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Press Coverage 2007; Rethinking Africa; Huckabee's Chances

Aired December 28, 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, a deadly year. 2007 is listed as the worst for the press in more than a decade. An assessment of the world's political landscape. We examine press coverage over the past year and look to the months ahead.

And later, rethinking Africa. Highlighting the continent's success stories.

First this week, the end of a year, one that's being described as the deadliest for the press in more than a decade. In its annual assessment, the Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 64 journalists were killed in direct connection to their job in 2007.

Other deaths are being investigated to determine whether there's evidence to suggest a work link. William Moore from the Committee to Protect Journalists in a moment.

First, this report from Paula Hancocks.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Footage of violence and killing has become commonplace on television and in newspapers. But for these pictures to be seen around the world, journalists often put themselves in mortal danger.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, that danger is the worst it's been in a dozen years. The deadliest place to work in 2007, Iraq. At least 31 members of the media were killed. All but one of them Iraqi.

GWYNNE ROBERTS, FREELANCE JOURNALIST: There are freelancers out there working for British newspapers or American newspapers, who will - who are desperate to get their story and can't afford to be properly equipped, properly insured. And there at heavy risk.

But locals, particularly, it's very, very difficult.

HANCOCKS: Gwynne Roberts won an Emmy for this film, "Saddam's Road to Hell," documenting the search for mass graves. He's been in and out of Iraq since 1974 and says it has been dangerous to work their for decades.

ROBERTS: Of course, the - with the insurgence and al Qaeda, it's pretty fearsome what happens. Much more random in a way. And - but the - Saddam - in Saddam's times, it was no less frightening in a way, because if you're caught, the chance of getting out would be severely limited.

HANCOCKS: This is Somalia, the second most deadly country for journalists this year. This footage filmed by the winner of the Rory Peck Hard News Award. Rory Peck is a trust which supports freelancers.

Cameraman Farah Roble Aden tells us he has lost many colleagues to the continued violence.

FARAH ROBLE ADEN, CAMERAMAN: To be a journalist in Somalia is very risky. It's very dangerous. And you don't know what happened next time. You take your camera going out everywhere there is a fighting going on. Both sides of the fighting, they don't care much about you. We are journalists or not, they will shoot you.

HANCOCKS: The major cause of journalists' deaths this year was direct murder. In many conflicts in the world, members of the press are increasingly being specifically targeted. The days of a journalist being untouchable are long gone.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, London.


SWEENEY: So 2007 has been the deadliest year for journalists in more than a decade. What can be done to reduce the dangers to reporters? For that and more on the report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, I'm joined by Rob Mahoney, the deputy director of the CPJ. He is in New York.

Thank you very much indeed for joining us. My first question is Iraq, I suppose, is to be expected, but is it to be expected that most of those journalists killed are Iraqi?

ROB MAHONEY, COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS: Yes, the trend over the last few years has been that more and more journalists gathering the news in Iraq are, in fact, Iraqi nationals because it became very, very dangerous after about 2004 for Western organizations to deploy Westerners on the streets of Baghdad.

So we are reliant more and more upon Iraqi nationalists taking the risks and bringing us the news and feeding it to their Western correspondents who can barely venture out on the streets in Baghdad, for example.

SWEENEY: There's also been the issue that's been raised recently, for example, in Britain of translators working for the British military, who may not be strictly journalists, but who have not been able to get visas because they haven't filled the requirements or haven't worked as long as the British military might have liked in order for them to qualify for visas to move to Britain because of the dangers.

Do you think that there should be more leverage placed on news organizations, particularly international ones, to protect translators, anybody really to do with any kind of news gathering in Iraq?

MAHONEY: Yes, media workers who support journalists in the gathering of news, interpreters, translators, drivers, fixers are increasingly being killed. We noticed this year that there were 12 such deaths in Iraq. 20 worldwide. And I know that we have been very active here in the United States, for example, in pushing Congress to facilitate visas to the United States for those foreign nationals working for U.S. organizations in Iraq. And we've had some success there.

We haven't been able to affect any change as far as the British authorities are concerned, but there are organizations here who are extremely concerned about media workers.

SWEENEY: As we mentioned earlier, Iraq topping the list of journalists who have been killed in 2007. Somalia coming in second, though, with seven people killed. And when you lobby the U.S. and the British authorities for visas for journalists to move there because of the dangers in Iraq, how does it follow for people - journalists working in Somalia? Is there any kind of lobbying done for them in terms of trying to either make the situation safer for them in Somalia or to try and rescue them from extremely dangerous hazardous situations?

