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European Soccer Tournament; Mugabe's Nation in Crisis; Gordon Brown and the Press

Aired June 27, 2008 - 20:30:00   ET


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, HOST: 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 nation in turmoil. Zimbabwean journalists shared their views about Robert Mugabe and the country's political crisis. He's had his first year as British Prime Minister, so why isn't Gordon Brown celebrating? We look at Number 10's relationship with the media.

And later, the fans have been out in force. We get a reporter's take on Euro 2008.

We begin with the crisis in Zimbabwe and a dramatic week that saw a position leader Morgan Tsvangirai withdraw from Friday's presidential run- off against Robert Mugabe. Tsvangirai said his movement for democratic change party decided to pull out because of violence and arrests targeting his supporters. Reporters have described this the aftermath of the March elections as the worst time for journalists in Zimbabwe's history.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says Robert Mugabe's regime has unleashed the harshest crackdown on the media. The CPJ says at least 15 news workers have been detained. Sources have been intimidated and independent news outlets obstructed.

Well, let's get the view from Zimbabwean journalists on the situation in their country. I'm joined in studio by Bill Saidi. He's the deputy editor of "The Zimbabwe Standard." Also with us Rashweat Mukundu, the director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa in Zimbabwe. And from New York, Tom Rhodes, Africa program coordinator with the Committee to Protect Journalists.

First of all, Bill Saidi, what is it like being a journalist in Zimbabwe now?

BILL SAIDI, DEPUTY EDITOR, THE ZIMBABWE STANDARD: Well, Fionnuala, it's quite something. The Standard, for instance, (INAUDIBLE) the deputy, (INAUDIBLE) is actually - was arrested and has been charged with - along with Atham Gambaro (ph), the opposition MDC over (INAUDIBLE) some time. And he's appeared twice in court. And there is all kinds of possibilities of him being either convicted or something.

So the atmosphere for journalism in Zimbabwe at the moment is really threatening. I think you could say threatening.

SWEENEY: How much do you think you can publish about what you believe to be really going on in the country?

SAIDI: Well, I think one has to be very careful because you have AIPPA, Access to Information Protective Privacy Act, which is loaded with, you know, restrictions. So one has to be very careful. I mean, in this case, what the (INAUDIBLE) is charged with is something that we had not anticipated that we didn't even know was against the law, you know, publishing a statement, an article by someone who is participating in the political system, sharing his views with readers. And he is charged with a crime. And the editor of the paper is charged with a crime. It's amazing that that can happen in what is called a democracy.

SWEENEY: Rashweat Mukundu, I guess you're hearing stories like this from all over Zimbabwe?

RASHWEAT MUKUNDU, DIRECTOR, MEDIA INSTITUTE OF SOUTHERN AFRICA: It's true that we are hearing a lot of stories all over Zimbawe. As Bill has said, I think there's a lot of fear that pervades the Zimbabwe media scene. You might know that we no longer aired the - much of the independent media except the - through many newspapers. And quite a number of Zimbabwean journalists are working as freelance journalists and working in an environment in which the profession is basically criminalized is the problematic - face a lot of threats, not only from the legal system (INAUDIBLE) in the profession itself, but also may not (INAUDIBLE) means.

The real fear that leads to self censorship in terms of how you put out a story that you would want to put it out, and then what, you know, will lose - which way they lose and which format. So (INAUDIBLE), I think the position is that there's a lot of fear in Zimbabwe. And the journalists are practicing a lot of censorship. They have difficulties in reaching out certain areas. And they are always on the lookout for the threats that might befall them in the course of duty.

SWEENEY: Tom Rhodes of the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York, you wrote a report recently, which is entitled "Bad to Worse in Zimbabwe," in which an exiled Zimbabwean reporter and author by the name of Jeff Hill says "this is the worst time for journalists in Zimbabwe's history."

TOM RHODES, COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS: Absolutely. I mean, we've seen, as you've rightly stated, at least 15 journalists arbitrarily arrested in, you know, less than a three month period. Basically, the ruling party don't want their story getting out there, both internationally and nationally. I mean, they want to win the elections, but they don't want the rigging and violence to be shown.

