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Mugabe at the African Union Summit; Rescue of Ingrid Betancourt; Life in Afghanistan

Aired July 4, 2008 - 20:30:00   ET


BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: Hello, I'm Becky Anderson in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories.
This week, Robert Mugabe steals the show at the African Union Summit. After his controversial reelection, we ask what the future might hold for the media in Zimbabwe.

The dramatic rescue of Ingrid Betancourt. We look how the media has reacted to that story.

And later, war time Afghanistan. Photojournalist Seamus Murphy speaks to us about his portfolio chronicling life in the country.

We begin with the crisis in Zimbabwe. A day after his inauguration as president, Robert Mugabe was dominating the headlines once again as he took his place at the African Union Summit in Egypt. Well, the visit to Sharm el-Sheik was shrouded in controversy. Mr. Mugabe remains defiant over the run off election that his critics have labeled a sham. The president also expressed anger at reporters who confronted him at the conference.

Well, covering the political crisis in Zimbabwe is extremely difficult. The country has tight reporting restrictions. CNN, like most other international news outlets, is banned from reporting inside the country. Local journalists also have their fair share of troubles. Many have been forced out and are living in exile because of their work.

Some, however, are still trying to get news to people living in Zimbabwe. And that it seems continues to pose its own challenges. We're going to do more on those issues and for their take on the media climates in Zimbabwe, we turn now to Wilf Mbanga. He's a journalist in exile here in the U.K. He's the editor of the "Zimbabwean Weekly" newspaper. And also with us today here is Christina Lamb, foreign correspondent with London's "Sunday Times." She's reported extensively on and from Zimbabwe and is the author of the book, "House of Stone."

We welcome you both to the show. Let's start with you, Christina. And you're experience of reporting in Zimbabwe?

CHRISTINA LAMB, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, SUNDAY TIMES: Well, I've been going back and forth regularly since '99. And I have to say it is the most difficult, most frustrating country that I have ever covered. Not just the restrictions of going in and out illegally, which is what I've been forced to do in the last few years, but also the way that the story, you've been going back and forth seeing things getting worse and worse, and writing about it, and sort of interviewing teachers that have been forced to work as prostitutes and all these terrible things, and seeing people in the most desperate situation.

And all because of one man and his desperation to stay in power. And - but it doesn't seem to make any difference. You know, everybody, particularly now, is very aware of what's happening there, but nobody seems to do anything about it. And I think that's really hard as a reporter.

ANDERSON: We as journalists are the fourth (INAUDIBLE), and yet as Christina suggests, there's very little that journalists appear to be able to do change the situation. It's frustrating, Wif, isn't it?

WILF MBANGA, EDITOR, THE ZIMBABWEAN: It is, Becky. What - you know, I feel that the - when what we need to do as journalists we seen power. People in Zimbabwe to forget them, the information they need to make informed decisions.

ANDERSON: But they're getting beaten up.

MBANGA: They are. They're getting killed. I mean, we now have over 100 people have been killed. There are 5,000 Zimbabweans who are missing, who can't be traced. And 200,000 who have been internally displaced. So I mean, the life is terrible for Zimbabweans today.

ANDERSON: You say, Christina, that you go in effectively undercover. You don't say who you are. You don't use your own name. Will you be going back? Things have got worse.

LAMB: Yes, I will go back because I feel very passionate about what's happening there and very committed to - and I don't think that we should be stopped from going and covering a place because somebody running the country doesn't want people to know the terrible things he's doing. I think I have a responsibility to go there and write about it.

ANDERSON: Want to talk about the appetite for this story going forward, and whether you're concerned about just how big an appetite they'll be now that these elections are over. But Wilf, I want you to talk about your paper and what you've been facing, because your paper's printed in South Africa and in the U.K. And it's distributed in Zimbabwe. Things were bad. I know they've got worse for you.

