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Covering HIV/AIDS; Touring a Gallery of Annie Leibovitz's Work

Aired November 28, 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 how the media cover the news.
Coming up, using local knowledge, we speak to the director behind the film that looks at life as a news fixer. And she's photographed royals and other celebrities. We take a gallery tour with Annie Leibovitz.

Now first up this week, reporting on a global health issue. HIV/AIDS, December the 1st marks World AIDS Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness. According to the latest figures from the United Nations, an estimated 33 million people are living with HIV today. Here's a snapshot of the worldwide infection rate.

Now the darker the color on this chart, the higher the prevalence in a given country. Now this is all based on 2007 figures. Now raising awareness through the media can be difficult, given the stigma and sensitivity surrounding HIV/AIDS. Today, we look at the challenges for journalists reporting on the disease.

To discuss this, I'm joined from New York by Dr. Larry Altman, medical correspondent with "The New York Times." Here in studio is Sarah Boseley, health editor with "The Guardian" newspaper and photojournalist Gideon Mendel. He's documented the impact of HIV/AIDS over the past 15 years. And his images feature in the book, "Broken Landscape, HIV and AIDS in Africa."

Thank you all for joining me today. Larry, you've been covering this for so many years. In terms of the coverage and how you can impart this story to your audience, what's changed?

LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN, MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I began covering AIDS when it was first discovered back in 1981. And the major news events surrounding it, the discovery of the virus and the modes of transmission were major news stories early on. And explaining it to the world and the public were important issues then.

It's now become a chronic endemic communicable disease like many others. And that means journalism covers it, or at least editors look at covering it like many other diseases. Now to be certain, this has caused one of the world's greatest epidemics in all times pandemics. And therefore, it has more meaning, but it's the challenge of finding new things, new - it's not just new figures, but the advances that have come within in recent years that are what you have to cover and present as news. News is news. And it's not necessarily repeating the old information, although at times, that may be important. But you still need something new. That makes it a challenge to covering not only AIDS, HIV, but other chronic illnesses as well.

NEWTON: Sarah, in your work with "The Guardian", do you find that you've been able to bring the audiences along in terms of sketching for them what Larry's talking about, the evolution of this disease?

SARAH BOSELEY, HEALTH EDITOR, THE GUARDIAN: I think the - yes, and to some extent, I think it's been difficult because this is a disease that there's a lot of people don't really know about or want to know about in the U.K.

Certainly since the time that it became less of a threat, basically we're talking the mid `90s, you had antiretroviral drugs, from that time on, people ceased to see this as quite, something quite so alarming. People in the U.K. would recognize the iceberg advert we had. We had some really alarming public health television adverts, which showed the tip of an iceberg. And the message was that there's an awful lot more of that below, and you might get HIV/AIDS and die.

Well, that sort of message is now imparted to a U.K. audience, because you can stay well. So the difficulty for us is that the story is in Africa and it's in Asia. And it's trying to get people over here along with that story, to get them to understand what that's about. And I find the best way to do that is to try to find people with whom you can identify, not people who could possibly be like you. It's that sort of identification that works.

NEWTON: A mother, a father, a grandmother, that kind of thing?

BOSELEY: Absolutely. Somebody who may sell shoes in the market. So I would call her. You know, she's a shop assistant basically here. You try to draw those parallels so that people don't think of this as a victim in some distant land, but actually somebody who could be like them.

NEWTON: Now Gideon, you've brought a different lens to this story, figuratively and constructively one would say. We're taking a look at a montage of your pictures right now. In documenting this, do you feel that somehow you have been able to impart to readers, people who see your pictures, the true depth of this disease, even if here in western countries, it's become a manageable disease?

GIDEON MENDEL, PHOTOJOURNALIST: Yes, I mean, I've been attempting to photograph the landscape of HIV and AIDS for a long time now. And I think as Larry said, I think it's tremendously difficult to keep on telling, finding a way of engaging people, telling a story which people can understand, people can follow, and people can stay with.

Because I think the danger is so we can attaining the same story over and over again. I think as photographers, there was a phase when I think we were perhaps justly accused of being vultures, being victimologists, trying to portray people as emaciated, dying victims. And you know, we were accused of being victimologists.