SWEENEY: How difficult or easy is it for you to publish your newspaper, Bill Saidi?

SAIDI: Well, within the confines of I find also within the confines of what you might call the atmosphere of intimidation, because there's intimidation, you know, you have reporters from "The Standard," very independent than the other paper, actually saying look, I would rather not cover this story because, you know, I'm scared for my life. And you have to accommodate that, because really, a reporter says if I go there and get killed, what's going to happen? And because if you remember the case of Edward Zucomba (ph), who was killed actually. I mean, he was - he had worked before (INAUDIBLE) and had covered, you know, Sangray's (ph) imprisonment and so on, but he was killed in circumstances which today remain unexplained.

SWEENEY: It raises a question apart from your newspaper, "The Standard" or "The Independent," how are people getting their information if not only from Zimbabwean state television?

SAIDI: Well, what you have now, you know, is the proliferation of websites, you know, which people are using that, are getting very, very cogent information about Zimbabwe from the, you know, from the many websites that are running - because people can't help it. You can't help it because the government press obviously hopeless. It won't give you anything at all. And the independent press comes out - we come out once a week. So does "The Independent". Those no daily newspaper. "The Independent", you know, unlike the days of (INAUDIBLE) could counter immediately the propaganda in the - no, there's nothing like that.

SWEENEY: Correct me if I'm wrong, sorry Tom Rhodes, you were about to say something?

RHODES: No, simply that we should give some praise to the Zimbabwean people for their creativity of spreading the news. I mean, a lot of the reports I got from colleagues in Zimbabwe say they go to the Internet, they get their news, and then they spread it by mobile phones to their friends, to the rural areas.

SWEENEY: Well, speaking of the rural areas, Rashweat Mukundu, correct me if I'm wrong, but I've been hearing that Robert Mugabe has instituted a campaign of take down your satellite dish, Operation Take Down Your Satellite Dish. And he's particularly targeting police stations, for example, the lower echelons perhaps of Army barracks where satellite dishes are there, because he's afraid of them watching international news and then maybe turning against him. How valid is that?

MUKUNDU: It's a composition that has been a campaign to have the satellite dishes or satellite connectivity to television mostly be stopped. And this has been happening in the Matebelit (ph) Province. Recently, two weeks ago, it has been happening in a town called Kagoma (ph), about 180 kilometers from Marare (ph). It has been happening as you rightly say in police stations. The attempt, of course, is to restrict as much as possible the listening, the consumption of alternative news about the Zimbabwean people. And this again is perpetrated by non state actors. We have your root militia. You have your (INAUDIBLE) going around pulling satellite dishes at people's homes. And no one really is accountable as to who is giving the instructions and what's really happening in this.

SWEENEY: Tom Rhodes, I mean, this all sounds very familiar to you, I presume. Do you think the situation is worse for journalists now at the end of June than it was at the end of March at the first presidential run- off?

RHODES: Oh, absolutely. I mean, there was a huge, huge change. I mean, as I say, all of our colleagues were telling us this. I mean, what's kind of ironic is that prior to the March 29th elections, it was actually relatively free. I mean, you saw some opposition, some MDC campaign ads even on state TV. But after Mugabe and Zanu PF lost the elections, that's when the - a major crackdown took place right after March 29th.

SWEENEY: Well, actually to follow up on that, Tom Rhodes, you're talking about state television. I mean, there had been ad which I know has - we have played as part of our reporting on Zimbabwe on CNN, which is an ad on behalf of Zanu PF, Robert Mugabe's political party, which has Morgan Tsvangirai eventually emerging, his face. It's the only time you ever see him on state television. Except that during the ad, Tony Blair's face is morphed into Gordon Brown's face, is morphed into George W. Bush's face, and then finally into Morgan Tsvangirai. I mean, this - but this obviously requires, Rashweat Mukundu, quite high technology. It's quite sophisticated.

