Return to Transcripts main page


Super Tuesday Reporting; Attacks on the Press: Iraq and Worldwide

Aired February 9, 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, super showdown, reporting on the biggest day of the U.S. presidential primaries so far. And later, attacks on the press, as Iraq becomes the most dangerous assignment for reporters in history, we look at how other countries fare in the media freedom stakes.

But first, Super Tuesday, the biggest day of the U.S. presidential election campaign to date, grabbed headlines around the world. There was plenty of build-up, wall to wall news coverage on every twist and turn of the candidates and their campaigns. Results show voters are still very much divided.

For the Democrats, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are neck and neck. And while John McCain edged closer as the Republican frontrunner, his nomination is by no means secure.

Well, for a look at the media's handling of Super Tuesday, I'm joined from Chicago by CNN's Suzanne Malveaux. Suzanne, you've been traveling with the Obama campaign. What is it like being part of this media phenomenon, or at least a phenomenon that seems to be taking place in and around the Obama campaign?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fionnuala, it really is quite amazing when you're a part of this. And you do get a sense that you're a part of history, that history's in the making, following both Obama as well as Senator Clinton.

But the crowds are really incredible. What you see are really all the different kinds of faces of Americans. It is very, very diverse. So you see all kinds of ethnic backgrounds, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, all. You see young, you see old. And they're all basically in the same place.

I can't tell you like if there's any other venue where you actually see kind of that real melting pot, that picture of all of these different kind of voters in the same place.

The other thing that really stands out is just the energy level, the enthusiasm. People are very excited. They're very energized about this race. You can tell in the way they talk about it. And even outside of the campaign, if you're just out having breakfast at a restaurant, you can overhear. And the waitress will be talking with another waitress about well, what do you think about Obama? Or what do you think about Huckabee?

I mean, people are completely engaged, immersed in this. And you see the crowds unbelievable. Lots overflow. People out at 4:30 in the morning, for example, this morning, lined up to see Obama speak this afternoon.

I mean, it really is kind of a phenomenon that's occurring here in the United States.

SWEENEY: And for those viewers who might not be familiar with campaigns, how is the Obama campaign management behaving with journalists? And is it any different from other campaigns you might have been involved in or working on?

MALVEAUX: You know, it's funny because you do this delegate dance with all the communications folks, with the Obama folks, with the Clinton folks. And it reminds me still of what it's like to deal with people at the White House.

Sometimes when they want their message out there, they are quick to send you an e-mail on the Blackberry constantly. That's what happened to the debates. They're always trying to spin. Why it is that they believe their particular candidate is winning.

So sometimes, you hear from them a lot. Other times when you're looking for access, perhaps you want a one on one interview, you have - there's a controversy that is brewing, you don't hear from them at all. So it's pretty typical that that's kind of the dance you do.

But it is - it's fascinating because you really get a sense of these candidates developing. For instance, Barack Obama in his press conferences the last two, just had one yesterday, he - now he's got a backdrop of American flags behind him. He's got a podium. So he is trying to look presidential. Seats us, and we're all looking up at him. I mean, those pictures are not accidental. Those settings are not accidental.

But you really do get a chance to know their press folks. We see them all the time. There's a pool of folks that are actually traveling on the plane, in the buses, very close to the candidates. And so you really - it's a very unique situation because even in those one on one interviews, you get to see these candidates up close. You get to see when they're tired. You can tell when they're tired, when they're about to fall asleep. You can tell when they're energized, when they're pumped.

So thinking about this, that the possibility that these candidates could become president, it's fascinating because you really do get a window into what they're like personally.

SWEENEY: Suzanne Malveaux in Chicago with the Obama campaign, thanks very much.

Well now here in the studio for their assessment, I'm joined by Chris Lockwood, the U.S. editor with "The Economist," and Michelle Henry from "The Times" of London.

Michelle Henry, you wrote an article recently where you said Obama's good fortunes in this campaign, and should he win, would actually incline you to return to the United States. Why?

MICHELLE HENRY, JOURNALIST, "THE TIMES": Well, what I said exactly was that it maybe consider actually returning to the U.S. after being away for so many years, going on eight years now. And it's because one of the reasons that I left was that I could sense this air of discontentment among the public and the nation at large. And I felt very uncomfortable living there. And I wanted to move and try something different.

And the message that he's been putting across of being someone will bring about a wind of change, who will really inspire the public and unite them. And reading about that and hearing about that made me think, well, maybe America could be the place that I grew up in, that I can perhaps one day return to.

SWEENEY: What distinctions have you been able to make between how the media in Britain, if not Europe, has been covering this campaign and what you're reading about from your journalistic colleagues in U.S. newspapers and on print and TV journalism?

