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Using the Internet to Enhance Reporting; Freed in Myanmar; Role of Satire in Politics

Aired September 26, 2008 - 20:30:00   ET


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, HOST: Hello, I'm Fionnuala Sweeney in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, your weekly look at the news and how the media covers it.
Coming up, tasting freedom, a journalist turned activist is released in Myanmar after 19 years behind bars. Using the web to enhance news coverage of Africa. We'll A24 Media help revolutionize the way the continent is reported? And from presidents to prime ministers, we look at the role of satire in politics with cartoonist Kevin Kallaugher.

First to Myanmar, a secretive state where few foreign journalists are granted access. This week saw the release of one of the country's longest serving political prisoners. Journalist U Wen Tin was freed after 19 years. The now 78-year old was one of seven dissident members of the National League for Democracy Freed. The (INAUDIBLE) before the press anniversary of clashes between pro-democracy demonstrators and government security forces. As many as 110 people are believed to have been killed in the September 2007 crackdown, including 40 Buddhist monks.

Well, U Wen Tin joins me on the line from Yangon, Myanmar.

First of all, did you know you were going to be released?

U WEN TIN: Not at all, not at all. But I was always - I was expecting my release. Because you see, I was sentenced to (INAUDIBLE) 20 years. And I've already been in jail for 19 years and that means three months. So I was expect, of course, eventually I can expect any time for the release.

SWEENEY: What are your plans now? And what do you think of your country now that you're released?

TIN: My security of my country?

SWEENEY: The future of your country, yes.

TIN: Actually, in Chaibai (ph) inside the country, you cannot speak really freely. So I think situation in Burma is not very much improved. (INAUDIBLE) my impression. It's almost the same left 20 years ago. The same. Not so much improvement.

U Wen Tin, thank you very much indeed and take care of yourself.

Well, let's get more on Wen Tin's release and the difficulties for the media in reporting on Myanmar or Burma as it's also known. And for that, we turn to Aye Chan Naing, executive director and chief editor with DVB or the Democratic Voice of Burma, a station based in Oslo. Also with us, Collin Freeman, chief foreign correspondent with "The Sunday Telegraph."

Aye Chan, I recall talking to you a year ago when this crackdown was happening. And you were explaining about the difficulties of getting information into and out of Myanmar. How have things changed since?

AYE CHAN NAING, EXEC. DIRECTOR, DVB: It's a lot more difficult, in fact, compared to last year after the Buddhist uprising, and also after the cyclone Nargus. I think the Burmese government know how important the flow of information for inside to outside, and again from outside to inside. Nowadays like lots of people, lots of journalists who use a video camera or still pictures camera have been arrested, interrogated. During the last year, at least about a dozen journalists have been arrested, reporting from - for the Buddhist uprising, and also reporting and covering for the cyclone Nargus.

For example, just last week, the Burmese government, we believe, attacking our website (INAUDIBLE) attack. And our website has been down for almost a week. At the same time, they also trying to reduce the speed of the Internet coming out of Burma. So basically, what they're trying to do is make it difficult for people to sent pictures, video image out of Burma. And even if they manage to send it to us, it would be impossible for us to publish on our website.

And of course, I mean, we do have shortwave radio and also the satellite television broadcasting to the country. That's still, of course, they can't really block us doing this.

SWEENEY: Collin Freeman, you went in just after - immediately after the uprising. Your experiences then and what you're hearing from Aye Chan, does it seem that things have become tougher?

COLLIN FREEMAN, CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, SUNDAY TELEGRAPH: Well, it may be from what your previous speaker's saying that things have got more difficult since then. Certainly during the uprising last year, there was a crackdown on the Burmese media, and there was a crackdown on the use of any Internet or whatever, the Internet services were completely cut off. But for the Western journalists certainly who went in there, mainly posing as tourists, it was surprising actually how few of them got picked up. There were people wandering around, taking pictures, asking questions, doing the kind of things that a journalist, not a tourist, would do. And yet, while there was an expectation that a lot of them might get arrested or deported, that by and large didn't happen.

Now one can draw one or two conclusions from that. One is that the Burmese intelligence services may not have been as on the ball as they used to be. The other is that perhaps they were just watching us and hoping that we would lead them to various dissidents by our, you know, by our activities in terms of going to speak to them. It's pretty hard to say really.

SWEENEY: You don't know whether or not you were being followed for sure?

FREEMAN: You could never tell, but occasionally, people did suspect they were being followed. And it was generally fairly obvious. I don't think we were because we did some things that one would have thought would have brought to the attention of the authorities.

SWEENEY: Aye Chan Naing, let me just slightly change subjects and ask you about what you make of the release of you and Tin, who we just spoke to?

