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New Control Room; Obama and the Media; Situation in the Congo

Aired November 14, 2008 - 20:30:00   ET


PAULA NEWTON, HOST: Hello, I'm Paula Newton in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, your weekly look at the news and how the media covers it.
Coming up, from the campaign to the transition of power after his historic election victory, we assess the media's relationship with Barack Obama as he prepares to make the move into the White House. Also this week, the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the difficulties in trying to report the situation there. And later, it looks like the mother of all television control rooms. We meet the artist behind this installation made up of hundreds of news anchors.

First this week, it's down to business for Barack Obama as he begins to assemble his transition team ahead of January's inauguration. This week, the President-elect had his first glimpse of his new surroundings as he met the outgoing George W. Bush at the White House as world leaders assess the impact of the U.S. election victory.

Reporters are also taking stock after a momentous campaign for more than two years. Many political correspondents have followed every twist and turn of this thing. So what now for them? And how do they see the Obama administration dealing with the media?

To help us get answers to those questions, we're joined by Suzanne Malveaux, our own from CNN and also Michael Scherer, who's from "TIME" magazine.

Thanks so much for joining us. Michael, is there a withdrawal going on here with correspondents, a dearth of news? I mean, how can you cope?

MICHAEL SCHERER, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, TIME: The withdrawal is more like finally being able to go to bed. You know, that last streak right before the campaign - right before election day, we went, you know, three or four days with two or three hours of sleep at night. You know, the last day on Monday I was with McCain campaign, we did seven states in one day. I was going to bed. I was checking into my hotel room and my alarm was going off from the previous day. So I know it was a 24 hour day.

And so by the time the election finally happened, then we had to write the election night wrap up stories. Then we had to do the day after post mortems. We finally got, you know, a decent eight hours of sleep.

So now it's just sort of recovering, realizing that this hasn't stopped. We now have the Obama transition to cover.

NEWTON: Yes, still a lot to cover. But Suzanne, it hasn't been the pace of news that we had during the election. Has it been tough to kind of wind down and maybe go back to a lot of the traditional reporting that you and I are used to?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX: Well, Paula, you know, it's funny because the night of the election, you really just couldn't believe that it was over. We've been doing contest after contest, whether it was caucuses, primaries, you know, the final election. So it was hard to believe that it was actually all over and that there wouldn't be something the following Tuesday.

But when it was all said and done, I guess the last three days or so, we had about five hours of sleep. You know, one to two hours every night. And we were going around the clock. So the next day, it became this news story, it was, you know, transition to power. And we're trying to wrap our heads around what all of this means.

But you know, in a practical sense here, we're not traveling three different states in one day. I am still away from home here in Chicago, Barack Obama's home. My suitcase has gone from 50 pounds to about 100 pounds or so. If it's over 100, you can't even put it on the plane. So it's hovering about 96 pounds now.

But I still have that feeling when I wake up in the morning, I have no idea where I am. And so I have a little note that I write out to myself each evening, kind of reminding me which city I'm in, what time I need to wake up, and then converting the time zones.

There's still that sense of, you know, lost - you're lost, you're a little bit confused here. But then also, there's the sense of excitement. There is something new in the area. There's something fresh. And every day, there is something to report, but certainly not the pace that we had the last year or so, being on the road, Paula.

NEWTON: It's going to be hard to match that intensity going forward. Maybe that's a good thing for all of us. But Michael, how long do you think this honeymoon period will end? You know, I'm fond of saying that, you know, he's not just taking the honeymoon to Vegas. He's taking on a Caribbean cruise. This just keeps going on and on. When is it going to end? He made a lot of promises. When is he going to start to be told, look, when are you making good on those promises?

SCHERER: Well, he's not the president yet. And he's not going to be the president until January 20th. I don't think the honeymoon lasts that long, though. I mean, we have announcements that are going to be made over the coming weeks. He's going to be appointing cabinet level officials. There's going to be vetting of those officials. Any mistake, any slip up, we're going to be on, you know, like vultures. If he doesn't, if he's able to keep some consistency through then, really, the honeymoon's going to end as soon as we get back from Christmas vacation.

When it comes time in January, the American people who are increasingly desperate economic straits right now, are going to be demanding something be done. And even when Obama takes office at the end of January, it's going to be very hard for him to do something immediately. This is not a town that moves quickly. And oftentimes, it's not a town that even moves according to any president's whims.

