding up very well.

SWEENEY: I'm looking here at the figures in terms of the research mark. I mean, overall, Democrats also have received more positive coverage than Republicans. That's 35 percent of stories versus 26. Republicans receiving more negative coverage than Democrats.

What does that say about the voting patterns of journalists in the U.S.?

JERKOVITZ (ph): Well, I think we - we can largely attribute that to actually two outliers in both parties. One is Barack Obama, who had unbelievably positive coverage of his campaign early on. And again, remember, we're talking about the first five months of the year.

Primarily because I think he stunned some people with his ability to fundraise, with his early polling numbers, he clearly quickly became sort of the number one challenger to Hillary Clinton. And because the campaign is covered through the strategic framework, he got tremendously positive coverage.

Conversely, on the Republican side, John McCain, who was at the beginning of this campaign probably the presumptive Republican frontrunner, had a very bad five months. He had problems internally with his staff. He had fundraising problems. He had problems in the polls. And he got nailed by, as you said, almost half the stories about him were negative by about a four to one ratio.

So really, if you took those two people out of the mix, you would find that coverage on the Democrats and Republicans in terms of tone was quite similar. And as you pointed out, for the two frontrunners, Rudy Giuliani on the Republican side and Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side, they both almost got the exact same level of coverage in terms of tone, which is somewhat more negative than positive.

SWEENEY: Well, of course, we must remember that this report was based on the first five months of the year. And John McCain has actually come back a lot. And he's resolved some of his issues with fundraising.

But Chris, let me ask you. Does it surprise you that journalists in the U.S. would focus more on fundraising when the public would rather see them focus more on the issues?

LOCKWOOD: I think there probably has been a little bit too much of a concentration on fundraising. They sometimes call it the money primary. And of course, it is a very early indication of what people think. A candidate that can draw large contributions is basically the candidate who's running a well organized campaign, who's managing things well.

And the fact that McCain got into difficulties is a sign that he was not managing things very well, which I think is an important thing to know about.

That said, money does not determine this election. Whoever finally goes through, you know, the money follows the plausible candidate.


LOCKWOOD: There's a lot of money around. And actually, the number of people that give money is only a few million as opposed to the hundreds of millions of people that actually vote. That's still the important.

SWEENEY: But this presumably is where journalism plays an important role, because if the money follows the better candidate, then presumably those are getting - that those who give the money are looking at the newspapers and the television and Internet outlets for their information?

LOCKWOOD: I think they are, but I would reject any sort of replication if there is one that in some way we sort of predetermine this race, and that we're favoritizing (sic) some candidates and not others.

It's certainly true that Barack Obama did get very positive press. But there are reasons for that. He's a very interesting candidate, and attractive candidate, the first candidate of color to reach this sort of level in the polls.

But actually, everyone's rather turned against him now. He has not delivered quite as much as had been expected of him. And some of the media message is a little more hostile now.

SWEENEY: Well, obviously, you're making a very strong case for the journalists ascendancy in the United States, but there would be those who would argue, I'm going to put this to Mark actually, who would argue that this is what is giving rise to the role of citizen journalism, particularly on the Internet because the media is seen to be out of touch as this report suggests with the public when it comes to the issues of this campaign.

JERKOVITZ (ph): It does, but let me point out that we really weren't - didn't want to be school marmish in this report or scold the media for its behavior. We really just wanted to sort of look at how the media was behaving.

I would agree that frankly the media are not necessarily predisposed to liking a certain candidate over another candidate. They do follow the various indices of success. And the story lines kind of go that way.

So there was no, for example, guarantee at the beginning that Mitt Romney would be considered a serious candidate or be, you know, one of the Republicans who get the most coverage. So I do believe that. I don't think there's any lock step mind step that the media follow here.

You know, as far as sort of the alternative media melding with the mainstream media in this election, it'll be a very interesting issue because you really - you do have sort of two alternative worlds out there.

I do think the one thing that's changed, and I think the mainstream press is very cognizant now of the role of alternative media.