MAHONEY: Well, we are working on both tracks at the Committee to Protect Journalists. We do lobby the American and the Ethiopian governments, because the Ethiopian government now has troops in Somalia. And this year, we have been able to help Somali journalists who are in danger of their lives to leave the country. We helped three get to Uganda from Somalia.

They were under siege at a very well known radio station there called Radio Cheville (ph). They were so frightened; they couldn't even leave their station.

Well, they've managed to get out now. And we got them, as I say, in Uganda. And we hope to be able to help them further. So we are very aware that the journalists in Somalia, particularly broadcast journalists, are in tremendous danger.

SWEENEY: Though 2007, Rob, saw the most number of journalists killed since 1994, and the year's not quite over yet, what's your prognosis for 2008?

MAHONEY: Well, I'm afraid I think we're still in for a lot more journalists deaths, because the situation in Iraq has not changed. For five years now, Iraq has been the most dangerous place to be a journalist. And the security situation there may have improved in some areas in Baghdad, but it's still a war zone. There are still sectarian and (INAUDIBLE) killings in Iraq. And journalists who try to bring us the news are going to displease someone. Someone somewhere in Iraq doesn't want the news out. And therefore, they risk their lives.

SWEENEY: We have to leave it there. Rob Mahoney of the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York, thank you very much indeed.

You're watching INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. And still to come, it's been a big year in international politics. Leaders have come and gone and others are preparing to leave the world stage. Up next, we'll assess political reporting on the year and look ahead to 2008.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. Politics is always good fodder for reporters. And they've had plenty of it over the past year. We've seen leaders come and go.

Take Australia. It recently voted in Kevin Renn (ph), to replace John Howard as prime minister. Here in Britain, Tony Blair made way for successor Gordon Brown. While France selected Nicolas Sarcozy as president to take over for Monsieur Chirac.

Across the Atlantic, George W. Bush remains at the helm, but the U.S. will soon be in the midst of next year's presidential election contest.

So as 2007 draws to a close, let's sum up the press coverage here in Europe and the United States. And for that, we turn to our European political editor Robin Oakley, who joins me in studio. And from Washington, Mark Jurkowitz, Associate Editor with the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Mark, let me ask you, in terms of the election this year, I mean it really quite kicked off early. What struck you about who was in and who was out in terms of media coverage?

MARK JURKOWITZ, PROJECT FOR EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM: Well, you know, I was going to say it started so early, that I'm not even sure we can say it'll be the midst of the election season next year. We really been in the midst of the election season.

Since January of this year when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton entered this race, we - there's a couple of things that strike you about this race. One is the intensity of coverage. We knew this was going to be one of the early starting races. We knew it was going to be one of the most open races in recent American history. What we weren't sure was how intense would the media coverage be. It has been intensive and dominating since the very beginning of the year.

There are a couple of other things to take out of it. Hillary Clinton from day one has been the biggest source of fascination for the news media. Not always positive, but always sort of the leading generator of news. That remains true `til today.

And we've had already, even before a single vote's been cast by an American voter, we've had several significant changes in the trajectory of the story with candidates ranging, frankly, from John McCain, to the man of the moment in American politics, Mike Huckabee.

SWEENEY: The man of the moment in American politics, Mike Huckabee, I mean, he really has come from nowhere. Can he keep the momentum up in 2008 in the media?

JURKOWITZ: We - you know, it - he's already - it's a fascinating story. We did a survey in our organization for the coverage of the first five months of the year. We looked at 1700 stories. Mike Huckabee was not a prominent figure in even a dozen of them.

Right now, he is probably the - at this moment, the most covered candidate in America. And he is shifting from that phase of oh, my goodness, let's take this guy seriously, to an almost - there's - now there's that sort of inevitable and immediate media scrutiny of his record in Arkansas.

So he's already, you know, he's had his moment of look how well he's doing. And it's quickly morphed into let's really scrub this guy, because he could be elected. So suddenly, we're looking at everything from his overt religiosity, to a parole of a convicted rapist back in Arkansas, to statements he made about AIDS 15 years ago. He is having his 15 minutes right now. Whether he was stand it is a very good question.

SWEENEY: It raises the question, Robin Oakley, which comes first, the chicken or the egg in terms of the media's coverage of any candidate, be it in America or in Britain, where we've seen Gordon Brown take over from Tony Blair, have a honeymoon, and then see it all go terribly wrong.

ROBIN OAKLEY, EUROPEAN POLITICAL EDITOR: It's certainly was a very, very short honeymoon for Gordon Brown. I mean, when he took over, the great thing about him for most of the media was that he wasn't Tony Blair. And Tony Blair was a leader who'd made the classic mistake of putting a term on his own period in office, which in British politics is always a mistake.