HENRY: Well, the major difference is that because in Britain, they can't even vote for what's happening, it's just - I find it very amusing to see, the acres and acres of newsprint and media that's dedicated to the campaign.

But I guess the major difference is that what I'm seeing is there's a very strong sense already that everyone is very much behind Barack Obama. And that that is the person that they want to see. And that what we're all seeing is this idea that, you know, once Bush is out, they need to get someone like Barack Obama in there to kind of change the perception - the outward perception of the United States.

SWEENEY: Chris Lockwood, is that something with which you'd agree?

CHRIS LOCKWOOD, U.S. EDITOR, "THE ECONOMIST": I agree it's happening. I'm not sure if it's necessarily a good thing. What very often happens is outsiders want certain things from Americans. It's not necessarily the same as what's best for America. I mean, American electors ought to be voting what's best for America, not what's best for the world or particularly what's best for Europeans or any other people.

I've no doubt at all that Barack Obama, of all the people America could choose, would be the one that would go down best around the world. But that doesn't necessarily mean that Americans in the end will go for him.

SWEENEY: And how do you think the American media has been covering this in the sense of being critical of any or all of the candidates?

LOCKWOOD: You know, Hillary Clinton has to survey tough time a few weeks ago when it looked like her campaign was getting into difficulties after Iowa. There was this enormous burst of enthusiasm for Obama.. And the Clintons claimed - I think with some justification - that Obama hadn't been examined yet in the same way that they had.

And I wonder now that he is either at worse level pecking, and at best actually slightly ahead, whether they will now start to turn slightly more hostile eye on him, and whether that will be a little bit difficult for him.

He's not accustomed to being out in front with all of the pitfalls that can bring.

SWEENEY: Given that six months ago, people thought the Republicans would be battling it out for their nominee, and it seems to be pretty straightforward now, it's McCain, and that the Democrats would sort their business out pretty quickly because they have such, you know, rush to get to back to the White House, did the media get it wrong there obviously? And if they did, where do you chart at going in the next few months running up to November if you're an editor? Or do you see this story developing?

HENRY: Well, I think I see the story developing in terms of - so yes, to answer your first question, yes, the media did get it wrong. Well, then again, I think that the media, they were so heavily relying on the polls. And even though polls are continuing to happen, that people - as you can hear punditry going all around, well, the polls said that, but we can't really rely on the polls anymore.

And I think that they'll start going - examining the voters and exactly determining who the voters are going to decide, and in the run up to choosing between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and then eventually in between the two main candidates.

SWEENEY: And sitting as U.S. editor for "The Economist," where do you see this story?

LOCKWOOD: Well, the story will now have to have a much bigger Republican element to it than they have before. We weren't getting ready to write very much about the Republicans. The assumption that everyone had was that the Democrats were a shoo-in for this election, they were so incredibly unpopular. And the one person who always did have cross party appeal, John McCain, looked to be going nowhere. Six months ago, his campaign was broke. He fired half his staff. He was headed for an early exit. And I don't think we were wrong to write that story. It was true.

But an amazing recovery happened, partly because of mistakes made by others. Also, because of the changing world situation perhaps, a fear of more violence in places like Pakistan following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. So now, we have to write a lot more about Republicans than we were expecting to.

SWEENEY: All right.

HENRY: They'll definitely be lots more examining the Republican identity crisis.

SWEENEY: All right, we shall have to (INAUDIBLE) before November. Michelle Henry and Chris Lockwood, thank you both very much.

Now still to come on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, spreading the word, risking your life. Well, the war in Iraq has become the most dangerous assignment for journalists in history. That's next.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. It's considered the most dangerous assignment for journalists in history. The group, Reporters Without Borders says 208 journalists and media support staff have been killed since the Iraq War began almost five years ago.

From Baghdad, Michael Holmes reports.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a tragically familiar sight in Iraq, a flag draped coffin carried by throngs of grieving people. But this is not the view nor a civilian, soldier, or religious leader. It's for Allah Abdul Kareem, a cameraman with al Fourad TV, killed by a roadside bomb near Balad.

29-years old, he leaves behind a wife, two young daughters, and angry colleagues.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We want to send a message to the terrorists. If you kill Allah or 10 of us, our camera will still chase you whenever you go. We will show you what sort of people you are.

HOLMES: For journalists, the Iraq conflict is the most dangerous in history. The death toll more than in the Korean, Vietnam, and world wars combined.

For Westerners, any journey beyond the bureau must be meticulously planned. Many places simply no go areas. Interviewees often disguises for their own safety.

