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Crisis in Kenya; U.S. Presidential Campaign; Naomi Campbell and Hugo Chavez

Aired January 11, 2008 - 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, the crisis in Kenya. News outlets unite in a call for peace. The twists and turns of the U.S. presidential campaign. We assess the media's coverage. And super model turned scribe. How did Naomi Campbell end up interviewing Venezuela's Hugo Chavez?

First this week, unrest in Kenya. It's not long since the country was once described as one of the most stable in Africa. In recent weeks though, it's been far from that. Violence triggered by a disputed presidential election has claimed the lives of hundreds of people and displaced more than a quarter of a million others.

On January 3rd, Kenyan media came together in a call for political rivals to work towards peace. Newspapers united in a front page editorial that issued a plea to "save our beloved country." Broadcasters aired similar sentiments.

Well, for a look at the crisis in Kenya and the media's response to it, I'm joined from Nairobi by David Makali, director of Kenya's Media Institute. And here in the studio, Solomon Mugera, a head of the Swahili section of the BBC World Service. He's just back from Kenya.

First of all, David Makali, what in general has been the media's response to the crisis in Kenya?

DAVID MAKALI, DIRECTOR, MEDIA INSTITUTE (KENYA): Well, the media has tried its best to report the events that have unfolded. Obviously, under a lot of pressure from the government, which is going to tone down the reportage so that it does not inflame emotions around the country and especially ethnic animosity that - the coercion of President Kibaki (INAUDIBLE) has triggered.

But clearly, the media have been working within a straight jacket, where you know, it was never prepared for this kind of situation. But it's trying its best in the circumstances and (INAUDIBLE).

SWEENEY: And what kind of pressure has the government been putting on the media?

MAKALI: I mean, beginning with the ban on live broadcasting that the government issued on 30th of December immediately President Kibaki was sworn in. There has been sort of quiet in the media in times of just investigating to tell us the story of exactly what happened to the election, and who won, and who rigged - and who lost, and how they lost.

There is certain censorship that has cropped into the media. And from our sources watching in from outside, we gather that there's a lot of government - informal government pressure, as well as directives being issued to and (INAUDIBLE) to tone down the coverage.

SWEENEY: Solomon Mugera, to your vantage point at the BBC World Service, what is your take on what's happening in Kenya?

SOLOMON MUGERA, HEAD OF BBC SWAHILI SERVICE: Actually, I totally agree with David because I was in Kenya at the height of the agitation from multi parties in the early `90s, and seeing how one - the state broadcasting station that time, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, was handling the activities of the day.

We only had one TV station that was also broadcasting news, which was privately owned and that was Kenya Television Network, KTN. I used to work for KTN and I know the kind of pressure we used to come.

And now I left Kenya in 1997. I came to work for the BBC in 1998. And I've been dipping in and out of the country and are comparing notes. Have the Kenyan media improved or not? And I tell you when I went back properly for the coverage of this elections, and seeing how vibrant, how candid the Kenyan media become, it was quite refreshing.

And all of the things that really impressed me most was how adventurous TV stations had become. The (INAUDIBLE) TV, for example, and TV. KTN and others, they could broadcast live from on location. And that was quite a phenomenal achievement.

But then, it was too early to celebrate, because on the one hand, today, we are celebrating the media's so vibrant, it's so open. Only for the following day, the minister to issue an indefinite suspension on live broadcasting of events.

Now that to me was like throwing (INAUDIBLE) in the eyes of what was going to be a very free and independent media in Kenya.

SWEENEY: David Makali, let me ask you, is there a difference between how this election has been covered in Kenya, between privately owned broadcasting and media outlets and those maybe run by the government?

MAKALI: Absolutely. The - as tradition have been with this country, at election time, the public broadcaster, the national broadcaster, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation always somehow goes with the government of the day. And that was repeatedly this election.

There was a lot of coverage given to the government, ruling party - now a ruling party, PNU activities. And a complete, you know, sometimes skewed coverage of the opposition parties.

The same cannot be said of the independent TV stations, KTN that someone has talked about in the - MTV. They were tempted and (INAUDIBLE) as well, they've attempted to, you know, offer more balanced coverage.