MBANGA: Right. Well, we are now the largest newspaper inside Zimbabwe. We started off with 5,000. And you know, we sold them out very quickly. We went up to 20,000, to 100,000. It is up to 200,000 copies.

And now they're trying to stop us getting into the country.


MBANGA: First of all, they've bent one of my trucks getting 60,000 newspapers. And they beat up the driver very badly. He ended up in hospital. And now they've introduced a new punitive tariff to stop us coming into the country. We now have to pay 60 percent of the value of the newspaper. That does not include, you know, I mean does not take into account our transport cost to get the paper into Zimbabwe or our distribution costs, you know, a distributor in Zimbabwe takes 50 percent. We pay 60 percent to the government. So actually, we end up losing. We actually have to end up paying an extra 10 percent.

ANDERSON: Will that stop you distributing the newspaper, though?

MBANGA: No, we determined to get the news into Zimbabwe. We're determined that the people of Zimbabwe will find out what is going on in their own country.

ANDERSON: Independent voice coming out of Zimbabwe as we've suggested is extremely rare at this point. You say, again, that you'll go back. Just describe the sort of stories that you will cover when you get back in?

LAMB: I think, you know, the biggest thing is just the human suffering here. Not just the beatings and torture that we've seen, but also just for everybody, the daily struggle of living in a place where inflation is - people don't even know any more. It's in the millions. I think there is the latest exchange rate is 25 billion Zim dollars to one U.S. dollar. You know, it's almost impossible for people to run their day to day life for surviving on almost nothing.

MBANGA: I can tell you today's rates is 40 billion Zimbabwe dollars to one pound.

ANDERSON: What's the appetite for the story going to be, Christina, by the international press?

LAMB: This is one of my fears, really, is a lot of excitement now around the election time. But then after a few weeks, that will all disappear, particularly because people, you know, get their hopes up that something's going to change, that maybe African Union's going to do something, or somehow there's going to be a change. It doesn't happen.

And it's also hard to come up with kind of new ways of reporting the story, because actually, what Mugabe's doing, he's been doing for year after year after year. It's a different level, I think, now. But it is more or less the same thing. So hard to keep it interesting.

ANDERSON: We get the sense that the crackdown is even worse in the media than it was before these elections. And yet, you suggested that journalists are still prepared to take risks. Just how big a risk, though, Wilf, do you think people will take in the future?

MBANGA: Well, I mean, they are continuing to risk their lives. I mean, just to report the story. You know, I mean, at the moment, you know, for Zimbabwean journalists, you have to be accredited with the media information commission.

But that does not stop the police from harassing or arresting you. In fact, in the last few weeks, a number of Zimbabwean journalists have been arrested. Two of them are still inside three weeks later. So you know, they still continue to harass journalists. They make life very difficult for them. My reporters, for example, can't phone any ministry to check their stories. They just-they don't talk to them.

ANDERSON: Christina, you suggested that this as frustrating a story as you have ever covered. And you have covered a lot of stories. You've been in war zones. You've been in situations that are potentially a lot more threatening on your life. And yet, you describe this as one of the most frustrating. What happens next?

LAMB: I mean, it's frustrating because you feel so powerless. I think ordinary people get that sense, talking to people here about how they feel watching the news and reading about it. And they can't do anything. They can't understand why people can't change things.

ANDERSON: Can you say that in context as a journalist, do you think? I mean, you know, Afghanistan, Iraq, wherever else you've been in the world, just your sense of this story as a journalist?

LAMB: I mean, I think one of the reasons that it is so heartbreaking to go and cover is because it's also unnecessary. Is Mugabe just doing this for no reason other than because of his desperation to stay in power and those around him, too? And one of the hardest things I have ever seen actually was to be there during Batsina (ph) in 2005 when he sent police and youth militarians through the townships to bulldoze people's houses.

And to see those people going in and laughing as they were doing it, and the blank faces, I'll never forget that, of the people who, you know, were decent working people and had everything they'd ever worked for destroyed. Their homes, their carpentry workshops, their beauty salons, their market stores. Nothing.