MUKUNDU: The (INAUDIBLE) of the ad is that the ruling party and the government has hired advertising agencies, not only in Zimbabwe, but in South Africa to assist in its campaign. And that's the result of the products that we are seeing on television.

Of course, the intention is to concretize the position that the MDC is a stooge of the Western governments in the minds of Zimbabwe.

SWEENEY: Indeed. Bill Saidi, a final question to you. As deputy editor of "The Standard" newspaper, a weekly newspaper, describing to us what you've experienced and your colleagues have experienced in recent times, what is your expectation for you and your colleagues' ability to be able to do your job in Zimbabwe in the near future?

SAIDI: I think it's going to be difficult. It's going to be very difficult, but I think what has happened is that with the support of readers, with the support of majority of the population of Zimbabwe, we've been able to continue. I know that there'd be harassment. I know that there might even be worse than harassment, but I think that what gives us strength and gives "The Standard" and "The Independent" strength is that out there, there are people who believe that the truth of the Zimbabwean story ought to be told, regardless of how President Mugabe or anybody else, the truth has to come out. And I think we are bolstered by that.

SWEENEY: We must leave it there. We're out of time, but Rashweat Mukundu, Bill Saidi, and in New York, Tom Rhodes, thank you all very much indeed for joining us.

Now what a difference a year makes. This week, Gordon Brown marked his first anniversary of British prime minister. How has he fared in the media's eyes? We reflect on the year some say Gordon Brown would rather forget.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. It was billed as the start of a new political era in the U.K. A year ago this week, Gordon Brown took over from Tony Blair as British prime minister. The new leader promised new priorities, vowing to shake off the image of - associated with the Blair years.

Early on, the economy was strong and Brown was applauded for his handling of an attempted terror attack. The honeymoon though didn't last. And since then, the British prime minister has been criticized for not calling an early election, the nationalization of mortgage lender Northern Rock, and for his party's decision to abolish a tax rate benefiting low income earners.

So a year into the job, how is Gordon Brown perceived in the press? Well for that, we turn to Tom Bradby, political editor with ITV News. Also with us is Andrew Porter, a political editor with "The Daily Telegraph."

Tom Bradby, how does he compare the first year to the Blair years?

TOM BRADBY, POLITICAL EDITOR, ITV NEWS: Well, I think pretty epically disastrous. I think we'd agree on that on almost every scale. I think he's made a couple of really - a couple of fatal flaws have been revealed. I think you can get away with an awful lot in politics, but you have to be straight with people. And the truth is, the bottom line is he's made an awful lot of mistakes, didn't - you know, calling off the election all the rest of it. He hasn't come out and said, yes, I've made mistakes. He has a habit of trying to blank it out. And that doesn't work.

SWEENEY: Andrew Porter, though, was that the decisive moment when it started to go wrong for him, the dithering over the election?

ANDREW PORTER, POLITICAL EDITOR, DAILY TELEGRAPH: Certainly was. I mean, Gordon Brown either had to have the courage of his convictions at that point and call an election, or he should have taken a decision, probably the early part of September, when the sort of political classes, the media, and the MPs were back off their summer holidays and said no, we're not going to have an election.

SWEENEY: Because there was an argument that it was actually his aides and he who were disagreeing about this. And did you in the media sense oh great, we're onto a good story here, the honeymoon's over?

PORTER: Well, only when he finally said the election wasn't going on. There is not doubt. There was a disagreement supposedly between these gray hairs, the older experienced hands in the cabinet, the likes of Jeff Hune (ph) and Jack Straw, who were very cautious about going for an early election. And it would have been election in the autumn. There were all sorts of factors though putting into the mix there about why it wasn't a good idea. The youngsters, the (INAUDIBLE), guys really wanted to go ahead with it.

And in the end, Gordon Brown had to take a decision not to. That's the decision he took. And it's proved that was - there's no doubt that is the crucial turning point (INAUDIBLE).

BRADBY: I was away that day. And I got a text from Andy saying this changes everything, just remembering as he was talking. Yes, there was a real sense this was it. A lot was going to change.