Of course, you know, the capacity of the media to cover this election was extremely stretched. So any shortcomings sometimes can be attributed to their capacity rather than their deliberate skewing of the news, except the public (INAUDIBLE).

SWEENEY: I mean, are you surprised by the media's reaction in general to Kenya, given that there has been, as you're reporting out, a kind of - a new surge of independence and freedom over the last few years?

MUGERA: Indeed. And one of the most revealing things about the media in Kenya was to see them rally together to super peace when anarchy was put into the grip the country. And they (INAUDIBLE) and die. We had opportunity to sit down with David. And we asked each other what happened - what's happened to the media now to an extent that they can come together and have one headline, "save our country." And this was unanimous across.

SWEENEY: This is actually quite extraordinary that not long after the elections and the trouble that was caused a week or so ago, that all the newspapers and David Makali, got together in Kenya and had one united headline saying "save our country." What kind of impact did that have on people in Kenya, the public?

MAKALI: Well, it was an initiative coordinated by the recently formed Media Council of Kenya, which you know, in some sections of the public was well received. But among skeptical this more critical sections. And I'm one of them.

I don't seriously subscribe to the whole initiative that the media took to sort of make it - take it upon themselves to pacify the various sections, competing political parties without first having taken a principle stand on where the election was actually fair, free, and whether the victor was actually the winner, or whether there were issues that the political parties are contesting.

MUGERA: Exactly.

MAKALI: So in my view, I think it's - it was a good initiative, yes. But it was not a principle position that the media took.

MUGERA: And I think, Fionnuala, that's the point we need to get down to as the media. We need to find out as much as we're telling people let's maintain peace and order, let's go for that which cause the acrimony, the anarchy, the threatening to grip the whole country, the justice that the people are seeking for. How much can the media do to unearth that? How much can the media do to bring that to the fore? And that's the challenge that is remaining.

SWEENEY: David Makali, a final question to you in Nairobi. As a result of this crisis in Kenya, where do you see the future of the media? Is it more emboldened? Or does it have lessons to learn?

MAKALI: I'm unable to tell for sure, I mean, as to whether it will get emboldened. I have not seen any attempt, for example, to confront the illegal ban on live broadcasting. The media has been cowered and gone down to obey the government order, even when completely illegal.

I mean, so I do not see any lesson learned in terms of whether it's going to be more bold in the future or anything. I think they just there. And I think they need to pull together, to fight harder.

SWEENEY: David Makali in Nairobi, Solomon Mugera here in London, thank you very much indeed.

SWEENEY: Now up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, turning the tide, the first primary elections of the U.S. presidential battle throw up a surprise or two. A look at the comeback kid and how the media is reporting the campaign after the break.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. The media now described them as the comeback kids. Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican John McCain both rebounded from defeats in Iowa to score wins in the first primary in the 2008 U.S. presidential election campaign. Analysts say the result set up a two race for the Democratic nomination between Clinton and rival Barack Obama.

While for the Republicans, New Hampshire has given McCain's added momentum to take on fellow contender Mitt Romney going into the next primary in Michigan on Tuesday.

Well, for a look at the campaign as seen through the eyes of the press and broadcasters, I'm joined from Manchester, New Hampshire by CNN's Colleen McEdwards. And here in the studio, Michelle Henery of "The Times of London."

Colleen McEdwards, how many journalists are pinching themselves after this contest?

COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, quite a few, quite a few. I mean, there were those who really, you know, latched onto those polls that showed Barack Obama surging coming into the New Hampshire primary, and really wrote Hillary Clinton off.

You know, there was a headline in one of the local papers. It was a Boston paper, actually, a few days ago that had Hillary Clinton on the front. And the headline was "she's so yesterday." And there was like a record of the Beatles song "Yesterday" sort of superimposed over her face. And you know, that kind of coverage, especially in the tabloids and among columnists who were, you know, they saw the polls. I mean, they saw this momentum from Iowa. They saw Barack Obama in the lead.

But you know, what you can't forget, especially in New Hampshire, is the polls are often misleading, because you know, this is a state with a huge number of independents and undecideds going in.

