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INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

Reporting From Afghanistan; Media Freedom Report; McCartney vs. Mills

Aired February 15, 2008 - 20:30:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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, pressure on the press. The new report on media freedom around the world. We list the countries of most concern.

Images from Afghanistan. Photographer Tim Hetherington speaks to us about his assignment for Vanity Fair.

And McCartney versus Mills. The media circus surrounding the high profile divorce hearing between the former Beatle and his estranged wife.

Their job is to get the story, but more often it seems their lives are being put at risk. A new study into media freedom around the globe reveals journalists faced one of their bloodiest years in 2007. It also says news workers are under greater pressure to limit what they report.

Our U.S. affairs editor Jill Douherty has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JILL DOUHERTY, CNN AFFAIRS EDITOR (voice-over): More danger, more arrests, more deaths. That's the conclusion of Reporters Without Borders annual report on press freedom.

LUCIE MORILLON, REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS: Iraq is still burning journalists five years after the start of the war.

DOUHERTY: The organization issues its data amid reports of the kidnappings in Iraq of two journalists from CBS. Worldwide, it says, 86 journalists were killed in 2007, the highest number since 1994.

In some countries, reporters have been sentenced to death or died in prison. The report highlights what it calls "media repression" by the Chinese government in the run-up to this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing.

Reporters Without Borders charges China is breaking its promise to guarantee press freedom. It's calling on President George Bush to raise the issue when he attends the games. Chinese journalist He Qinlian, now living in the United States, says the Chinese government blacklists foreign reporters who have written articles critical of the Chinese government and will refuse to give them visas.

But journalists are at risk even in the United States. Paul Cobb publishes "The Oakland Post" in California. His editor, Chauncey Bailey, was murdered after investigating a local crime family.

PAUL COBB, PUBLISHER, OAKLAND POST: Shot in the chest, in the stomach. Then the guy came back, stood over him, and shot him in the face.

DOUHERTY (on camera): Reporters Without Borders says its main concern this year is for elections that are taking place in countries whose leaders distrust independent journalists.

(voice-over): The group expects problems, including physical attacks on journalists during elections in Pakistan, Russia, Iran, and Zimbabwe. Another disturbing trend - governments are cracking down on new media. Cellphones with cameras, video sharing, and social networking sites.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who could have believed we could see what was happening in Burma, the crackdown with the i-footage?

DOUHERTY: The worst country in the world for journalists, the report says, is the African nation of Eritrea. And an Eritrean reporter who escaped his country put it, they put fear into your soul so you won't open your mouth.

Jill Dougherty, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SWEENEY: For more on the Reporters Without Borders study, I'm joined by the organization's Washington director Lucy Morillon, who's featured in Jill's report there. Also, with us is Khalid Hasan, correspondent for Pakistan's "Daily Times" and "The Friday Times." He's also in Washington.

Lucy Morillon, obviously, you say that your greatest concern is those countries where they're going to be elections next year, where the leaders don't want independent journalists. That's your biggest problem, you think, forecast?

LUCY MORILLON, REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS: Absolutely. The year 2007 was very bloody year for the press. And we expect 2008 to be a tough year as well for the media.

One of our main constant is the election coming up this year. Most of the elections are going to be held in countries where the leaders mistrust journalists. You know, the media are the frontline of the elections. Either they cover the election, and they can be victim of any crackdown on protest movements, or they can also be used as scapegoats by supporters of leaders who think they haven't been treated fairly by the media.

So we really worried about elections coming up in Pakistan, in Russia, in (INAUDIBLE), in Zimbabwe, amongst other countries.

SWEENEY: Khalid Hasan, obviously, being a Pakistani journalist, what is your take on the situation in the run-up to the elections in Pakistan?

KHALID HASAN, CORRESPONDENT, PAKISTAN DAILY TIMES: Well, obviously, there's a lot of excitement. There's also a great deal of uncertainty. Because frankly, lots of people believe I included (INAUDIBLE) Musharraf is in charge. There can't really be any free and fair elections. But there is a tremendous upsurge, a popular upsurge for free elections. And I think if the regime tries to rig them, there's going to be a huge reaction.

People will pour out on the streets. And they will reject the verdict as has happened in Kenya.

SWEENEY: Are you and other journalists placed under any kind of restrictions in covering these elections?