ANDERSON: Will you keep going, Wilf?

MBANGA: Well, we're determined not to let him win. We feel that we've got a story to tell. We've got people who are desperate for information. And we're going to keep going.

ANDERSON: Christina?

LAMB: Yes, I mean, Zimbabwean journalists are taking much bigger risks than we are. I mean, generally, if we get caught, we might get arrested. But people are then released. We're not getting tortured and beaten and that sort of thing.

And it is, as Wilf said, it's critically important that people get this information, the newspaper, and others are doing because otherwise, the state media is what they put out is almost unbelievable. The perfect--

ANDERSON: Christina Lamb, Wilf Mbanga, we thank you very much indeed for joining us.


ANDERSON: Welcome back. Now the rescue of Ingrid Betancourt from the jungles of South America six years after she was kidnapped by Fark rebels. Well, the story was big news around the world, especially in France as the country prepares to welcome home the French Colombian citizen on Friday. Betancourt was rescued, along with 14 other hostages, in a daring Colombian military operation from Wednesday.

Well, for more on the story and a look at how the French media has reacted to it, we turn now to Christiane Malard. He's a foreign correspondent for France 3 Television.

Quite remarkable story, Christian. What makes it so appealing?

CHRISTIAN MALARD, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, FRANCE 3 TV: Well, it's, as you know, Ingrid Betancourt is half French, half Colombian. And the way she talked when she was in Bagota, the airport, or everywhere she has been talking, she feels very French. She wants to come to France. She has arrived in France. She will stay here for quite a while. She will probably participate into Bastille Day. She will probably be at the Elysees Palace for the national day in France when we have Syrian President Bashar Alasa (ph). So it will be a strange meeting all going around.

And at the same time for years, for months, we have been talking about Ingrid Betancourt with all the supporters she had in the country, especially in President Sarcozy since he became president, since one of my priorities would be to have her freed.

So we had this determination of French president to get involved in the freeing of Ingrid Betancourt. But at the same time today as you know, Becky, you have really went and thought about what's going on over here. We have a big political upheaval here because everybody says well, but how involved are the French presidency been in this story? We have been involved. We have been exerting pressure at the diplomatic level. But all of a sudden, the French wake up and say great, she has been freed. Ingrid has been freed, but it is a military solution.


MALARD: It's been a President Aribe and the army made it.

ANDERSON: So what we're saying is that by the end of the week, the media had effectively moved on from the story of the release, and you've explained why, to a certain extent there was such an appealing story. It could have been written in Hollywood. It was a script that could have been written in Hollywood. And not just the French, but the international press, TV, and print journalism was all over it like a rash.

But by the end of the week, interestingly, the media in France at least had begun to push the second part of this story. And that being the interests of President Sarkozy in the machinations of what went wrong.

Tell us what the French media are saying?

MALARD: It's a kind of very nice happiness here, because we celebrate the freeing of Ingrid Betancourt. But it's true that everybody starts putting everything on the table. In the press, the political level, and you imagine Segoroyal (ph), who wants to be again running for presidency and be the leader of the socialist party, the opposition leader. Segoroyal (ph) put it and say, OK, fine, but it has nothing to do with French President Sarcozy's action.

The reason Sarkozy was always saying that we need to have the diplomatic solution prevail. And everybody says today this is why Sarcozy did not go to see Aribe or to welcome her in Colombia in a Bogota in Colombia at the airport over there, because it seems that he has been-he has not been on the same wavelength with Aribe for quite a while. Aribe wanted to have the military solution prevail. And Sarcozy and some others, the diplomatic solution.

ANDERSON: Yes. Just give me a sense of how the press has played this story out over the past six years?

MALARD: Well, Becky, it's true. You know, what happened, we have all these committees for support for Betancourt, who has been very greatly organized, putting pressure upon the press, putting pressure upon on the political milieus, left wing, right wing, to have everybody concerned with Ingrid Betancourt's being freed at any moment.