NEWTON: You know, Suzanne, I've had very fleeting contact with the Obama team. Any contact I have had has been really tough. They seem to be tough customers. Do you think materially they will make your job more difficult? They may not be as forthcoming or transparent as we want to see them be.

MALVEAUX: It's tough to say at this point, covering President Bush, they're a pretty tough crowd themselves when it comes to keeping the information close to the vest and so have kind of had to deal with that.

I think in terms of the communications group, the staff, they're very similar to the folks that are already in the White House. They all have experience in various races. A lot of people as well, as you know, are former people from the Clinton administration. So I think that in some ways, you are going to see kind of the change that you're talking about, but you're also going to see some discipline here. You're going to see some folks who have had a lot of experience in dealing with the media, in dealing with the press before. We've been on the road with him for at least a year, if not more. So we've established these relationships. But when they decide that, you know, now is the time to roll out information, and they're not going to give you a heads up before then, that is a decision they make. And they pretty much stick with it. They're a very disciplined team when it comes to - compared to at least some of the folks in the Clinton administration. Very similar to what we are also seeing at the White House right now.

NEWTON: OK. Suzanne Malveaux for us, thanks so much for joining us today. And Michael Scherer with "TIME" magazine joining us from Washington, thanks for your time.

Well, it's been the scene of intense fighting since the end of August, one that sparked fears of a humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Journalists are also being warned of the dangers. That story when we come back.


NEWTON: Images from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a region that has seen intense fighting and hundreds of thousands of people displaced. Fighting first broke out at the end of August between the Congolese army and rebel forces, led by Laurent Nkunda. Aide groups say the fighting aggravated an already serious humanitarian situation fueled by ethnic hatred stemming from the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda.

Reporters are also coming under attack. A Congolese radio journalist has been killed. And a Belgian newspaper reporter was kidnapped but freed three days later. Now for more on this situation and the difficulties in reporting in the region, for that, we are joined by London based journalist Antoine Roger Lokongo, who is also Congolese joins us.


NEWTON: And filmmaker Claudio Von Planta, who has been in the region as recent as September. And also joining us from Brussels, Ernest Sagaga of the International Federation of Journalists, an organization that represents more than 600,000 journalists in more than 120 countries.

Gentlemen, thanks so much for joining you, all of us. Claudio, you were there in September. What can you tell us about trying to report from the region?

CLAUDIO VON PLANTA: You could already feel that it was very tense. Everybody was very nervous. Quite a few people spoke about Nkunda. And we obviously tried to kind of get our main information from the - from Monuch (ph), from the U.N. troops. And so they warned us don't go too far away from Goma (ph) because, you know, it's very volatile. So...

NEWTON: Did you feel already that you could not really report on what truly was going on, that it was difficult to really get to the hub of information?

VON PLANTA: Absolutely. Absolutely, because instinctively as a journalist, you think, okay, let's go and see what's happening at the frontline but in an area like the East of Congo, you never know where the frontline is. You never know how far you can go.

And that's very difficult.

NEWTON: Unnerving for sure. Antoine, tell us how do you think the coverage has been so far? Do you feel that people are getting an accurate portrayal of what's going on there on the ground?

LOKONGO: In the U.K., it's not balanced at all. I just found out speaking to Human Rights Watch that Nkunda is wanted by the international criminal court for crime against humanity committed since 2002. And that's why they call him the butcher of Kisanganee (ph).

Now how can a terrorist, how can a criminal who's wanted by the international justice grab all the headlines in the U.K., in the western media basically? The U.N. has 17,000 troops there. If that man is wanted by the international justice, why don't you - why don't they just go there and arrest him?

NEWTON: In fact, several journalists have gone to his headquarters to interview him.

LOKONGO: Absolutely, including NBC and Nkunda is also evangelical. And you have evangelicals from America visiting him in his headquarter.

NEWTON: Ernest from Brussels, I mean, this is not an easy situation for journalists, no matter how you slice it. What do you think can be done to really try and get a more accurate portrayal of what's going on t here?

