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Bush in Baghdad; Financial Reporting; Stories of the Year

Aired December 19, 2008 - 04:30:00   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, a surprise farewell tour for George W. Bush and an unwelcome gesture for the outgoing U.S. president from one Iraqi journalist. Reporting finance, we asked whether the media should be banned by laws restricting their reporting on money matters. And later, the issues, the people. We review some of the top news stories and the personalities of 2008.

It was intended to highlight progress in Iraq, but George W. Bush's surprise visit will be remembered for a very different reason. The U.S. president had to duck when shoes were hurled at him by an Iraqi television correspondent. The journalist also called Mr. Bush a dog. The outgoing commander in chief shrugged off the incident.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't feel the least bit threatened by it. The journalists here were very apologetic. They were, you know, they were - said that this doesn't represent the Iraqi people, but that's what happens in free societies where people try to draw attention to themselves.


SWEENEY: The correspondent was identified as Muktada al Zadee (ph). He works for al Baghdad Pia (ph) television, an Iraqi owned station based in Cairo. Muktada al Zadee's detention after the incident sparked protests across Iraq. So it's perhaps not the farewell George W. Bush was hoping for, but we want to look at his legacy when it comes to Iraq and Afghanistan.

For that, I'm joined from Paris by author and war correspondent Janine Di Giovanni. And here in the studio by Mina al Oraibi of the Al Sharq Al- Awsat newspaper.

First of all, Mina, when one compares these scenes with President Bush to Paul Bremer's announcement of the capture of Saddam Hussein, what runs through your mind about Iraqi journalism?

MINA AL ORAIBI, JOURNALIST, ASHARQ AL-AWSAT NEWSPAPER: Well, I mean, five years and so much has happened that at the same time, little has changed in terms of people have realized that they have this freedom of expression, which was granted the minute Saddam went. But still not knowing how he is responsibly and knowing that they're accountable for what they say, and this is true of journalists and sadly also politicians in Iraq. They're still not knowing how to channel it. But it is a sign of people learning that they can express themselves in ways that was unheard of or (INAUDIBLE) before 2003.

SWEENEY: Janine Di Giovanni, I'm wondering from your vantage point and having visited Iraq many times, how representative or otherwise this shoe protest was?

JANINE DI GIOVANNI, JOURNALIST, AUTHOR: We know that throwing a shoe in the Arab world is a highly insulting thing. I can't imagine that happening to another leader, another world leader. And I think that it just really demonstrates the opinion Iraqis have of Bush and what he did to their country.

I think if we even put aside the things that we know, the loss of life, the killing, the halting of the educational system, the economic meltdown, there's something greater that happened that Bush is going to leave with his legacy. And it really is the death of a kind of liberal democracy, which was a very, very powerful view that many Iraqis and indeed many people throughout the Middle East had and believed that perhaps America could bring. And as we've seen, it just did not happen.

AL ORAIBI: Well, I think that is a really crucial part of Bush's legacy, this idea that it was such a missed opportunity, because getting rid of Saddam Hussein did not necessarily mean seeing everything that happened in Iraq over the last five years, whether it's the rampant corruption in the country, whether the violence that took over.

However, five years later, we almost find Iraq at a position of where it was at the end of 2003. And that violence has calmed down. It's the lowest level now than it was five years ago. So it speaks. So perhaps this isn't a new chapter for Iraq that moving forward, and we have elections coming up. So-

SWEENEY: But let me ask you, you know, as an Iraqi, are you personally surprised by the protests or not?

AL ORAIBI: Not surprised that there are these feelings towards Bush, absolutely not. I mean, there are a lot of people in Iraq, and it's hard to say you know majority, minority. There's no real pull to show how Iraqis feel, but absolutely there are these strong feelings against George Bush for many reasons.

SWEENEY: Let me return to Paris, if I may, and Janine Di Giovanni. In terms of Bush at the end of his term, a president leaving office with as has been out, more security in Iraq than we've seen for some time. Does that bode well, do you believe, for Iraq's future?

DI GIOVANNI: Well, this is a really difficult question, because I think that there are certainly countries and societies that have managed to repair themselves after a catastrophic events. Cambodia or Vietnam. But I think what we can't ignore is the kind of generational resentment, anger, that will linger on as in say Bosnia. The war has been ended for 13 years, but what lingers afterward is the destruction of the society. And even if the violence has tapered down to a certain extent, I think you can't ignore that another thing, another legacy of Bush, is that the middle class was more or less marginalized completely. I think across the region, what you have now, is less and less liberal middle class. You have more let's say a moderate Hamas. And I think that people who were seen as moderates are more or less, they were finger pointed as America lovers.