So for months, for weeks, for months, for more than a year I should say, we had all these people putting, exerting permanent pressure. And we come to a result today, because the pressure has been also, as you know, upon rebate the Colombia president, upon Chavez the neighbor, upon the President Correal (ph) of Ecuador, everybody has been involved in this game to it free finally.

But in France, it's true. Everyone says oh, it's only in Betancourt. But what about the hostages? Everybody has been talking about here. There was a Betancourt phenomenon, a political phenomenon, a media phenomenon. That's true. And people have the feeling sometimes it's great because she's so courageous.

Six years and a half in the jungle, how anybody of us would put up with that? We don't know.


MALARD: And everybody says today still, but we should think about the other hostages because it's not only Ingrid Betancourt. You had the three Americans who spent five years. And nobody's talking too much about them. We are happy about Ingrid Betancourt. It's great. She's fantastic. She has been so courageous. Give you an example...

ANDERSON: All right.

MALARD: My God, I don't know what to say about that. But at the same time, we have the others. And sometimes, we should go and focusing about the others because one man, one woman, we are all the same. OK?

ANDERSON: Christian Malard, we thank you very much indeed for joining us.

MALARD: Thank you, Becky.

ANDERSON: Chronicling life in Afghanistan during turbulent times, we're going to speak to photojournalist Seamus Murphy about his portfolio of work on life in the war torn country.


ANDERSON: A selection of images from Afghanistan, pictures by photojournalist Seamus Murphy, who first traveled to the country on assignment in 1994. Since then, he's made several trips back, capturing the effects of the Taliban, years of civil war, and of the elections following the fall of the regime.

Well, alongside scenes of war, many of the images are of people going about their everyday lives. The photographs are from the Seamus' book, "A Darkness Visible: Afghanistan" and have just gone on show at an exhibition at London's Asia House Gallery.

Well, Seamus Murphy was awarded six World Press Photo Awards and a World Understanding Prize in 2005 for his work in the country. And to discuss his portfolio and his impressions of the country then and now, I'm joined in the studio by Seamus Murphy. Thank you very much indeed for being here.


ANDERSON: Some fantastic photos at the exhibition from this book, "A Darkness Visible: Afghanistan." Sadly, we were only able to show a few of them. Let's start though with our first image today. And it's this one. Talk me through what we see here.

MURPHY: Sure. This was in Hojbodi (ph) in the north in Taha (ph) Province. The year was 2000. It was the time that Massoud was still fighting against the Taliban. He was the last man standing in a shrinking part of the territory, you know, defending the country against the Taliban invasions. And we're driving back towards the town. And the light was right. And I saw this lady in white carrying a baby and got out of the jeep, slowly went up behind her and photographed her, got back in the jeep and drove off. I don't think she knew I had taken the picture. But she did seem to have this amazing presence and grace walking through that dusty, filthy terrain.

ANDERSON: That was back before in 2000. Moving on to 2004 and this picture.

MURPHY: Yes, this is a Sufi ceremony that's gone throughout the night, last throughout the night in Kabul in 2004. Sufi branded Islam was not, you know, in favor with the Talibans. These people must have suffered quite a lot when the Taliban were in the city. This is 2004. They're back to normal. And it was an amazing night. It went from, I think, 10:00 at night 'til 6:00 in the morning.

ANDERSON: Many of our viewers won't know what was sort of - what was going on in this picture. Just explain if you will.

MURPHY: It's a form of prayer, but it's an extraordinarily noisy and hypnotic, you know, blessing and adoration of higher powers. Quite chilling actually. Quite chilling.

ANDERSON: Let's move on. November 2004.