Embedding with the U.S. military is often the only way to get into problematic areas, but brings its own set of risks and obstacles. It is a war where journalists are often targets, a danger compounded by the fact that there are no battle lines. Attacks are sometimes planned, organized. Others, random, unpredictable, as some of the better known names in the business have discovered.

Kimberly Dozier of CBS seriously injured by a roadside bomb in a Baghdad square, her cameraman and sound man both killed. ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff seriously injured by a roadside bomb. CNN four years ago lost two of their own.

But while journalists from the West may be higher profile victims, their Iraqi colleagues are much more vulnerable, making up more than half of the 200 media workers killed here to date.

ALAA AL JUBURI, IRAQI JOURNALIST (through translator): Every Iraqi journalist who goes to the field knows that he could get killed at any moment. Our only weapon is our patience and faith in our country.

HOLMES: Alaa al Juburi is a colleague of Allah Abdul Kareem. He's not the first one she's lost.

JUBURI: Sometimes I have to delete names from my telephone. When you ask me to count, I can't, but more than 10.

HOLMES: Alaa has faced death threats herself. Her family says she's crazy to continue this work, but she says she's never considered quitting.

JUBURI: If a Western journalist comes to Iraq to report, how could I? The Iraqi journalist, native of this country, possibly not report?

HOLMES: Even if the violence in Baghdad in particular has declined, dangers remain very real and very present. And if anything, telling the story has become more difficult.

(on camera): Now it's hardly because Iraq has so many different stories in so many different places these days. And also, partly because the appetite in the West for news from here has reduced so much in the last two or three years. And so, every day, the media has to make a calculation. Weighing the risk of getting a story versus the need for that story to be told.

Michael Holmes, CNN, Baghdad.


SWEENEY: It's not only Iraq where there are high risks being a reporter. When we return, attacks on the press around the world and what's being done to better protect media workers as they go about their work. That's next.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. We've been looking at the dangers to reporters around the world. In its annual report, Attacks on the Press, the Committee to Protect Journalists says conflicts in Iraq and Somalia made 2007 the deadliest year for the media in more than a decade. 65 journalists died in connection with their work, up from 56 a year earlier.

The report also says more journalists are being jailed on what the CPJ describes as vague charges. And while Cuba and China have been singled out for detaining reporters, this week, a Hong Kong journalist accused of spying for Taiwan, was released from a prison in mainland China. Ching Chong was freed after serving nearly three years of a five year sentence.

The CPJ study highlights the erosion of press freedom in many of Africa's new democracies. The subtle use of legal pressure to silence dissent in Arab countries, and what it describes as the criminalization of journalism in Russia and central Asia.

Earlier, I spoke to Joel Simon and from the Committee to Protect Journalists. I was also joined by CNN's Michael Holmes and through an interpreter, Dmitry Muratov, editor and chief of Russia's Novaya Gazeta. The newspaper says three of its journalists have been murdered in the past six years, most notably Anna Politkovskya.

I began the discussion by asking Michael Holmes what it was like being back in Iraq as a journalist.


HOLMES: In Baghdad itself, it does feel a little more stable than it did last time I was here last year. But I think for journalists, the risks are still very real. We can't go out in Baghdad without armed escorts. We have to take extraordinary precautions to even go a mile or so from the bureau because the threat, both from insurgents, but also from criminal gangs is still very high.

Having said that, the - as you saw in the piece there, the threat facing Iraqi media workers is exponentially higher than it is for us. They don't have those guards. They don't have the level of protection. And they're out there a lot more on the streets than even we are.

SWEENEY: Joel Simon in that point that Michael raises there about the dangers for Iraqi journalists, I mean, if the Western networks or international media decide for whatever reason to withdraw certainly from Iraq, I mean, it really leaves Iraqi journalists more exposed than they are now.

JOEL SIMON, COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS: Absolutely. They're already become the eyes and ears of the world. They're the ones who are out there day in and day out, going into places that Western journalists cannot go. And they're the ones, frankly, who are really paying the costs in terms of being killed.

And certainly, Western journalists face enormous risk working in Iraq. But Iraqi journalists face an even greater risk.

SWEENEY: And Michael, what kind of breadth of media is there for Iraqis?

HOLMES: I've got to say, it's a pretty vibrant media community here, the Iraqi community since in the last couple of years, they are becoming since the war began. And I was just saying this explosion, if you like, of media outlets, newspapers, television, radio as well.

One of the problems, and it actually increases the risks for Iraqi journalists, is that virtually all or the vast, vast, vast majority of them, are sectarian in nature. They lean one way or the other. Or they lean to the government. Or there's al Huddah (ph), which has the American perspective. There's very few that you can honestly say are unbiased in the way we in the West might think.