And I think the challenge has been to kind of take on board that criticism and move on one's coverage of the disease. I mean, some of the photographs you're about to see show images from the life of someone called Nonpilla Nasuzza (ph) in a place called Izikiziki (ph). And they show her very sick, almost dead. At that point, she had a CD-4 count of 2, which means she had almost no functioning immune system. And she was lucky enough to have access and to antiviral drugs in quite a remote part of Africa.

NEWTON: And what a transformation.

MENDEL: And you see here there then two years later with her children, healthy and well and a vibrant young woman. So I think - I do feel proud, I think, to being able to kind of document that kind of transition. And I think photography can be quite powerful in that kind of way.

But I do think - there are many dangers and pitfalls in the way one kind of represents people living with disease. And the challenge of anything now is I think to normalize our coverage, and kind of get away from the idea of AIDS being some kind of terrible, unique disease. It's one of many diseases people face in Africa. And it's a terrible one, but I think that's a challenge.

NEWTON: You know, Larry, as we continue to speak here about this, it strikes me that AIDS, HIV, which was once, and I hate to use this word, but it was the trendy disease. Everyone wanted to follow the bandwagon in terms of following every nook and cranny of research, funneling tons of money into it. Do you sense sometimes a type of fatigue, as of other diseases have now really superimposed themselves on this crisis, and perhaps taken something away from the impetus to do something about it, to get cheap retroviral drugs into Africa?

ALTMAN: Well, there's certainly a challenge to keep uncovering it and make it not seem trendy. But at the same time, you're feeling the competition from other diseases. All diseases are fighting for relatively the same dollar or whatever currency in the world. And there's just not enough money that's devoted to the needs for all diseases. So there's competition for funds. There are priorities in terms of communicable diseases, diseases people can take into their own hands for prevention. And it's a method - it's a combination of education, money, attention, and attention to the world's problems.

I mean, we have one of the world's greatest epidemics. It may not be knocking at your door, but it could be. And therefore, people have to pay attention to it throughout the world. And it's our job as journalists to keep bringing it to attention as best as we can.

NEWTON: Sarah, one of the key issues about this, especially when we began covering this story, was any kind of stigma associated with AIDS, HIV. How has that developed over your years of reporting it?

BOSELEY: Well, it's curious because I think - I don't particularly notice the stigma when I go to Africa and I talk to people there. And I suspect that's because they are talking to me as an outsider. They're very open with me. They're very friendly. They're willing to tell me about the terrible things that happened to them.

But I think they have a sense that I will keep their secrets because I'm not talking to their friends and talking to their neighbors. So you almost don't get the sense of stigma that undoubtedly does exist, because you're not part of that community.

But what's very interesting is that when I reported in the U.K., I'm very much aware of it. And I've - I know some terrible stories. I know of women who have had graffiti dogged all over their houses, whose children have been chased from school. And that's in the U.K. Unbelievable, isn't it? Because they were discovered, the children were discovered to be from families with HIV. It's not as if the children themselves had HIV.

And that sort of thing can happen in this sort of community here.

NEWTON: And that's startling. And yet, you Gideon, approach your subjects and you're asking them to do something that is so intimate, so giving of themselves at that point in time, you know, I've read about some of your accounts about this. How do you get over that and think geez, this is such a crucially intimate moment? Why am I here documenting this?

MENDEL: Well, I mean, I think for me, it's very important to work with people who want to tell their stories. And I think there's no shortage of people in Africa who actually are open and do want to do their bit to fight the disease. Ad I think fighting stigma is one of the most important challenges. Everyone who wants to fight the disease has to take on right now, because stigma is one of the most damaging things out there.

And I mean, I think for us as news gatherers, as journalists, the challenge as well is to kind of ask the , difficult questions and try and, you know, look at, you know, why transmission is still bad as it is, why things aren't changing. And although drugs are available, the situation is still chronic.

The disease still being transmitted at a, you know, a tremendously high rate in parts of sub Saharan Africa. And I think in many questions, we still need to ask in many tough ones.

NEWTON: Certainly compelling stories to cover there. Larry Altman in New York, thanks for joining us today.

ALTMAN: Thank you.