SWEENEY: But you see, this is where I'm wondering in terms of perception often being greater than reality. Was that the moment that in the media, the media's the mass sort of animals went oh, this is amazing. We're onto something here in a way that we were never onto - with Blair for a long time?

PORTER: Well, I think Gordon Brown was in front - you're right. He didn't need to be in terms with the media. You can almost see it. And then it goes back to what Tom was saying earlier on. He was a guy in the early part of his premiership, you know, dealt with, you know, some of these unforeseen things, the flooding, the terror attacks, you know, in Glasgow and London. And he was seen as like a strong character.

But the way he ended the press conference, some asked him repeatedly at the press conference that Monday morning after he called off the election, were you guided by the opinion polls? And he refused to say he was. In fact, he denied it was anything to do with opinion polls. We all know that was not the case. And that is, you know, the picture spoke themselves. Here was a man that people suddenly thought (INAUDIBLE).

BRADBY: I mean, it's partly about the decision making. He's made an awful lot of mistakes, much more than Blair ever did. I mean, Blair, you could argue made huge mistakes like Iraq. He made a lot of little mistakes in a relatively short space of time. But it is a lot about communication. The modern age, it just isn't. And part of the problem is he went into a press conference with Blair. And we all thought we're going to get him today. And we throw all these questions. And gradually, he used to sort of drain the poison out. And we used to come out and we'd look at each other and say, you know, that guy's good. He's just so good.

And Brown achieves the opposite effect. And we come out going what was that all about, you know.

SWEENEY: Well, Tony Blair was accused of spin hugely during particularly the first few years of his premiership. And Gordon Brown almost seems to be completely the opposite, no spin at all. And if it is, it doesn't work.

PORTER: Well, yes. I mean, obviously, you have to feed into this. There's been some fairly sort of cataclysmic effects that, you know, I'm sure Tony Blair would have probably had difficulty dealing with. You know, a run on a bank, you know, and ultimately, albeit sort of six, seven months later, Northern Rock is nationalized.

Now supporters of Tony Blair are saying even this past week that he would not have - he would have dealt with that problem, you know, much quicker than Gordon Brown did. He wouldn't have let it drift on, trying to find a solution in the sort of private sector before it. It was really nationalized.

You know, the economy as well, you know, Tony Blair did enjoy rather a sort of charmed life. The economy was fairly benign. Gordon Brown has inherited this huge sort of economic swirl, which he sort of blames on global factors. Whereas the Torys will say, well, you actually, you had the good times. You didn't put enough aside. And now you're reaping the benefit of that.

SWEENEY: I'm wondering, I've read in the press that some sections of the British media that Gordon Brown was so ambitious for this job, waited so long for this job, that once he got it, he didn't know how to deal with it, and how to communicate his message. Is that fair?

BRADBY: Yes, I mean, he's - it's absolutely Shakespearean. You know, he's steamed. He desperately wanted it. And I think there's two things. One, you know, it's a great shame in a sense. I'm just not sure he was best suited. He's a very talented man, but I'm not - I think it's a widespread consensus now. He wasn't necessarily best suited to this job. I think the other substantial point is that I'm not sure he really thought through what he wanted to do with it. And I think one of the problems that has underlined some of the stuff that's happened to him and the media perception is OK, he's messed up little things. He's not a great communicator, but I think what's really worried people is what does he really want to achieve?

I think just to be fair, always had one kind of caveat, which is we're at the end of a very long period of the government. People are pretty hacked off. Taxes have gone up a lot. Suddenly, they're feeling the squeeze. Yes, things are pretty anti Gordon Brown at the moment, but a little bit of that is just people just fed up with Labor.

SWEENEY: Andrew Porter, you've written that he's only going to fight one election if he lasts that long. How much does he listen to the media? And if you were his adviser, what would you be advising him to do?

PORTER: Well, I think he listens to the media as much as every prime minister. No matter how much they tell you, Tony Blair used to tell you he didn't read the papers. Of course he did. John Major used to spend, you know, almost waking hour sort of reading the papers. Gordon Brown does read the media. And he does, you know, seem to sort of understand what the media are saying.