You saw his authority ebb away steadily over his last 18 months. Gordon Brown then took over. And OK, everybody said a dour Scot, he's going to be boring. He won't be as exciting as Tony Blair, but he'll be straighter and they'll be less spin, and all of that.

And he weathered the first few crises, the floods, the foot in mouth epidemic, a terrorist attack, and so on. And everybody said, oh, a nice magisterial head masterly figure. Yes, he is a little bit boring. But we feel confident he's a solid figure there. And then he made the classic mistake. He began to believe his own propaganda. And the media.

SWEENEY: Or his own press.

OAKLEY: And his own press. I was going to say because the press would (INAUDIBLE) and say oh, maybe we got this guy wrong. And then he let his young Turks around him spread the idea that he was confident enough to go for an early election. He then saw the polls dip, run away from the election. His authority was destroyed in no time at all.

Since then, it's looked the most accident prone government.

SWEENEY: I know.

OAKLEY: .we've seen for some considerable years.

SWEENEY: Can he recover and obviously the media plays a huge role in any prime minister's job? I mean, what role will the media play in this recovery?

OAKLEY: The media are out for him now, because the only thing he can do is to restore the impression of competence. He's going to have to say, look, whatever events come along, we're capable of dealing with them. But every little event that comes along now, the media is going to magnify and they're going to find so many episodes of incompetence, which may not be Gordon Brown's fault, like the tax disks that went missing with millions of people's records on. Actually not quite the prime minister's fault, but he gets blamed for it.

Everything like that, he's going to be magnified. And when I look at Gordon Brown now, I think of a labor predecessor of his, Neil Kimmit (ph), who had at party conference went for a photo opportunity on the seashore.


OAKLEY: On the shingle, and the waves started coming in. And he was scrambling madly for a photo. And that is what Gordon Brown is doing now. He's scrambling for a photo. And the media are pretty determined he won't get one.

SWEENEY: Mark Jurkowitz, how are the media regarding George W. Bush in the States these days?

JURKOWITZ: Well, you know, in many ways, almost as an after thought. I mean, it's interesting because the president's approval ratings have been so low for so long. And it's sort of been an article here that America's ready to move on very quickly.

Having said that, the president has proved somewhat resilient in his ability to continue to dictate policy, despite the mandate that the Democrat's thought they were getting in the 2006 election to end the war, it is President Bush who still controls U.S. strategy in Iraq. He's won a series of domestic victories over the Democrats.

So there is really an intense focus on moving on to the post Bush period. But at the same time, he's a kind of a player who can't be ignored. And right now, if you're sort of looking at the whole political stew in America, while the president's very unpopular, so frankly, is the new Democratic Congress that came in thinking that they would be able to sort of stare him down on a range of issues and have been unsuccessful in doing so.

SWEENEY: Let me ask you about Nicolas Sarkozy, Robin Oakley, a man who came on to the French political stage with quite gusto, seems to be in the papers these days as much for his personal life. But really has tried to set an agenda. How successful do you think he has been?

OAKLEY: Well, he's carrying the French people with him. So often when a French presidential prime minister tries to push through social reforms, the people tend to sympathize with the unions and others who take so rapidly to the streets in France, tackling the issue of pensions, of people in various public services in France, he's managed to keep the majority with him, saying well, why should these people have special dispensations?

So he's managing his media quite well in those terms. I don't think there's any editor in France goes on lunch these days in the Elysees Palace.

SWEENEY: Ah, but there's no such thing as a free lunch.

OAKLEY: Indeed. But what Nicolas Sarkozy is doing is putting enormous energy into the job of president. He's dabbling in everything, sometimes to the embarrassment of his ministers and so on. But he is furiously active.

He was even active during August, unthinkable for a French president. Also taking the big risk of chumming up with the United States.


OAKLEY: And very obviously doing so and being lorded by Congress for the speech that he made there.

SWEENEY: I mean, Mark in D.C., how much of an impact has the new French president made on the American public in terms of American-Franco relations, particularly following 9/11?

JURKOWITZ: Well, you know Americans, they care first and foremost about America, and tend to look at the rest of the world as kind of an afterthought, unless American life and tribute is being lost there.

I would - unfortunately, I'd say if you went on the street and asked most Americans who the leader of France is, you would get a blank stare. It has, however, been used in some Republican quarters as evidence that the Bush foreign policy is working, that Europe is more sympathetic to them than it used to be.