NEWTON: Sarah Boseley with "The Guardian" here in London for joining me in studio and Gideon Mendel. Thanks so much for being here today. Appreciate it.

BOSELEY: Thank you.

NEWTON: Well, from Beirut to Baghdad, Khartoum to Kabul, fixers are indispensable in getting to the heart of any story. A new film examines their role and the contribution they make to the news industry. We speak to the man behind the documentary.


NEWTON: And welcome back. You know, their work usually goes unnoticed on air or in print, but their contribution to stories especially in hostile environments or environments that are unfamiliar to reporters, well, that's priceless.

Fixers, as they're known, are typically journalists themselves with local knowledge and connections that help the rest of us out in the field. A new documentary sheds light on their role. "The Fixer: Afghanistan Behind the Scenes" is the work of Aaron Rockett. He followed freelance journalist Sean Legan and his fixer, known as Sammy, over the course of three and a half months. Let's take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sean has worked with Sammy since the `90s.

SAMMY: We are cooperating journalists, you know, media guys. So Sean is one of these. So - and I'm going to help him. I mean, for consultation, fixing, coordination, and all these things. So that's why I'm here.

SEAN: I work with Sammy or Samuella (ph) in '99 and 2000. He brought me and another guy called Kamal Heidhan (ph). I got kicked out once. And I don't think I'd have got back in without him and Kamal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sammy helped Sean produce two documentaries, "Taliban" and "Tea with the Taliban."

SEAN: Fixers normally, one definition is they arrange an interview. They arrange your hotel. They book flights. It's like a production manager's job. And a lot of people here, contractors, security, journalists, will have basic fixers.


NEWTON: And that was a scene from "The Fixer: Afghanistan Behind the Scenes," directed by Aaron Rockett. He joins me now in studio.

Thanks so much for being here. You know, from what we just saw, he explains something that seemed fairly routine and mundane. Really, their jobs are anything but routine?

AARON ROCKETT, DIRECTOR: Yes, you know, I went to Afghanistan and I went in there, you know, as an outsider. And I realized how important it is to have a local on the ground. And not only just for translation, but you don't realize all the ethnic, the different ethnic make-ups of a culture like Afghanistan. It has, you know, Pashtuns, Tadzhiks, Hazarras (ph).

And so, you need somebody to help you navigate the different elements, not only driving through the country and roadblocks, but also within the bureaucracy of it all.

NEWTON: You do have to watch though for their own biases, don't you, because they are locals. They have their own biases on any given story?

ROCKETT: Yes. Well, like I mentioned, Afghanistan has many tribal groups, you know. Hazarras (ph), Pashtuns. And so, depending on what ethnicity your fixer is, he's going to have his biases. And within Afghanistan, it's - there's even a gender bias. So most all fixers are males. So for example, Sean is working on a film about a woman's driving school. So when Sammy's translating from the interviews, women, Sean needs to take into account that Sammy has his own biases. So not everything Sammy is telling him is going to be, you know, exactly the way the woman is saying it. So it's really important for a journalist to understand where his fixer's coming from.

NEWTON: How invaluable is their work, especially in danger zones and hot spots?

ROCKETT: It's completely - depending on the area, your fixer is invaluable to you. Because your fixer basically is your life line. He not only knows the area, but he knows the important people. You know, the higher - so if you're traveling in the middle of rural Afghanistan, it's very important to know the top mullahs, the top commanders, the top people within each village. And the more effective your fixer is, the more he's able to introduce you to the most powerful person in the region, who will then take care of you. So your safety and often your life depends on your fixer and how important he is.

NEWTON: This is dangerous work. We're going to have another look at a clip from Aaron Rockett's film.


SAMMY: I like my job. I love my job. And even my family, I mean, they are not so happy, I mean, because you know journalism is not easy job, especially after 9/11 September, it was a very hard job. I mean, to cover all this risky story.

ROCKETT: Sammy walks a fine line between his culture and the Western journalists he works with. At the same time, he must keep them separate like with his wife and children, but also bring the two cultures together.

Ready to go, Sammy?

SAMMY: Yeah, you are ready?

ROCKETT: Yeah, let's go. All right.

I also walk a fine line in filming. Not only drawing attention, they compromise my safety, but also Sammy's.