So I think it's a very difficult situation, not just in Iraq, but across the region in Syria, in Cairo, in certainly in Palestine.


DI GIOVANNI: .and this is what, you know.

SWEENEY: .let's look at Afghanistan, if I may. I mean, in a week when the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announces that all British troops will be out of Iraq in 2009, how much of that is going to deflect from the security concerns that are very real in the country because attention might be diverted and focused on Afghanistan?

DI GIOVANNI: Well, Afghanistan is a completely different story. I think whereas I was in, you know, I spent quite a bit of time in both countries and in Iraq in the winter of 2003 leading up to the American invasion. There was a sense of people who were so deeply scarred by Saddam, that if there was a chance that America was going to bring "democracy," this could be a good thing.

Whereas in Afghanistan, even though there was the toppling of the Taliban, there was a sense that they did not want foreigners on their territory at all. It's a historic thing in Afghanistan. And I think that's why we've seen this incredible escalation and violence against British troops, American troops, NATO troops over the past two, two and a half years.

SWEENEY: If we can go back to Iraq for a moment Mina al-Oraibi, do you believe that the situation in the country is secure enough to withstand a deflection of attention towards perhaps other places like Afghanistan?

AL ORAIBI: It's more secure now than before, but it's very, very fragile. And everybody knows this. We have two sets of elections that are crucial, the provincial ones coming up in January and then the general elections towards the end of the year. And that could change things. You don't know. I mean, if this goes through peacefully, then hopefully, it's moving towards more stability and progress.

To deflect attention away from Iraq is detrimental, not only for Iraq, but the region also.

SWEENEY: But if I could interrupt you and say not only attention, governmental attention, but also media attention.


SWEENEY: What will a presumed withdrawal of troops or a low down reduction in troops owned by America and Britain do for international press coverage of the situation there?

AL ORAIBI: I mean, we've seen press coverage reduced already this year. Significantly in the U.K. unless it was related to British troops, or you know, specific stories of Britain's got interested in. So we've already seen that. But hopefully, if there is less press attention, that means that there isn't too much trouble happening there. So hopefully, no news is good news.

SWEENEY: Janine Di Giovanni, do you expect to be traveling back to Iraq any time soon?

DI GIOVANNI: Actually, I do hope to get there this winter. But I actually have to disagree with Mina's statement. I think when the press really needs to be there is when everyone pulls out. In my experience, that's when the stories really happen. And that's when we really need to have people there witnessing, recording events, documenting, filming, writing. It makes me very nervous when you have a country or a conflict where there aren't international press, because in a sense, that is when, you know, more abuse can happen, more corruption can happen. It's not that we're human rights monitors, but we do have some kind of influence that not as much can happen while we are there. Or if it happens, we're there to document it.

SWEENEY: On that note, I must leave it there, Janine Di Giovanni in Paris and Mina Al-Oraibi here in London.

Well, George W. Bush's presidency will also be remembered for issues closer to home, like the troubled economy. Of course, the financial crisis isn't restricted to the U.S. Some countries are now looking at where the lessons can be learned.

The U.K. is to consider whether reporters should be bound by controls in covering such events. The media and money, when we come back.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. It's been a turbulent year on the financial markets. And the global economy continues to feel the brunt of the credit crunch, a crisis that's seen money matters move from the business to the front pages. While the downturn continues to bite, the U.K. Treasury Committee is investigating the banking crisis in Britain and whether lessons can be learned from it.

Among other things, it will also look at the role of the media and financial stability, and whether financial journalists should operate under any form of reporting restrictions during banking crisis.

While that inquiry will concentrate on Britain, we wanted to delve a little deeper and see whether journalists should re-think how they report on money matters. I recently spoke to Philip Coggan, the capital markets editor with "The Economist" magazine and Jon Friedman, senior columnist with the media web section of "Marketwatch," a financial news website.

I began by asking John Friedman whether there's a similar debate taking place in the United States.


JON FRIEDMAN, SENIOR COLUMNIST, MARKETWATCH: Not really. Here, it's more open. And people are encouraged to report the stories as we see fit. And there are no restrictions being asked for among journalists here in the U.S.

SWEENEY: But this is something, of course, we touched on before in a previous segment of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, whether or not journalists have played a role in deepening the crisis.