So to some degree, it's frankly, it's playing a little bit into domestic politics. But I will tell you right now that in general, with American media attention to the Iraq war going down, and public interest in the war starting to recede, you're starting to see some of the key issues in the presidential campaign change as well, too.

And we're getting more now of a domestic focus than I think a lot of people would have expected at the outset of the campaign.

SWEENEY: All right, we're going to have to leave it there, because 2007 while it's been interesting, we can certainly look forward to a lot in 2008, particularly across the Atlantic.

Mark Jurkowitz in Washington, D.C., thank you very much. Robin Oakley, as always, thank you.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, good news story. Reporting progress that's being made in pockets of Africa. And how one news agency is rethinking coverage of the continent. That story when we come back.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. An innovative business grows in Ghana, highlighting academic achievements such as school in Malawi, and the change of fortunes for citizens of Liberia.

Some of the success story is being highlighted in a series titled "Rethinking Africa" by the Associated Press.

The month long exploration by the news organization found that despite challenges, progress is being made in pockets of the continent. And in most cases, it's being led by Africans themselves.

Well, Africa usually makes headlines for the wrong reasons, generating headlines associated to conflicts, poverty, or corruption to name a few. So is there and are there needs for international news outlets to pick up on more positive stories?

To assess that, we're joined from New York by the AP's assistant international editor Mary Rajkum. She headed up the rethinking Africa series.

Also with us is John Danlszewski's AP's international editor. Thank you both very much indeed for joining us. Where did this idea come from, Mary?

MARY RAJKUM, ASSISTANT INTERNATIONAL EDITOR: This idea came from two correspondents, Chris Tomlinson and Terry Leonard, who have been in Africa for a very long time. They're veterans. And what they've noticed was that while what we write about is the death and destruction, which is very real, there's a lot going on that we don't write about. There's progress in pockets of the continent in all sorts of areas. In education and democracy, and the economy that we found that in some areas of Sub Saharan Africa, the economy is growing at a rate of almost 7 percent a year.

SWEENEY: John, I mean, that is quite phenomenal. I mean, better than most Western countries could hope for these days. John, let me ask you, as an international editor, when it comes to commissioning stories, presumably with wars in Iraq and conflicts elsewhere, American presidential elections upcoming, how much of a budget is there? And then, therefore, how much of an inclination is there to do a good news story like this?

JOHN DANLSZEWSKI, INTERNATIONAL EDITOR, AP: Well, I think we want to do stories that are meaningful and have impact. And we thought this was a story that wasn't being told, that a lot of people would be interested in.

So yes, it took a lot of resources. And we set them aside this year in order to do the project, but because it was important, we thought it was worth doing. It's true that the - you know, the bombings, the plane crashes, the wars tend to take your attention as an international editor. But sometimes, you have to step aside and say, wait a minute, am I telling the stories that are really important?

This is something that's going on underneath the radar screen. And it's a story that people should know about, that there - that Africa is not quite the zone of disaster that they've come to think of it as. And actually, in many ways, it's moving forward.

SWEENEY: And Mary, when you were coming up with the ideas and various projects, what projects did you decide to put aside? I mean, what was your criteria for determining the stories that AP should cover?

RAJKUM: What we want to do was look at different countries within Africa, and also different aspects. For example, governance, education, conflict, some of the big things that have defined Africa.

One of our stories, for example, is wonderful story set in Rwanda. And it's about a killer and a survivor of the genocide, who are now neighbors, and who are helping to rebuild a village. And by extension, to rebuild the country.

We have another story that looks at the prism of AIDS through a country that has an AIDS rate of less than 1 percent. That's Madagascar. And what it's doing to prevent AIDS essentially. So what we've done is looked at these big topics through the prism of countries that are having success in tackling them.

SWEENEY: A final question to you, John, if I may. Many of the public might not be familiar with the Associated Press. Of course, it's indispensable to news organizations and journalists as a wire service, but for those of the audience out there who don't really know about AP, what do you regard the Associated Press's (INAUDIBLE) as? What are you trying to do?

DANLSZEWSKI: Well, we're trying to be, as you said, the essential global news agency. We cover news accurately and fairly. Straight down the middle, we do it in all formats, in print, in photos, in video. And we try to be first with the news, but first with the accurate news.

SWEENEY: All right, we have to leave it there. Mary Rajkum and John Danlszewski in New York, both of you from the Associated Press, thank you very much indeed.

And don't forget you can now watch INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS online. Log on to to see all or part of the show again. Take part in our quick vote and to read the weekly blog. That address again

And that is all for this edition of the program. 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.