HASAN: Oh, yes, absolutely. I mean, there are all kinds of restrictions. Not so many on the print media, but a lot on the electronic media. Because the regime feels that the electronic media sort of get across the people with more immediacy, and have a greater impact.

And there is - there are restrictions on live coverage. Some of the most popular anchors and hosts of discussion programs have been banned. They cannot appear any more. And all kinds of other methods are used by the regime constantly to harass journalists, to put pressure on the owners of television networks. And you know, any means is employed to brow beat, you know, free comment.

SWEENEY: Lucy Morillon, what is a group like Reporters Without Borders able to achieve in a situation such as Pakistan that's been outlined there by Khalid Hasan?

MORILLON: Well, I just want to add one thing about what Khalid Hasan said. Reporters Without Borders is actually monitoring the election in Pakistan and the media coverage of the election in Pakistan. We have been monitoring the - only (INAUDIBLE) channel PTV, state owned PTV. And these past two weeks, we have noticed that the political coverage of the channel is biased in favor of President Musharraf.

80 percent of the political coverage goes to the president, to his government, and to the ruling party. So that doesn't bode well for the independence of these elections. And we're trying to raise public awareness to also put pressure on western government allies of Pakistan, so that they can put pressure on - in Musharraf and ask for him to respect freedom of expression.

The fight against terrorism must not continue to be used by Pakistani authorities to justify the crackdown on their critics, including journalists.

SWEENEY: Khalid Hasan, I mean, the crackdown you say in Pakistan is focused mainly on the electronic media and the broadcast media, which Musharraf, President Musharraf had been a great supporter initially. In fact, he expanded satellite television coverage and independent television networks in Pakistan at the beginning of his power.

HASAN: I know. He was a great supporter of free media, as long as the free media continued to face him. But the moment it became critical of him, he cracked down. And they descended on the free media like a ton of bricks, all kinds of new laws were brought in. All kinds of restrictions were placed. And all the channels absolutely disappeared from the air.

And even today, they continue to operate under new laws. They have an organization called Pembra, which regulates coverage of the media, both electronic and print. And they keep on issuing new instructions every day.

SWEENEY: Lucy Morillon, in the study that you've done of - in terms of monitoring what's going on on the airwaves in Pakistan and the amount of coverage given to President Musharraf, do you have any evidence for the kind of impact that has when it comes to people going to the polling booths and voting on election day?

MORILLON: Well, you know, obviously, this will have some impact on the media, on the public. If you turn on the television and the only thing you can see is a point of view of the ruling party, of the president in charge, then how can you get independent information? The PTV TV station is still, you know, covering what's going on with the opposition, but it's very little - a lot of time of the political coverage. And it's very - we can very often see coverage - criticism from the government of the opposition. And we don't really have any definite voice that is trying to tell Pakistani people what's really going on in the country.

People need to have a balanced coverage of the news, of the political situation in Pakistan to be able to make some decision in this election.

SWEENEY: Khalid Hasan, do you see the restrictions on the media in Pakistan linked to the current situation, the war on terror? Do you see it as a temporary thing?

HASAN: No, first of all, I would like to clarify one thing. I think the channel which the Reporters Without Borders has been monitoring in Pakistan is Pakistan Television, which is a government channel, state owned channel. And they, of course, carry the government viewpoint and provide just very token coverage to the opposition.

But there are other channels whose news programs are far more reflective of what is going on. So that is a balancing factor. Although as I submitted earlier, there are restrictions on those channels of all kinds.

As for your other question about the war on terrorism, frankly, the war on terrorism is something which has really flourished under the military regime. And I'm sure if there is a surge in government, a democratic government, the war on terror will take definitely a turn for the better.

SWEENEY: All right, we must leave it there. We're out of time. But Khalid Hasan and Lucy Morillon in Washington, D.C., thank you both very much indeed for joining us.

MORILLON: Thank you.

HASAN: Thank you.

SWEENEY: Still to come on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, on assignment with U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Photographer Tim Hetherington speaks to us about his images captured on the front lines. That's up next.

The divorce hearing between a former Beatle and ex model. Why it's become a major media event. That story when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SWEENEY: Welcome back. Big names often equal stories. That's certainly the case when you're talking about Paul McCartney and Heather Mills. This week, the former Beatle and ex model have been trying to hammer out a divorce settlement, one that could result in the biggest divorce payout in British legal history.