ERNEST SAGAGA, INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF JOURNALISTS: Well, the International Federation of Journalists represents journalists from about 120 countries around the world. And basically, what we - the (INAUDIBLE) about in terms of covering a situation, be it in DRC or elsewhere, is for all countries beyond the conflict to respect the journalists rights to cover the conflict in 50 and free from targeted attacks.

So we call upon armed groups in DRC or indeed elsewhere to allow journalists to go about their work in 50. And attain the right to refrain from attacking them deliberately. Our members in the Congo have been reporting cadres of intimidations, which have led to (INAUDIBLE) going into hiding, not being able to do their work. And that's a major concern for us.

NEWTON: Ernest, I can understand that, but as a journalist on the ground, sometimes I find that a bit naive. I mean, if you can't displace people, the refugees, they're not in any way, shape, or form have anything to say about what the warring sides will do to them or not do to them. Are we journalists just not exactly the same and we pretty much have to take precautions and hope for the best.

SAGAGA: Well, what I would say is that of course civilians are also (INAUDIBLE) to be protected. Indeed, their protection and that of journalists are enshrined in international law. You may remember that three years ago, the Undersecretary Council passed resolution 1738 condemning the attacks against journalists and calling on all armed groups to respect the right of journalists to go about their work in 50.

So what we calling for journalists is indeed in relation to their work, but it doesn't take anything away from the duty on armed groups to respect civilians safety as well.

NEWTON: You know, Claudio, if we can paint a picture for people here, I mean, you have government soldiers reported cases of them also murdering, looting, raping. And then you obviously have a rebel leader who was allowed several journalists to talk to them.

If you're a journalist on the ground, how can you figure out when your at a moment safe and secure and really in jeopardy?

VON PLANTA: You know, I - it's one of the most difficult things to, you know, feel your way through the local situation, find out who you can trust and who is looking after you or not.

And you know, one reason why Nkunda is grabbing lots of headlines, he is the only safe option. If you manage to, you know, hook up with his people, they will look after you. Whilst on the government side, with government troops, you never know to whom you are talking. Lots of them are looting. Lots of them are...

NEWTON: Reports of being drunk...

VON PLANTA: ...basically marauding...

NEWTON: ...out of control.

VON PLANTA: ...militias.

NEWTON: Right.

VON PLANTA: So very difficult.

NEWTON: Now Antoine, you know, I call Nkunda a rebel leader. You take issue with that. You take issue with the language that's been used in this conflict, don't you?

LOKONGO: Definitely. I - the language, especially in the western media, has to change because what's going on in Congo is not the rebellion is yet another aggression from Rwanda. And Congo is just a front for Rwanda in Congo because the Rwanda has an agenda in Congo, where you can see well, those who committed genocide are threatening Rwanda's security.

To that I say the U.N. has 17,000 troops in Congo. Why did they not deploy along the border of Congo with Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi? So that everybody can feel safe. Then after that, we talk to the Hutu refugees who are in the Congo and say what do you want? And usually they say that we want the political space to be widened in Rwanda. We want an inter Rwandan dialogue so that we can share power.

NEWTON: You know, Ernest, just - we - getting just a little taste of the complications of trying to cover this story. It is so complicated. How difficult is it for journalists to stay safe, and at the same time when they're trying to keep their wits about them, explain a story that is decades long and incredibly complicated?

SAGAGA: Well, all to say that any armed conflict may have its own complexities. And journalists are there to try and entangle - disentangle those complexities and to be able to report to the public, which may not be informed about those going on.

But in order for them to do so, they need to be able to work in safe conditions. Now of course, you write or read the issue that when a situation is complicated, then think - people may really be confused at what to do and how to behave. And that is why the International Federation of Journalists alongside other right minded organizations have set up a partner organization, the International News Safety Institute, which provides training to journalists that are deployed in high risk areas.

And that training covers a wide arrange of subjects, ranging from personal security to medical aide, and also even hostage situations. And all that is a - in order to allow journalists to of course keep in mind their work to be able to provide accurate information, but also to look after their security. Because of course, other journalists is not good to the public.

NEWTON: Claudio, if you could let us know when we are discussing in the London studio, it all seems quite fair and sanitary. When you're actually on the ground, do you worry that perhaps as this conflict heads up, that we're going to see more and more journalists pulling out, which means that as emissaries of information, there aren't going to be any?