SWEENEY: But at the same time on the day of the primary itself, I mean, it was hard not to find any media outlets who was predicting her fall and would she be able to recover if she didn't do well in New Hampshire?

MCEDWARDS: Yes, that's true. I mean, there were those who came out and said it. But I'll tell you, the Hillary camp was - I can't say they were saying it, but they were preparing for it. I mean, they were really nervous. They - you could tell they were in a mode that was getting - where they were getting ready to spin a second place finish into a victory kind of thing.

So I mean, it was out there, not just among the media, but in the candidate's camps as well. And you know, Barack Obama, when he gave his speech, the music that came on after was Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours." They picked that music, obviously, before the results of the vote.

So maybe everyone was caught off guard. But you know, the key thing is the polls said what they said, but the polls also said there were some 30 percent of voters in New Hampshire who were undecided, a huge number of Independents. The people who made up their minds at the last minute made the difference here.

SWEENEY: So the polls may have alluded to a lot of people undecided. But you know, there were some elements in the media who were really ready to jump on this bandwagon, because like everybody, we all love gossip and a bit of an upset. And this war machine, this war chest that Hillary Clinton has, seemed to be running of steam, or so some people wanted to believe.

MCEDWARDS: Yes, that's right. And I mean, throw into the mix here that amazing moment a few days ago, where Hillary Clinton had her, you know, her emotions came out. She was asked how she copes with this campaign. And then, you know, a lot of the pundits were then eager to sort of, you know, pin the victory on that.

Was that the moment? And of course, it's ridiculous, because there a million moments in any campaign. She did pretty well in the debates here. She showed a lot of humanity in the debates. She showed humanity in that moment.

So we ought not to put too much stock in that. Although notably again, one of the first things Hillary Clinton said when she made her victory speech was I came to New Hampshire to speak to the voters. And I found my own voice. So it was almost like a wink and a nod and an acknowledgement of that from the candidate herself.

SWEENEY: Well, it certainly stood her in good stead. Colleen McEdwards, thank you very much indeed for joining us from Manchester, New Hampshire.

MCEDWARDS: You're welcome.

SWEENEY: Well, Michelle Henery of "The Times," as an American journalist based in Britain, what have you made of the British coverage of the New Hampshire primary?

MICHELLE HENERY, JOURNALIST, THE TIMES: Well, it feels like I'm at home. I'm completely overwhelmed at how much people are getting excited, how many stores are being dedicated to it. And every day that I'm in the office, it's all that anyone want s to talk about, and also even in the street as well. It's on everyone's minds.

And I think what's gotten people really riled up is that they have this sense of it's just so exciting. So I think for so many years, Britain and - has criticized American politics. They've been quite smug about, you know, we have Labor and Tory and are very, very different. And we actually have a political struggle versus you have Democrats and Republicans and it's very samey, samey.

And finally, they're - and they've always criticized us on us, meaning the Americans, on this idea of, you know, your hanging chads and your multi million dollar campaigns.


HENERY: And your political dynasties. But now, they're actually seeing a possible major shake-up, a really big regime change. And that's gotten them really excited.

SWEENEY: Howard Kurtz wrote an article in "The Washington Post" following Hillary Clinton's win, where he basically said this was actually like "Dewey Defeats Truman." And he reviewed the papers, where as Colleen referred to "The Boston Herald," said "she's so yesterday" was the headline, the cover of the old Beatle record. Does the media have some soul searching to do on both sides of the Atlantic?

HENERY: Absolutely. Not only do the U.S. press go really hard on Hillary, so did the British press. I woke during the week and saw those papers, the first editions of the papers right after the New Hampshire primary. And I saw that everyone had gone against Hillary Clinton, even "The Times."

We had a massive picture of Barack Obama with a headline that indicated that he was luring in, load the voters, victory was certain. "The Guardian," "The Telegraph," again, went hard saying Hillary was going to stack staff. She was going to go plan B, going to focus on her major states.

And really, they had to quickly rush out new copy, new story saying Barack Obama had actually, in fact, come in second and Hillary had won.