FRIEDMAN: Yes, they have. And in fact, in the U.S., the "d' word "Depression" has been used so often and so recklessly, that here in New York especially, a lot of consumers and investors are very angry at the media these days because they feel the media made things worse than they already are.

SWEENEY: Philip Coggan, do journalists, do you believe, financial journalists have a responsibility to self censor for want of a better word in the interests of the wider interests of the state?

PHILIP COGGAN, CAPITAL MARKETS EDITOR, THE ECONOMIST: I don't think so in the wider interests of the state. I think they have an interest in terms of being accurate. My old boss is a man called Richard Lambert, now head of the Confederation of British Industry. And he always used to caution us against using words like "panic, crisis, crash," because they needed to be really justified. And indeed, the media overuses all these words. So that when we actually get to a real life crisis, they can seem stale because they've been over repeated.

But let's look back at this. No journalist 15, 16 months ago was predicting a crisis on anything like this scale. The - if I had written a column at the end of last year predicting that no investment banks would exist in their previous form by the end of 2009, or that stock markets around the world would virtually have halved, then I'd have been dismissed as a virtual lunatic.

SWEENEY: Jon Friedman in New York, I mean, there's not essentially the problem that journalists, financial journalists, are rarely, if ever, economists?

FRIEDMAN: Yeah, that's a good point. I think a lot of journalists here in the U.S. are very young in their beats. We have bloggers. We have all these commentators who really don't understand what happened during the crash of '87, for example, or the crisis of '91 and the Treasury crisis. So I think a lot of people don't understand the issues here and history of what went on, which makes it hard to understand what's happening now, too. It's a good point.

SWEENEY: But is there a belief or is there any justification in your mind, Jon Friedman, that financial journalists should perhaps, if not self censor, sort of be subject to some kind of awareness of the impact that their financial articles might have, perhaps more so than some general news reporters?

FRIEDMAN: Well, I think it's a really good point. I think a lot of times, we do things here probably more so in the U.S. than other places, and don't understand what's going to happen if we say these things and write these things, that people are going to panic because we say they should panic. And it's a very tough point. What you want to - get the news out quickly and print properly, yet not panic people. But we do that too much in this country for sure.

SWEENEY: Philip Coggan, when did you call it a crisis or have you?

COGGAN: Certainly we've been calling it crisis for quite some time. And it's not too surprising that we have been calling that because so much has happened. I mean.

SWEENEY: Did you collectively at "The Economist" have to take a decision about this?

COGGAN: I think we did come up with a - we were starting off calling it a credit squeeze, I think, some time in July August of 2007. And it became a credit crunch and then a crisis. I'd just like to add that if there is a responsibility in panics, there's also responsibility in booms. And journalists played a role probably in not exposing the fact that property prices had ridden too fast in this decade, and that.

SWEENEY: Don't you think?

COGGAN: .crisis has risen too fast in the late 1990s. So a lot of cheerleading goes on. And it happens not just on.

SWEENEY: You don't believe that there was a general awareness in the media, publicized in the media that house prices were rising?

COGGAN: Not in the U.S. media I don't think there was. The cynical U.K. media sometimes, but not as much in the U.S.

SWEENEY: Well, so if you look into your crystal ball for 2009, Jon Friedman, what are you thinking or what are you seeing?

FRIEDMAN: Still very bad. I mean, Obama has been saying that things are still pretty bad. And don't let miracle cure that fixes. So I think things in the States pretty bad for the next year until we see a reason to believe in the future.

SWEENEY: Philip Coggan and "The Economist" it stands to discuss what words to use in the next financial articles. What are you looking at?

COGGAN: Well, we're certainly looking at very deep recession for 2009 based on what we can see in the data, because if you look in the data, the surveys, the forward looking indicators like new orders, those are very bad.

But at some point in 2009, the economy and the markets will start to think about recovery. And recovery could come in 2010 or even late 2009. And that's the point that we can hope, we all hope we can reach next year.

SWEENEY: And let's see who starts writing about it, the journalists or the markets showing it. Jon Friedman in New York, Phil Coggan here in London, thank you both very much indeed.

The U.S. presidential election, climate change, and the Beijing Olympics, then there's Britney Spears and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. They all have a common link, believe it or not. And we'll tell you want it is when we come back.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. What do the following have in common? The U.S. presidential election, climate change, the Beijing Olympics, Madonna, Britney Spears, and Nicolas Sarkozy? Well, according to the Canadian based Influence Communication, they're amongst the top news stories and personalities of 2008. We'll take a look at the top personalities shortly, but first, the stories.