However, it is ultimately up to him. I think quite early on, though, he realized that, you know, he's now 57. He'll fight one election. If he somehow, somehow the polls see this as an incredibly long shot, he wins that election, then sometime probably three years into that (INAUDIBLE), he will have tried to (INAUDIBLE) or someone will have emerged. And they would take over. And that would be the end of Gordon Brown.

SWEENEY: Andrew Porter, Tom Bradley, thank you both very much.

Now for the past three weeks, fans have been treated to the best that football has to offer. Euro 2008 has generated plenty of excitement. And as the competition draws to a close, we get the view from the press box.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. There have been blood, sweat, and tears, even an odd storm that through media coverage of a semi final into chaos. The UA for European football championship or Euro 2008 has produced its fair share of excitement. Fans have been out in force throughout the competition ahead of Sunday's final between Germany and Spain. 16 teams have battled it out to be crowned champions.

A noticeable absence this year, England, who failed to qualify. We were told to (INAUDIBLE) from Euro 2008. To get more from the media grandstand, we're joined from Vienna by Keir Radnedge of World Soccer Magazine.

Welcome. How emotional was this as tournaments go?

KEIR RADNEDGE, WORLD SOCCER MAGAZINE: Well, it's been a good tournament. It's been a well organized tournament. I think it's lost a little in emotion actually because of the fact that now the Austrian North Switzerland qualified for the knockout stages. And I think that's where the idea of cohosting, holding a tournament in two countries has really fallen down a little bit.

SWEENEY: And what difficulties does it pose for you as a journalist trying to cover a tournament hosted in two different countries?

RADNEDGE: Well, there are little practical difficulties. For example, the last time they had co-hosting was in Holland and Belgium. So the Euro was the currency. And that was easy.

This time, we have to fill in our pockets and try to get our heads (INAUDIBLE) in Switzerland or Austria, whether it's Euros, whether it's Swiss Francs. There has been some little difficulties with things like some of the transport arrangements.

The little bits of difficulty, differences in culture maybe make working slightly different. But I think generally, UAFers worked really hard to try to make the media set up the specific arrangements around the matches as standardized as possible.

SWEENEY: And of course, it just goes to show that no matter how advanced the technology, it only takes a bit of bad weather to throw off the game?

RADNEDGE: Well, it does, yes. The match, the semi-final between Germany and Turkey was an obvious example. When the match got really exciting, the television pictures went down. Obviously, that didn't matter to all the people who were enjoying it in the stadium, but millions and millions of (INAUDIBLE) and quite a lot of journalists scattered around the rest of the tournament were pretty upset about that.

SWEENEY: You said at the outset that the tournament has lost a little of its oomph because of the absence now of Austria and Switzerland from the tournament. Being English, how does it feel not to have England there?

RADNEDGE: Well, from my point of view, because I go to all these tournaments anyway, whether England are there or not, it's neither one thing or the other. I think what it does do sometimes, it makes a much quieter tournament because the English fans of England are present are always there in very large numbers. And therefore, it's been perhaps a bit less frenetic around the stands.

I think it's probably made it an easier perhaps a slightly less fraught job for the security services. They haven't had to sort of worry as they do about larger numbers. And that's been important really in this tournament because Austria and Switzerland, the stadium are the minimum size requirements. So it's really been quite tight trying to get everybody into the matches.

SWEENEY: And finally as we approach the end of this tournament, your thoughts as a journalist. Is it still a beautiful game where you just absolutely exhausted and can't wait to get home?

RADNEDGE: Oh, no, it's still a beautiful game. We've had some terrific football. We've had some great drama. And just roll on the next one, thank you very much.

SWEENEY: Well, you wouldn't be working with World Soccer Magazine if you didn't feel that way. Keir Radnedge in Vienna, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

RADNEDGE: Pleasure.

And don't forget we're online all the time. Log on to to see the show again. You can also view our archive, take part in the quick vote, and read the weekly blog. The address

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.