SWEENEY: What Colleen emphasized very much the polls and the number of undecided voters, but did the media have a responsibility to emphasize that themselves? I was watching CNN's coverage and one analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, said Bill Clinton's negative campaigning against Barack Obama had been deemed by the media to have gone against Hillary. And Jeffrey Toobin said well, actually, maybe out there in the real world, people actually like Hillary - or Bill Clinton and didn't mind this negative campaigning.

HENERY: What I'm seeing is less than the media being negative on Hillary Clinton and Bill, they're being so pro Barack Obama. They're really excited by this young guy.

I think in Britain in particular, when they first came on the scene some 18 months ago, they were really focusing on Hillary Clinton that this could possibly be America's first female president. And again, Britain sat back quite smugly, saying well we had female Margaret Thatcher in office since 1980. And it's about time that the U.S. followed up.

But now, they're all -- focus is on Obama, because they're thinking, oh my goodness, a black man could actually make history and enter into office.

SWEENEY: But it's the media that wants Barack Obama to win, is that what you say?

HENERY: I'm not saying that - well, no.

SWEENEY: Oh, they'll turn against Barack Obama.

HENERY: Exactly, because I wouldn't say that they want him to win. I think that they're so excited about him, that they've jumped on his bandwagon.

SWEENEY: But (INAUDIBLE) it's all about a story. You know, less like Hillary Clinton was in the lead for so long.

HENERY: It makes fantastic copy and brilliant stories, because as soon as Hillary came in the lead in New Hampshire, everyone suddenly jumped the fence. And again, even "The Times" this week, we ran a cover story in "Times 2" our feature section all about Hillary's tears and what it meant for her and her campaign.

SWEENEY: And of course, the one person that's been ignored in all this, but is another real comeback, is John McCain. I mean, he did very, very well in New Hampshire winning it again.

HENERY: He did. But I think that again, the political pundits in the media weren't really sure how to play that. They knew that McCain had done superbly well in 2000 when he was running for presidency then and got 49 percent of the vote in New Hampshire.

But I think, again, the media was really focusing on Mike Huckabee. They really liked him. Everybody liked him because he was such a character. He played the banjo. He had unusual ideas. And he made great, great fodder for newspapers and for television.

SWEENEY: And it's only January 2008. Michelle Henery of "The Times," thank you very much indeed.

Well, up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, one of the world's most photographed women meets one of the world's most powerful men. The story behind Naomi Campbell's interview with the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez when we return.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. She's used to being the subject of news stories instead of its author. Super model Naomi Campbell secured a scoop in her role as contributing editor to the British edition of "GQ" magazine.

She interviewed Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for the February edition. Chavez gave Campbell his thoughts on U.S. President George W. Bush, Cuba's Fidel Castro, and Britain's Prince Charles. Campbell wrote that she wanted to get a sense of Hugo Chavez, the man.

Well, "GQ" says the super model will be interviewing other high profile figures in coming editions. So is there any merit in having a celebrity like Naomi Campbell as a reporter? Well, I'm joined by Bill Prince, deputy editor of "GQ's" British edition.

I guess you would say the answer to that is yes?


SWEENEY: In what way?

PRINCE: Well, apart from anything else, Naomi's a citizen of the world, isn't she? She knows everybody. She has fantastic contacts book. And what magazine wouldn't want to put that to work?

SWEENEY: How did this relationship come about?

PRINCE: It began initially when another of our journalists, Piers Morgan interviewed her. They had had a bust up over legal dispute between "The Mirror," which was then editing and Naomi Campbell in privacy.

And it was decided that Piers would like to interview her. Naomi, very game, decided it was a good idea as well. But she agreed only if she could ask Piers some questions. Then we recognized that she had an agenda and she had questions that she wanted answered from somebody to occupy such a powerful position as Piers Morgan as editor of "The Mirror."

We recognize this is a skill that she could take outside of that.

SWEENEY: So how did the interview with Hugo Chavez come about in terms of.

PRINCE: Well, they had mutual connections. And she'd not been to Venezuela, but she knows the area well, but as a model, as a private traveler. And she was very keen through what she'd heard about Mr. Chavez to go and see him and meet him personally.

And she has a lot of initiatives that she's very interested in as well, along.