In at number 10 is terrorism in Pakistan. That's followed by the conflict in Georgia. Unrest in Tibet comes in at number 8. Then there's the fluctuating price of oil. Climate change was the sixth top story of 2008. The fifth biggest was the war in Afghanistan. The Beijing Olympics and issues surrounding the event came in at number 4.

The financial mortgage and credit crisis is the third top story. Second is the war in Iraq of which the majority of stories focused on political issues. And the top story of the year, Barack Obama's historic U.S. election victory last month.

More than a billion television items broadcast in 22 languages from 160 countries were reviewed. And it's worth noting that the survey ran until November 13th. And therefore, didn't include the Mumbai terror attacks.

Well, to discuss the findings, I'm joined from Montreal by Jean Francois Dumas, president of Influence Communication.

First of all, how does your organization actually manage to physically monitor something like 22 languages, a billion items broadcast in those languages, from 160 countries?

JEAN FRANCOIS DUMAS, PRESIDENT, INFLUENCE COMMUNICATION: As you can see, we're talking about a lot of coverage all around the world. We're gathering those news items on a daily basis in 160 countries, using our technology and also our work partners all around the world. And in that way, we're able to gather the transcripts, summaries, and of course, the feed from a lot of television networks in that case, because we're talking about television coverage all around the world in 160 countries.

SWEENEY: Well, if we look at the election of Barack Obama, on November 4th and 5th in 160 countries, that election made up nearly a quarter, 23 percent of all broadcast content. What does that tell us in terms of the influence of that election in those parts of the world in which you monitored the coverage?

DUMAS: First of all, I have to say clearly, it's the most covered news this year all around the world, not only in the U.S., but also in 160 countries. We're talking about a lot of amount of coverage devoted to that issue. But if we only consider the coverage devoted in the U.S., we're talking about almost four million minutes of air time during one 24 hours. But if we compare that to, as an example, the September 11, at this time, we were talking about 16 million minutes of air time only in 24 hours.


DUMAS: It represents 30 years of coverage.

SWEENEY: Right. And that, I mean, quite something. And in the U.S., the election made up something like 53 percent of broadcast content. I mean, you know.

DUMAS: Exactly.

SWEENEY: .living in Canada in North America, does that kind of figure surprise you? Or is it in your view just about right?

DUMAS: Of course, it represents a major event. But it's not the most unfortunate in our history. But clearly, it's one of the most covered news in the last years.

SWEENEY: Let's look at the top personalities and political personalities. And we'll start with the fifth most watched or monitored personality was Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France, followed by Hillary Clinton and now about to be U.S. Secretary of State. George W. Bush, the outgoing president was number three. John McCain, who lost out to Barack Obama in the election, number two. And of course, Barack Obama in a week in which he was named "TIME" magazine man of the year. He is in there at number one.

There doesn't seem to be any particular surprise to me at first glance in any of those figures or those personalities in the order in which they're ranked.

DUMAS: In that case, of course, the politic aspect of the coverage is very important. And because the presidential election, as you can see, the first four are American, of course, because the election. I think the most important surprise for us is the other category. I mean, the non political coverage, which is very, very important and surprising.

SWEENEY: Well, let me hold you right there if you don't mind, because we want to show that so, because that was really quite astonishing, the top five there. First of all, coming in at number five, the swimmer Olympian Michael Phelps, Britney Spears, number four, the Dalai Lama, number three, Madonna number two, Nicolas Sarkozy of France at number one. And 55 percent of all coverage on him was non political.

I mean, I think I know the answer, but how do you explain the fact that he's number one in the overall top personalities?

DUMAS: We are talking about people-ization phenomenon. We were - we are talking about in full culture. And I have to see, last year, Paris Hilton was the very first person in this category. So Nicolas Sarkozy this year is the new Paris Hilton.

SWEENEY: Because of?

DUMAS: In that case, because the glamour aspect of this individual, the coverage related to people-ization phenomenon is very important in this case. And it's - we don't have any comparison right now, compared to Nicolas Sarkozy. And I have to see by the mid year in June, the coverage of Nicolas Sarkozy's 75 percent of all this coverage was non political. But at the end of the year, we are talking about 55 percent of all this coverage.

SWEENEY: We must leave it on that note. We'll see who's there this time next year. Jean Francois Dumas in Montreal, thank you very much indeed.

And don't forget to check us out on the web. Log on to to see show highlights, view our archive, 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 Fionnuala Sweeney. Thanks for joining us.