JERKOVITZ (ph): Whether it's an Obama girl video that shows up on Youtube, or the Clintons making of the Sopranos video of their last dinner, the mainstream media now cover that much more intensely than they used to. So the gap is narrowing in some way.

SWEENEY: Mark, is there any precedent for this kind of poll before when we see how the media is responding and vice versa? And does it give us any indication of what might happen in the year that is still left before the election itself?

JERKOVITZ (ph): I think it's a very fluid situation. We've seen some interesting things happen. One of the things that got mentioned is Fred Thompson. When Senator Thompson was not yet an announced candidate, he was sort of - everybody sort of thought he would be the savior. He got tremendously positive coverage.

Now on the next study that we do, and we'll continue to do them in this campaign, once he actually got into the race, the tone of his coverage fell significantly.

So I think we're going to see a lot of fluidity. The thing that's unique about this race and the coverage really is how early it started. And that's why we decided to take this very early snapshot so far out.

SWEENEY: All right, final word to you, Chris Lockwood. Do you think that given that the media campaign and the presidential campaign seems to have started so early out, that we'll be suffering from war fatigue a year from now?

LOCKWOOD: I think it's possible, but one thing that will happen with the early primaries is we may get the candidates of each two parties determined really quite early on. We may in fact know by the middle of February who they are. And then you may see something of a pause until we get into the thick of the general election, the collections first and then after Labor Day 2008 the really tough fighting.

SWEENEY: All right. We have to leave it there. Mark Jerkovitz (ph), thank you very much indeed for joining us from Washington, D.C. and Chris Lockwood here in London.

And still to come on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, when a guest cuts short an interview, it can come with the territory of being a reporter. We look at some of the most famous guest flare-ups. That's next.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. Television interviews for their news value or as entertainment, our basic content for broadcasters worldwide. They're quick and inexpensive to produce. And guests with a message get to show off their speaking skills, but not always.

Ask the wrong question and as Jeanne Moos reports, they might show off their departure skills.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When an interviewee wants to turn the tables, he or she can always walk out.


MOOS: French President Nicolas Sarcozy was already calling his press aide an imbecile, scheduling an interview with "60 Minutes" on a busy day. So it took just one too many questions about his soon to be announced divorce to get him to walk out.




SWEENEY: Only five minutes into an expected 45 minute interview, out came the ear piece. Next thing you know, he's telling Leslie Stahl chin up.


MOOS: He was gone. Sort of made us nostalgic for even more flamboyant walkouts. Take the time comedian Andrew Dice Clay didn't like questions that suggested a slump in his career.

ANDREW DICE CLAY, COMEDIAN: Every time I do an interview, a guy wants to open his (EXPLETIVE) mouth. (EXPLETIVE). You know what? (EXPLETIVE).

Or how about when quarterback Jim Everett got mad at an ESPN host who kept calling him Chris Everett after the female tennis star?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You probably won't say it again.




SWEENEY: Interview over, though it's still seen over and over again. Remember, if you're ever tempted to storm out of a TV interview, the only thing TV producers like better than a good interview is a good walk out.

Or even a good hang up. For instance, when Yasser Arafat told CNN's Christiane Amanpour to zip it.

YASSER ARAFAT: Stay quiet.

SWEENEY: She refused to shut up. Watch her eyes open up.

ARAFAT: You are (INAUDIBLE) with these questions.

SWEENEY: And then he hung up.

ARAFAT: Thank you. Bye-bye.

SWEENEY: But even worse than a hang up or a walk out is the pass out. Now Israeli President Shimon Perez, seen dozy even while speaking. But when it was time for a question, it was nap time. When his eyes fluttered open, an aide offered coffee. Nothing sleepy about Donald Trump.

DONALD TRUMP: Do this interview with somebody else. You don't' need this. Do it with somebody else.

SWEENEY: The dreaded mike drop, a sure sign that the last view of this interview won't be the interviewee's departing back.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


SWEENEY: And that's 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.