NEWTON: You think it's time to do away with the name, The Fixer? Do you think somehow it's degrading their role in the whole process?

ROCKETT: You know, it's a great point. And I think that there are many people that believe that. And Sammy himself doesn't like the word `fixer' because he's a journalist. He works for many journalistic organizations. He's setting up stories. And it's because of his contacts that we get the stories that we do. And for all the fixers, I mean, it's really their contacts. And for journalists, you know, often your story comes down to your contacts.

So yes, to a certain degree, I think fixer should be in many cases dissolved for some of these guys.

NEWTON: Mm-hmm. Aaron Rockett, the director of "The Fixer", thanks so much for joining us.

ROCKETT: Thanks for having me, Paula.

NEWTON: Now five people have been honored by the Committee to Protect Journalists for their work in war zones and the world's trouble spots. Among those recognized at the International Press Freedom Awards in New York was Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, who was detained for more than two years by U.S. forces in Iraq.


BILAL HUSSEIN, AP PHOTOGRAPHER (through translator): If I had to go through this again, I will not hesitate if it is to get the truth out, because I know I will not be alone.


NEWTON: Journalists from Uganda, Afghanistan, Cuba, and a prominent human rights lawyer from Zimbabwe were also honored.


FARIDA NEKZAD, PAJHWOK AFGHAN NEWS AGENCY: I hope the organization that assists in Afghanistan and support journalists will bring pressure on the government to support and protect journalists. Please don't forget us again. Thank you.


ANDREW MWENDA, JOURNALIST: We believe strongly that neither harassment, detention, nor death should ever stop us from telling the truth. And when we say this it's not that we underestimate the capacity or the determination on the part of the government of Uganda to silence us. Not at all. But it is simpler to believe that it is better for us to die on our feet than to live on our knees.

BEATRICE MTETWA, HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER: Zimbabwe remains an extremely dangerous place for journalists. It remains a place that is extremely, you know, dangerous to navigate for journalists who are trying to really report what is going on there.


NEWTON: Now the Committee to Protect Journalists says about 120 news workers are currently detained worldwide.

Now she snaps stars and world leaders. Now we turn the lens on Annie Leibovitz. The top photographer takes us and a host of other media around her collection of work currently on exhibition in London. It's a tour Annie Leibovitz style.


TIME STAMP: 0454:08 NEWTON: You're in an exclusive club, as if we had to tell you, from the British monarchy to Hollywood stars, she's captured shots of the world's most powerful and famous. Her iconic images have graced the covers of leading magazines like "Vanity Fair".

Now some of her best known shots, along with some rarely seen works, are on a tour around the world. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS joined the media circus at a press tour in London where for once, the focus was turned on Leibovitz. She showed us around part of her collection.


ANNIE LEIBOVITZ, PHOTOGRAPHER: We'll stop here at this picture. This photograph at the beginning of the show is, you know, Mr. Baryshnikov. And it was done in 1990. I spent about three weeks down there. It was actually the longest time I spent on any assignment. Misha asked can I come down for two or three days? And I said can I come down for three weeks because I would like to really photograph the making of a dance.

I have talked about making this portrait of my mother. I think what I really discovered is it's almost as if there's no camera there, you know, that she's looking at me without it. And I think, not that that is the ultimate thing you hope for, because the reality is is having a camera there and making someone uncomfortable is - can be interesting too. When I'm really pressed about well, what's your favorite picture?

I mean, I don't really have a favorite picture. I mean, it's - what's so great about, you know, being so fortunate to have done, you know, this over so long period of time, is that you really begin to learn that, you know, you're in there for the long run, that it's about the body of work.

Well, no, it's actually pretty much chronologically and turning into sort of an interesting photograph. And I always think of it, I don't even think of it as a very good photograph. It was done - it's just becoming - and I think this is what's interesting if I can stand outside of the work is talk a little bit about the history involved. They were in the midst of you didn't know then planning the war.


NEWTON: Annie Leibovitz in her own words on some rarely seen work. "Annie Leibovitz: The Photographer's Life" runs until the first of February at London's National Portrait Gallery.

Now don't forget, we're online whenever you want us to be. Log on to to see show highlights, view our archive, take part in the quick vote, and read the blog. The address again

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.