NAING: It's quite - I mean, significant that Wen Tin has been released. I mean, he's been in prison for the past 19 years. He's almost 80 years old. And as he said, even though he is out of the prison, he is effectively still inside the prison because he can't write what he wants to write. I mean, he will still have to go through the censorship road, whatever he want to write. And none of them, I mean, will be published because he will write whatever he believe in.

So basically, I mean, the fact is whether he is released or not, but what he can really do outside the prison. That's the biggest question that we have to wait and see.

SWEENEY: And does his release and that of some other prisoners of conscience indicate to you any change of heart on the part of the government? Why do you think they did it?

NAING: Partly because probably they have more confidence in the whole situation, that they think that they can control the situation, even though they release some of the key political prisoners.

But in fact, if you look at the number, I mean, they said that they have released 9,000 prisoners. But the real political prisoner that they released were only 10, or less than 10 people. So 10 out of 9,000 prisoners have they released. But if you think about it, there are over 2,000 political prisoners who are currently being detained. The only reason that it is significant is people like U Wen Tin is being released.

SWEENEY: Collin Freeman, let me ask you. I mean, a year on since the monk's uprising. It seems the story of Myanmar has somehow fallen off the radar. Did the monks fail?

FREEMAN: It would be sad to say so, but certainly when I was there last in the aftermath of the cyclone in May, we ask that question of a number of people we met who have been involved in the pro democracy movement. And some of the older ones said in the run-up to the events last year, be careful, the government will crack down on you violently as they did with us, the previous generation in 1988. You'll get killed or you'll get thrown in jail. And it's not worth it.

And that does appear to be what has happened. And there really doesn't seem to be anything that the - anything much that the outside world can do about it. It's, you know, rather sad but a real (INAUDIBLE).

SWEENEY: All right, Aye Chan Naing in Oslo, thanks very much indeed for joining us. Also here, Collin Freeman from "The Telegraph."

Giving Africa a voice, can the Internet help revolutionize the way that continent is reported? That story, when we return.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. From political instability in Zimbabwe, to the crisis in Darfur, international media coverage of Africa is also sparse and negative. Well, let's consider the continent for a moment.

It's made up of 53 countries. It's the second most populous continent behind Asia. It has a population of 922 million, though some figures put that much higher. And more than 1,000 languages are spoken.

Well, given that, there are countless stories that go untold. But that could all change with the launch of A24 Media. It's an online content delivery site, aimed at giving freelance journalists access to global news audiences. Through the site, freelancers will be able to market their stories to broadcasters around the globe.

The concept has taken three years to become reality. Recently, I caught up with Salim Amin, chairman of A24 Media. I asked him how he envisaged this project.


SALIM AMIN, CHAIRMAN, A24 MEDIA: Well, it initially started off as we were trying to see if we could do a 24 hour kind of (INAUDIBLE) news channel, but you know, getting financing and setting up the structure, that was proving to be quite an enormous task.

SWEENEY: So you wanted it to be a satellite?

AMIN: We were looking at that full on 24 hour news channel, but the more we kind of - when I got my new partners on board, as soon as we started talking about the idea of getting content, exchanging content around Africa. And obviously the biggest obstacle of a 24 hour news channel is having enough content to keep it running.

We looked at this model of setting up an agency, whereby we could at least start to move African content, both within the continent and globally at a very reasonable rate, but more importantly, give back to the contributors. African freelancers and journalists are really sort of being exploited.

SWEENEY: So in essence, when you were thinking of setting up the 24 hour television news network, the lack of contact was a contributing factor to your deciding to go down this particular avenue. So how much content have you been able to get for the website?

AMIN: We've been officially sort of up and running without editorial team with about three months now. We've already picked up over 100 stories from 26 countries around the continent. So the content is coming in.

SWEENEY: Can you give us any examples of the.

AMIN: From Senegal to Ghana, bio-fuels in Ghana, to a story on female circumcision in Senegal, to an Obama story in Kenya, obviously, is his home country, to an Ethiopian story on the historic sites of Ethiopia, but just some great, you know, artistic featurish talent, you know, stories.

SWEENEY: Well, let me play devil's advocate here, because to go on the website, one can see a snippet of a package at least at first glance, a report that one might be interested in. And would you not be a little afraid that the possibility is there that already an established network with perhaps bureau or the ability to hire their own freelance crew would go in and cover that story?

AMIN: We can't copyright ideas and stories. You know, it's not possible. We can't stop anyone from duplicating what they see on the website for their own network. It's the same as you can't stop someone that sees something on CNN going in and shooting a different version of that story once it's been aired.

But the fact is that because we'll have it first, we will have it before any of the major networks, they're going to go and do it, but they're going to air it five or six or 10 days after it's gone out on our site. So we'll still be the leader in that.