VON PLANTA: That's a big risk, definitely. It's a big risk because it's so difficult to get there. First of all, the first thing if you're tried to move in on the government side, straight away, they ask you a lot of money for permits here, permits there. You never know whether it actually means anything or where the money goes straight into the pocket of some petty official somewhere.

Then the moment you move out into the field, you might come across a road block somewhere with some checkpoints. You don't know who these people are. They might not respect your official papers. So you pay - third of all, it costs you a lot of money to move around in this place.

NEWTON: Because people don't realize. They think it's Africa.


NEWTON: It's going to be easy.

VON PLANTA: So every problem, you have to solve with money. So not many journalists can afford that, even big organizations. They can do it for a while and then afterwards, they pull out. NEWTON: Yes.

VON PLANTA: So that's a big problem. And yes.

NEWTON: Thank you so much. Certainly we'll continue to follow this story. Claudio Von Planta, thank you. Antoine, thank you so much for joining us here in London. And to Ernest Sagaga in Brussels, thanks again.

Now next, bringing the news to life. What's the meaning behind this piece that features hundreds of newscasters? It is a bit strange. We meet the artist responsible when we return.


NEWTON: And welcome back. You know, we're bombarded by hundreds, if not thousands of different messages in the media every day. And now imagine being confronted, now I would say assaulted by 1600 newscasts at one time. Well, take a look at this. It's the work of Mexican Canadian artist Rafael Lozano Hemmer. And it's called "Reporters with Borders." The installation projects television news anchors according to geography, gender, and race.

CNN faces make an appearance, and in an unnerving way, so do I. And so what's this all about? I mean, I went along to London's Haunch Events and Gallery and asked the man behind it.


RAFAEL LOZANO-HEMMER, ARTIST: What we did is we hired some people to watch TV for about a month. And we recorded 1,600 reporters. 800 from Mexican television stations and 800 from American television stations. And then we've put them all into a computer. We project them with very high resolution displays. And then as you walk into the space, your silhouette is cast, projected onto the displays. And inside of them, all of the reporters begin to give you the news.

NEWTON: Explain how this works for a person entering this exhibit?

LOZANO-HEMMER: We have basically a surveillance camera system that detects the presence of the public. And as the public walks into the space, their silhouette gets presented on the wall. And anybody who's inside of your silhouette starts speaking.

So it's kind of like a surveillance system that is turned to, you know, a more poetic application.

NEWTON: You call this Reporters with Borders. What does that mean? What's the significance?

LOZANO-HEMMER: The project is based on the idea that these same 1600 reporters are classified according to gender, geography, and race. So every three minutes, the piece reclassifies all of the reporters.

Currently, for instance, we're seeing females all on the left, and males all on the right. So it's very easy to see how we represent ourselves as males or females in terms of color palette, in terms of voice, in terms of gestures. And then after three minutes or five minutes, it switches, for instance, to only have Mexicans on the left and Americans on the right.

So the idea of putting these borders onto the reporters allowed us to think about the idea that reporting is not neutral. That you know, behind each reporter, there is some specific borders that are existing.

NEWTON: Was there anything negative meant by this exhibit? I mean, do you think that audiences should be looking at TV news, looking for something more insightful from them?

LOZANO-HEMMER: I was just curious to see a massive display of us. Many reporters that I can see to make generalizations. You know, and of course, this is just an art project. It's not, you know, comparative anthropology. It's just an idea of like if we can see 1600 videos at once, maybe we can see some patterns that emerge.

For example, with voice, it's very interesting. To cut between the sound of males and females, and just see how in a general sense, how that gets represented in television.

NEWTON: Did you see any real differences in the way we look, in the way we speak, in the way we deliver the news?

LOZANO-HEMMER: One of the things that we did is we made selections of reporters, which are only establishing eye contact with the camera. So in that sense, it's a very painterly work, because as you are the public member, you really feel like they're establishing eye contact with you.

And that sense of directness, that sense of immediacy is something that you can see in all 1600 reporters.


NEWTON: Artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer speaking to me there. Now you can see the exhibition at the Haunch Events in London Gallery until November 29th.

Now before we go, a reminder to drop by our website. Log on to to see the show again. You can also view our archive and take part in the quick vote, and read the blog. The address

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 Paula Newton. Thanks for joining us.