MURPHY: Yes, this was up in Batakshan (ph), Ishakashim (ph). These people are Ismaeli. Again, they're like a sub sect. They're Shi'ia Islam. This was normal scenes of, you know, agriculture. People getting over their lives. The man on the right, some of the pictures I couldn't use. And then he's laughing so much. A lot of the times, the Africans get involved in the process of taking a picture. You know, if you can get it so it doesn't look quite, you know, participating too much, then you've got the picture.

ANDERSON: You talk about the characters in this picture. How easy is it to take photos in Afghanistan?

MURPHY: It's easy to take photographs in Afghanistan. The problem is getting a picture that doesn't show too much of them having a party and loving the fact that there's a camera, because Afghans love - they love fun. And they're quite vain. So whenever a camera comes along, they're telling each other. And it just blows it usually.

ANDERSON: November 2004 again.

MURPHY: Yes. This was up in Balk (ph) province. Capital is Mazaar (ph). The political leader Dostume (ph), it's his territory. These horses are Puskashi (ph) horses. You know, this is where the sport where they chase around with a headless goat. I don't know if you know this sport, but they're practicing exercising their horses.

In this area, the area that - a lot of marijuana's been grown. And there's just a smell of marijuana everywhere. It's extraordinary. Quite a place.

ANDERSON: Do you enjoy Afghanistan as a place?

MURPHY: I love it, I love it.


MURPHY: I love the people. It's the first thing that really hits you. I guess the first thing that hits you is the landscape and the difference and the wildness. And then it's the people. And it's their - yes, this was frontline town near the frontline with the Shumati (ph) plain with the Taliban 2001. I used to go to this village quite a lot, just to document what was going on there. This is the run up to the big push in Kabul.

And I went there one morning. Nothing was happening. But on the way back, this little girl was on her brother's cross bar on the way to school I gather. And her eye followed me. And I took a few images. And it seemed to work.

ANDERSON: As we look at these photos, do they very much reflect your experience of the country?

MURPHY: Yes. And also, with a book like this, 99 images out of thousands, you know, I really get to choose what I think works. What's the best representation. And I think so. I think it's - yes, it's very fragile.

Yes, this was 2000 again. This was the same area that, you know, Massoud was fighting the Taliban. This is a Swedish committee clinic. The little girl is suffering from malaria. And this is just in the hallway of the clinic. And these people are waiting for attention from the only doctor for miles.

And he fixed me this gaze as I walked past. And I didn't really do much with that picture. I just took his picture. He might have grabbed the girl a little bit closer to him to respond to the camera, but that was pretty much as it was.

ANDERSON: You're not playing with any light here?


ANDERSON: This is all shot naturally?

MURPHY: Available light, yes, available light, yes.

ANDERSON: Let's take a look at our last picture today if you can.

MURPHY: This was a coal mine in Gazastan in Taragan (ph) up in the north. Very primitive conditions. No electricity. They're little oil lamps that they went down with. I don't know how safe it was. It was probably very unsafe. And because I was a photographer down there, it became a bit of a party. And it was kind of dangerous. So I stuck around for a little bit and then I got away.

ANDERSON: It's more than a decade you've been shooting in Afghanistan now, isn't it?

MURPHY: '94, yes, it's 13 years.

ANDERSON: You still prefer to go back? Is there still a picture you want from Afghanistan?

MURPHY: Absolutely. I mean, Afghanistan is an unfolding story. And I think we're at a very interesting time. You know, we abandon - the West abandoned Afghanistan so many times. And very bad consequences. And now more than ever, I think we have to keep our concentration on the country and hopefully see them through.

ANDERSON: Well, hopefully, this exhibition also help that. Seamus, we thank you very much indeed...

MURPHY: Thank you.

ANDERSON: ...for joining us here at CNN.

That exhibition at London's Asia House Gallery runs until September the 13th. And a reminder now that we're online all the time, of course. Log on to to see the show again. And you can also visit our archive there, take part in the quick vote, and read the weekly blog. The address correspondents.

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 Becky Anderson. Thanks for joining us.