While McCartney and Mills both fought it out behind closed doors at their London hearing, photographers and journalists jostled outside in somewhat of a media frenzy. What they've been able to report has been kept private, given strict reporting conditions.

So with the story generating bold newspaper headlines in such a prominent spot in television and radio bulletins here in the U.K. at least, how is the case reported when there is no new information coming out?

Well, to assess that, I'm joined in the studio by Michael Booker, the deputy editor of "The Daily Star Sunday." Also with us is CNN's Phil Bright.

Phil, how difficult is it to report on divorce proceedings when there isn't actually any substance to report from the hearing itself?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is an extraordinary story in that sense. Certainly, there is enormous international interest on day one of these proceedings. The international media was there in almost sort of the size of an army, if you like.

Certainly huge interest. But as you say, this is a closed court, private hearing. So therefore, there is a lot of interest, but certainly not a lot of information to back it up, not a lot of substance.

And this has tended to mean that the media seem to focus on well, what they can, what they can see. For example, the brief walk, if you like, both parties in this, both Paul McCartney and Heather Mills, have to make brief strolls. No more than 10 seconds between the cars and their buildings. And there's been an incredible amount of detail just looking at these players and the expressions on their faces, what they're wearing. And from that, trying to analyze how the day's proceedings have gone.

SWEENEY: Tell me, does Heather Mills, I mean, Paul McCartney, do the pair of them sell newspapers?

MICHAEL BOOKER, DEPUTY EDITOR, DAILY STAR SUNDAY: I think they sell papers as much as any other topic of international importance. And people are across the world very interested in this.

He is, after all, one of the Beatles, the biggest band in the world ever. People across the world are interested in him. And.

SWEENEY: But she has become something of a hate figure in the British media at least - I mean, that's what she alleges.

BOOKER: Well, she alleges that and she famously just a couple of months ago was on a number of TV stations, radio stations saying that she was being target by some parts of the press.

But when she did that, she didn't help her case at all, because there she was seemingly spilling secrets from the divorce case that she wasn't particularly quite allowed to speak about.

SWEENEY: But that's good for you?

BOOKER: That was good for us. But at the same time, it wasn't great for her. And at the same time, she's just given this impression of herself as being slightly unhinged. And I think that's what was said at the time. People immediately said, well, she looks as though she needed help and she needs someone to, you know, just put an arm around her shoulder and say look, calm down a little bit here.

SWEENEY: But it does come back to the issue here, Phil Black, of reporting or finding a two minute piece every day, so to be, on a story where you really have no information. Does it force you personally to have to go down a more sort of tabloidy route yourself?

BLACK: It certainly forces, I think, all journalists to have - look at details or aspects that they perhaps would otherwise get washed over. I mean, ultimately, you report what you can. So in this case, if the couple are exposing themselves for only 20 seconds a day on that brief journey between the vehicles and their buildings, then that will get all of the attention.

It certainly is difficult. But if the interest is there, then the drive to report it is there as well.

SWEENEY: So you must be quite proud of yourself when you're able to fill a newspaper week after week, or on proceedings when there really isn't anything to report?

BOOKER: Well, this week, it's been a headline writer's dream all in the first week. It is interesting to see that even though Paul McCartney doesn't entirely like the limelight, it appears that someone's had a word in his ear. The first day across a lot of different pages of the major tabloids, there he was scowling. So the headlines were hard day's night.

The next day, I think he realized what was happening. And he knew the cameras are on him. So he's smiling. So people - so think of another pony headline to go with the Beatles record.

And it seems to be - it just seems as though he has seen what's going on, and now just reporting through smiles and various photographs of being going in, that's where a lot of people have been getting - what they think is coming out in court, and how it's going. And I think he's getting that. So he's now starting to smile. He's starting to wave a little bit.

SWEENEY: But Phil, do you think this has any impact at all on how it's viewed inside the courtroom, the media interest? Do you think the judge is going to be interested in this?

BLACK: In my court reporting experience, judges are used to these sorts of situations. And they tend to be able to detach themselves from it. Quite clearly, there have been reports that he has apparently warned the parties involved in this that they should stay quiet, they should not get involved, and certainly not discuss what is going on in there, don't give any of those sorts of details away.