SWEENEY: I mean, since we're talking about a global audience, but really, it seems to be Africans talking to Africans reporting about Africa. How much do you think that there has been a lack of hitherto for?

AMIN: There has been a huge lack of that. Africans have very rarely had a voice. They've very rarely been able to talk about their stories and their continent. A lot of the news on the continent is covered by people from outside the continent. Parachute journalists that come in and spend a few weeks there and cover major events. And we're not focusing on hard news. Our site is features. It's music and sport and art and business. And the stories behind the stories, giving more context and depth to the stories, rather than the 30 second news byte.

SWEENEY: And what does it say about the advances in technology that you're able to do this, something presumably you couldn't have done a few years ago?

AMIN: Absolutely. I mean, it has not been attempted before. It's never been tried on the African continent before. And what has made it possible is this Internet access and ability to FTP material to any part of the globe. A little bit slower from Africa admittedly. But the fiber optic cables are being laid. We will soon be on fiber optic around most of the continent. That's just going to change the way Africans are getting information.


SWEENEY: That was Salim Amin, chairman of A24 Media, speaking to me earlier.

Now mixing humor with artistic talent, we speak to cartoonist Kevin Calcoleher about his job. And we look at some of his most memorable drawings over the last three decades.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. Chances are you've seen the work of this man over the past 30 years. He's Kevin Kallaugher, or Kal, as he's commonly known, political cartoonist with "The Economist." Well, Kal has observed and satirized public figures in both sides of the Atlantic. He's here to give us his thoughts on presidents and prime ministers past, present, and perhaps future.

Thank you very much for joining us.


SWEENEY: What prompted you to become a cartoonist?

KALLAUGHER: Well, I've always been interested in being a cartoonist since a child, drawing my teacher's at school, and then following up doing cartoons for school newspapers and that.

But I think it wasn't until I arrived in Great Britain, after graduating from university that the mixture of politics and cartoons grabbed my imagination.

SWEENEY: And you immediately went into newspapers?

KALLAUGHER: Well, what had really happened, I was here on a bicycle tour, leading a bunch of teenagers around the country. The tour finished. I got a job playing semi professional basketball. But when the team started running out of money, that's when I started looking for cartoon jobs.

But one of the first things I did was to draw caricatures on the street of Trafalgar Square down on Brighton of tourists.

SWEENEY: All right. And then you've obviously since moved on to loftier things. Let's have a quick look at an image from "The Economist," which actually they expect in 1997, November 1st to 7th is the edition. And if you have a look here, it's a week on the wild side, but it's something as -- well, this is a funny story. well that could be very appropriate to recent events in the market.

KALLAUGHER: I'll say. I mean, a good cartoon is timeless. It has a quality that can come on back. And this cartoon about the craziness of Wall Street, I get requests every week from stock brokers from all around the world saying they want a copy for their wall or for their friends.

SWEENEY: And what is it trying to say here? What message are you trying to send out?

KALLAUGHER: Well, a good cartoon, as you point out, a good editorial cartoon, is trying to get a message. You know, you're a columnist using humor and pictures. And here is about how well it seems this very important financial institution that we rely so heavily on seems to actually be moving and making gigantic decisions, sometimes on a whim, on silly little things with this fellow being over her, saying I've got to stock here that could excel. Suddenly everyone thinks that he's saying sell and the stock market kicks off.

SWEENEY: Well, Chinese whispers, so to speak.

KALLAUGHER: Chinese whispers.

SWEENEY: This one obviously very clear what it's about. How did it come about?

KALLAUGHER: Well, this is a funny story because this cartoon I actually drew deep in the big horn mountains of Wyoming. I had gotten a message via e-mail from the comments that they liked the rough sketch I had done, wanted to put it on the cover. And I said well, there's three problems. First, I'm on vacation. Two, I'm in the middle of nowhere. And third, I do not have any paints with me.

So "The Economist" said well, why don't you try to do something about it, get back to us in the morning? When I talked to the people at the ranch, they sent me down the street a dirt road for 10 miles, got a page from a lovely lady who did some painting in the back of the drugstore, and went home. And on the kitchen table of this dude ranch did this painting and sent it off to London. And two days later, it appeared in every nation on the planet.

SWEENEY: Well, it's interesting because it really means that you can take your job anywhere and be anywhere.

KALLAUGHER: That's right. I wish I could do that more often.

SWEENEY: Let's move on to the next one. Now this, obviously, goes back some time. This is your first cartoon, right, for "The Economist?"

KALLAUGHER: Right, right, it was. And here was the Soviet leader of the time Leonid Breshnev and the French leader Giscard D'Estang of the time. And you know, the thing was it was one of the first times that I was, you know, first of 100 - over 100 covers that I've done for "The Economist." And something I'm very proud to see here.