SWEENEY: And projects, yes.

PRINCE: And projects, her AIDS work with Mr. Mandela. So she had more than simply an agenda of interviewing Mr. Chavez for "GQ." But what it did do is it put her into a situation where Mr. Chavez was happy to speak to her about a whole range of subjects.

SWEENEY: And he was happy to speak to her because she's very beautiful super model Naomi Campbell? I mean, he gave an interview to "GQ," which many, many other magazines and newspaper or broadcasting outlets would love to have.

PRINCE: I mean, he flirts openly with her in the interview. Which man wouldn't? But more importantly.

SWEENEY: She's not so far off it herself. I mean, Mr. Chavez, you have a great sense of humor, I think I read somewhere along the line.

PRINCE: I think we've all been guilty of - slightly guilty that (INAUDIBLE) when we're doing an interview (INAUDIBLE) to get a good response from them.

But I think more importantly, he was given an audience in the "GQ" in Great Britain, which he probably wouldn't have received had Naomi Campbell not had the opportunity to go and meet him face to face.

SWEENEY: I mean, it's not exactly the toughest interview I've ever read, to put it mildly. But having said that, there's the case to be made that sometimes by not asking tough, difficult questions, it's actually possible to elicit more from a subject.

PRINCE: You know, I mean, I think Naomi wrote an introductory article explaining why she wanted to go and what she saw when she got there. And she stated her own reasons for going there.

There's an accompanying article explaining Mr. Chavez's role in Central America and his relationship with America and his relationship with his own people. The interview itself, I think, was maybe not the toughest interview. It's certainly one of the most revealing interviews you'll read with a world leader, particularly with a leader who has such controversial reputation as (INAUDIBLE).

SWEENEY: What do you think it demonstrated, it showed us about him?

PRINCE: I think it shows that he is a man with a sense of humor. He's a man with a sense of purpose. And he's a man who he's clearly using every single skill in his armory to get where he wants to go next.

I don't think there's any sense where he's bunkering down in Venezuela, hiding from the forces of the agents against him that he claims are all out. They're trying to kill him in the interview.

I think it is revealing. I think he's basically carrying on in a way that suggests that he's not simply perturbed by the view that's held back in Oslo.

SWEENEY: So she helped secure the interview for "GQ" through her contacts.


SWEENEY: So in a way, even though she's not a journalist, but she's an ordinary person in that way.


SWEENEY: .a Joe Blogs (ph) you wouldn't choose to go and do this interview, even if you had arranged it?

PRINCE: Well, I mean, that's the question, isn't it? Who would have got that interview with Chavez? He did not back any interviewer that he didn't really feel comfortable introducing, bringing into his own country, into his own home on this occasion?

I think what magazine wouldn't want to deploy something like the opportunity to ask Naomi Campbell to go into interviews with world leaders. I mean, that's an occasion that most magazines can't put together.

And whilst we're comfortable and familiar with the idea that celebrities are often drafted into interview other celebrities, this is completely different. This is a celebrity, this is a super model, this sits in another world almost talking to world leaders on their own level.

I mean, she operates on a far more rarified level than 99 percent of the journalists do in "Playboy" magazine.

SWEENEY: But do you think that and, you know, the other thing of celebrities interviewing celebrities is making the sort of a rarified club at the top? I mean, you told me before we began the interview that Naomi Campbell now wants to interview Nicolas Sarkozy?

PRINCE: Well, yes. I don't think it's a club at all. I just think that there are different people who have different levels of access. This isn't the sort of interview that "The Economist" would be interested in running or in many other magazines.

It's very much an interview that "GQ" is very happy to run and very interested in running. And whatever Naomi has to say about, and whatever Naomi gets out of other world leaders in the coming months and years for "GQ" we'd be delighted to run.

SWEENEY: Bill Prince, thank you very much indeed.

And that brings us to our quick vote. We're asking do you think celebrities have the credibility to act as journalists? And you can take part on our website,

And while you're there, you can watch all or part of this program again and read our blog. It's all at

Well, that's all for this edition of the program. Tune in again next time for another look at how the media are reporting the big issues.

I'm Fionnuala Sweeney. Thanks for joining us.