There is an argument of these sorts of situations that perhaps the stories are self perpetuating in a sense, when the media responds so - in such a grand way, so aggressively, that with a frenzy, the circus if you like, is there. That in itself becomes the story to some extent.

SWEENEY: If it becomes the story, are you and the tabloids interested in any possible precedent that might set, legal precedent that might be set by this case? Or is it all the drama surrounding it?

BOOKER: Well, of course, we have to be aware of the legal precedence. If there is a result of this case that does affect us, then fair enough. We have to take it.

But that's not of much interest to the readers, I don't think. So we will focus them again on the known players here. Heather, soon to be Mills, and Paul McCartney.

SWEENEY: How do you know what the reader's interested in?

BOOKER: Well, for us, as a national daily tabloid, and for the tabloids, we report - we inform and we entertain at the same time. And to go down a very, very wordy legal route isn't particularly of interest to most people.

SWEENEY: All right, we have to leave it there. Phil Black, Michael Booker, thanks very much indeed.

And we want to know what you think. Do you believe celebrity divorce hearings warrant widespread media coverage? You can take part in our website, cnn.com/correspondents. While you're there, you can find out more about the show, watch all or part of it again, and read our weekly blog. It's all at cnn.com/correspondents.

Now when we return, from the frontlines, photographer Hetherington tells us about some of the most poignant images he captured while on assignment for Vanity Fair in Afghanistan. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TIME STAMP: 2053:19

SWEENEY: Welcome back. It has the highest concentration of fighting in Afghanistan. Given that, images from the Koingo (ph) Valley and the eastern province in Kanar (ph) are rare. Photographer Tim Hetherington spent several weeks with U.S. troops in the region. He captured a series of images as part of a year long assignment for Vanity Fair.

Tim Hetherington gave us his thoughts on the mission and his pictures. This is his story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TIM HETHERINGTON, PHOTOGRAPHER, VANITY FAIR: Hi, my name's Tim Hetherington. I'm a photographer and filmmaker. If you look at Afghanistan, the Congo represents the sort of - the extremities of the war there.

17 percent of all combat, not us American, but also European combat in Afghanistan, takes place in the Congo Valley. 70 percent of American munitions in Afghanistan are dumped in and around that valley. And that valley is six miles long.

This is old fashioned combat. They're over running American runs and shooting people in the head at 10 feet. It's - those soldiers are not from rich families. They are farming communities. And it's the hard working blue collar America that feeds their sons into - into this military machine.

I don't feel we can ever experience that kind of length of combat going on every day. And it's very draining. It's quite extreme sometimes.

That is Gutierrez lying on the ground. And the insurgents attacked the outpost. And he was filling up a head (INAUDIBLE), which is like a sand bag. And he was on top of it. And they shot at him. And he jumped down. And being the sort of, you know, classic paratrooper, you know, he broke his leg. And he snapped his tibia and fibula completely.

But what was amazing was to see three guys go into a place where their incoming rounds are coming and grab him and pull him out.

There have been a number of incidents in the fighting that had almost stirred up the hornet's nest in the valley, which has included also the accidental bombing of civilian house - civilian deaths.

One day, we were on top - we were on the part of the ridge. And we were attacked for about 270 degrees. There was a guy, Sergeant Larry Rugle (ph) , who was killed instantaneously, took a bullet in the head. Two other guys were injured. (INAUDIBLE) was shot in the stomach. And the (INAUDIBLE) was shot in the arm.

And the men were so - they were in such a state of shock, I'd really never seen anything like it in my life before in the way that - to see these men crying and wandering around in a complete daze.

We went to the Afghan army. And they started to try and drag the body of this soldier away by its feet. And Brayon (ph) came up and just was screaming at them, saying you know, he's not - you're not going to drag him out like this out of this place. You're not - you know, you give him some respect.

And so I and another soldier picked up the body and put it onto his back. And he carried his friend off this part of the battlefield. And Rice walked back. He - people came to try and help him and he just told them to get lost. And he was crying. And he was crying to Vandenberg, his friend - he was so upset, saying I'm so sorry you got shot. I'm so sorry. He walked 200 meters unaided. And he says of fighting in Afghanistan, which makes me laugh, he says it's - you know, growing up on a farm in Wisconsin was no less difficult than fighting in Afghanistan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SWEENEY: Images and thoughts from Tim Hetherington on assignment for Vanity Fair in Afghanistan.

Well, 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.

END

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