SWEENEY: And what is it about necessarily? I know it's 1980. I know very clearly that that is Kremlin's - the Kremlin and Breshnev saying right, who's next. But it was - the Cold War was still well and truly in effect?

KALLAUGHER: Yes, and those early days of my cartoons, it was amazing to understand how the Cold War affected all of us. And the cartoons were, you know, the Soviets were these big hard, and they tend to look in caricature like these really nasty characters. And we were trying to penetrate them all the time. And this was the perfect example of the frozen Soviet leadership.

SWEENEY: And yet somebody from the West had just been to talk to him.

KALLAUGHER: That's right. And that got very far.

SWEENEY: Let's move on. Now this is obviously from more recent times. It is. I'll let you explain it.

KALLAUGHER: Well, this was in the build-up to the war in Iraq. And our good friend George W. Bush was - had invited to his ranch Tony Blair. He's saying, "That's right, Tony. Now repeat after me make my day, Saddam." And lovely, he's falling right into line behind the Bush administration.

SWEENEY: And this obviously how you interpreted things politically?

KALLAUGHER: Absolutely. And one of the things that people, about a political cartoon, is people often think that you're in the business of making people laugh. But in fact, you're really in the business of making people think, using humor, but using it as a vehicle for a message. SWEENEY: And you know, now that you've gone through the years of parodying, you know, various of lampooning, various public and national figures, I mean, what was different about the naughty, so to speak, in George W. Bush's time?

KALLAUGHER: Well, I think that George Bush, you have to look at in two different chapters. The 9/11 chapter and the most recent chapter. In the 9/11 time right afterwards, it was very hard to be a commentator and a satirist and a political cartoonist because the audience wasn't ready to laugh. They weren't ready to take on the president in that way. It was a turning point amongst - the January after 9/11, he was caught tossing a pretzel in the air and got stuck in his throat. And that point, actually nearly choked. And Dick Cheney wouldn't take it over the country for a little while. But that was the green light for cartoonists and satirists that now you could start making fun of Bush again.

But more recently when you look, the type of criticism that the Bush administration gets from cartoonists and other satirists right now are as no problem. Everyone is willing to happily see him be - strong side of a pen nip.

SWEENEY: And this was done by you. We were talking about this earlier because the date is actually October, November.


SWEENEY: And yet, you seem to remember as having drawn it immediately after Hurricane Katrina.

KALLAUGHER: Yes, there was, of course, Katrina to me was the turning point of the Bush administration. In the U.S., there had been a lot of folks who weren't happy with them, but it was only that point when the television pictures were so clearly seeing all the things going wrong that the - I think the country finally turned on them. And this cover for "The Economist" is interesting because notice that there's no caption, there's no byline. The cartoon tells the whole story.

SWEENEY: Let's move on to the next one. Now this is the quintessential lampoon cartoon of two very well known candidates, the characters, one of whom you'll probably be just doing a lot more of in the coming years.

KALLAUGHER: That's right.

SWEENEY: .and the other. What are you trying to say here about John McCain?

KALLAUGHER: Well, the - I love this quote that I like to say from the Italian renaissance painter Annabell Karachi (ph). He said that a good caricature is more true to life than reality itself. And so when you're doing a caricature as I do, you're trying to capture the whole personality and something deeper than just the physical extremities.

So in this case here, you see that the personality of a tight, bulldog type John McCain with piercing strong eyes, engaging in one sense, but then the hopeful optimistic outward looking Obama that gives a sort of different sense of energy. And their personalities really couldn't be more different. And I'll think you'll see a lot of that playing out in the debates over the next few weeks.

SWEENEY: Also, I think there's something quite interesting about their next, because Obama's neck is actually literally sticking up in there.

KALLAUGHER: That's right.

SWEENEY: Now John McCain's, you can barely see.

KALLAUGHER: In fact, John McCain might have three or four necks.

SWEENEY: Indeed. Which would be the more interesting to draw in terms of a president?

KALLAUGHER: Well, that's a great question because really it's almost - it's too different - I like them both in different ways. Obama will be a better story. So he'll supply more material over time for the journalist that I am.

But for the artist in me, I think McCain's face is more interesting because if you're drawing somebody for four years, you have to see them many, many times. And you realize you want a face that's complex. His complex. There's many more moving parts. He can look very stoic, but then also when he smiles, he can look like a cherub with, you know, lights coming out of all of his pores. So he's a more interesting visual character.

SWEENEY: Kal Kallaugher, thank you very much indeed.

KALLAUGHER: It's been a pleasure.

SWEENEY: Now don't forget to drop by on our website. Log on to to see the show again. You can also view our archive, take part in the quick vote, and read the blog. The address again

And 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.