And so, the journalists you work for individual stations face a peculiar sectarian set of risks as well. It's got to be said that the number of outlets here is actually quite staggering. You go onto the streets, there's any number of newspapers. Turn on the television, any number of satellite television news outlets as well. It is very vibrant.

SWEENEY: Dmitry Muratov, editor in chief of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, thanks very much for joining us. As a newspaper editor, how difficult is it for you to get your newspaper published and distributed in a country where already you know that your newspaper, through its journalists, have been targeted?

DMITRY MURATOV, EDITOR IN CHIEF, NOVAYA GAZETA: It's very difficult to make an independent newspaper in Russia, because advertising in Russia is a kind of political bonus. And advertising is given to those who support the authorities.

We have to work directly with international advertising agencies and businesses.

SWEENEY: Nina, how do you go about trying to pressure a government like Vladimir Putin's, who at one point he does seem to recognize when there is pressure put on him, that there are obvious dangers to journalists and press freedoms, but how often is that followed through?

NINA OGNIANOVA, COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS: Well, it should be said that Mr. Putin made that statement that he's going to protect the press corps after an ad because the admission by the CPJ and other organizations. And after the whole international community put a lot of positive pressure on the Russian government to react and to investigate the murder, the brutal murder of our colleague, Anapola Kovskya (ph), after this terrible crime shook the entire world, we mounted an advocacy mission to get the government to at least acknowledge that there is an issue in impunity in journalist murders.

SWEENEY: Dmitry Muratov, are you surprised by the lack of apparent concern by some of your colleagues in other parts of the media in Russia to what's happening to press freedoms there?

MURATOV: I think that they pretty much put up with the idea that Russia is first of all, oil and gas. And people are only secondary. They kind of accept this pragmatic approach. I'm not talking about our colleagues like the Committee for Protection of Journalists and their other allies. I'm talking about in general.

SWEENEY: And is it a matter of how you raise public awareness before journalists in your country start to ask more questions?

MURATOV: I think the main problem is the absence in Russia of independent call ups. The call ups are working not according to the law, but they are working in accordance with the will of the authorities. There is even a new concept there, which is called judicial terror. Hundreds of journalists are afraid to bring matters to court because they are not sure they're going to get justice.

SWEENEY: Michael Holmes in Baghdad, as you listen to this, a million miles away in Baghdad, where the situation is extremely violent, and to learn that Russia is the third most dangerous place for journalists to operate in the world, which is in peacetime, what crosses your mind when you think about the future direction of the freedom of journalists and the Iraqi media in general in Iraq?

HOLMES: Well, it seems to be a fair level of freedom here in terms of the media. They pretty much say and do say what they want.

In terms of a prognosis, it's always a very difficult thing to do when it comes to Iraq, when you're talking about the media or you're talking about the levels of violence.

As we were discussing before, the levels of violence in Baghdad are down markedly. They're up elsewhere in the country in some other parts of the country. And when you say violence is down, it doesn't mean it's gone away. I had a colonel say to me the other day, in Baghdad, there's no safe. There's just safer. And just the other day, there was six people killed in a couple of bombings. There were bombings here today.

So it's very difficult. I mean, you hear Blackhawk helicopter flying behind me. It's still very much a war zone here. And I think the Iraqi journalists I've spoken to, they feel that they're safer, but they're a long way from safe. And looking down the road, particularly if the U.S. does draw down in any numbers, they're going to feel a lot less safe.

SWEENEY: Joel Simon, I mean in its annual report, the CPJ says that it's the Iraq and Somalia that made - was the deadliest year for the media than was in a decade. But there are other hot spots as well. I mean, such as China. And in the run up to the Olympics, if you could just maybe give us a sense of where you feel China is headed, and whether or not this amnesty, as we see or a relaxation, apparent relaxation of some journalists and their ability to operate is going to continue beyond the Olympics?

SIMON: Well, when China was granted the Olympics, it made a commitment to the international Olympic committee and to the world that journalists would be allowed to work freely. But its interpreted that very narrowly. There have been some relaxation of restrictions on international journalists, but not on the Chinese media. The Chinese media remains under enormous pressure. And China is the world's leading jailer of journalists.

Two journalists, it appears, have recently been released. But that still means 27 journalists are in jail in China as we head towards the Olympics.


SWEENEY: That was Joel Simon, Nina Ognianova, Dmitry Mugatov, and Michael Holmes speaking to me earlier.

Well, you can watch that discussion or the whole program again on our website. Log on to to find out about the show, take part in our quick vote, and to read our blog. That address again

That's 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.