Return to Transcripts main page


Should Journalists Use Twitter?; Power of Imagery; MI-5 Spied on Lee Miller

Aired March 21, 2009 - 13:00:00   ET


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, HOST: In print, on air, and on the web, this is INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS on CNN. Hello, I'm Fionnuala Sweeney.

Coming up, to Tweet or not to Tweet. Should journalists be using the social networking service Twitter? Spied on by MI-5, why the glamorous war photographer Lee Miller was under surveillance by Britain's secret service. Trapped in Gaza, an award winning Israeli animator releases a film about the plight of Palestinians. And the power of imagery. When is news not really news? An artist's view on perception in the media.

First though, we begin with the issue of Tweeting on Twitter. And the new lingo which comes with the social networking service. Much is being written about Twitter etiquette or Twittiquette, but how does it apply to journalism and news gathering? Should journalists be using it? And what are the rules?


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, HOST (voice-over): From the terror attacks in Mumbai, to the emergency landing on New York's Hudson River, to royal ceremonies, these news events have all made an appearance on Twitter.

MARIK JONES, : Mumbai possibly the first time it really hit the sort of mainstream media consciousness. And I think it worked quite well. You know, people were able to get an inkling about what was going on.

SWEENEY: As reporters struggled to access information, citizen journalists, including most caught up in the attack, filed a constant stream of reports from the scene. Twitter is also a launch pad for images.

JONES: One of the first pictures to the captured of the downed airplane was sent to, I think, Twit pick. And the photographer became quite famous as a result. And that was probably the second landmark event for Twitter or Twitter like entities. More importantly, people could find it easily because that's one of the features of social media.

SWEENEY: The first fundamental thing about Twitter is that anybody can use it, as this how to video on Twitter's own website shows.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks to Twitter, it's possible to share short, bite sized updates about your life and follow the updates of people that matter to you via the web.

SWEENEY: "The New York Times" calls Twitter one of the fastest growing phenomena on the Internet. "Newsweek" notes that all the world's a Twitter. Britain's Sky News has even appointed its first ever official Twitter correspondent. Sky's Julian March was largely behind the creation of the role.

JULIAN MARCH, SKY NEWS: Twitter is almost like a radar, if you like, on some of the kind of hot topics bubbling up and becoming potential news stories. We see Twitter as a - potentially a really powerful tool, just like the other hugely growing number of users out there. I mean, it's six million and counting. We've seen the potential. Lots of other news organizations have seen the potential. We've broken news on Sky News TV and online with Mark Armstrong's bike getting stolen, because he himself told all his Twitter followers on Twitter that it had happened. And we were there. We were listening. In news terms, we use it as a cool tool for news gathering. News is broken on Twitter. There are eyewitnesses say what they've seen in Twitter first before it hits the wires.

SWEENEY: March rejects claims that Twitter and other social networking sites will replace traditional journalism, saying it complements news coverage.

MARCH: For example, at the recent German shootings in Winnenden, we had a producer and a reporter out there covering the story in a more traditional manner for us both online and on TV. But at the same time, they were finding Tweets on Twitter, which again, we were pulling in. And that just gave a kind of, you know, just an extra texture to our coverage.

It's absolutely going too far to say that Twitter is the be all and end all and the lost key to future journalism. You know, it is just a tool, but it's another, you know, kind forum, you know, where you can hear potential voices.

SWEENEY: As well as tapping into the Tweets of others, the media is using Twitter to draw in audiences. At its London headquarters, Reuters host a seminar by Hector Sams, head of the U.K.'s Financial Services Authority.

JONES: I was sitting there with my laptop monitoring questions coming in from the web in two folds. One via Twitter where we set a particular tag and ask people to use their Twitter accounts to ask questions.

SWEENEY: Jones then passes on a select few inquiries to the news maker.

JONES: Rob asks what is wrong putting regulation back where it belongs in the lap of the Bank of England. And Tia asks this was caused by global problems. When are European if not global regulators going to merge?

The quality of the questions was very, very high. These are people who are genuinely engaging with what (INAUDIBLE), picking up on problems, and raising further issues about what he was saying. So it's very, very interactive. They're watching the fall of the speech on television or on the web by stream video. And then they're able to respond and ask for the questions.

I mean, someone like me in the audience that have a channel to put those questions directly to the speech maker, which is quite new.

SWEENEY: Reuters has a huge response when it fielded questions for the British opposition leader.

JONES: David Cameron was only able to answer a handful of questions from Twitter. And David chose to respond to some of the questions again, using his own Youtube channel.

DAVID CAMERON: Visas won't be renewed under your proposed immigration policies.

JONES: So that's a good example of how a leading politician is seeing value in making sure that probing questions from engaged citizens on the web get answered or at least some of them.

SWEENEY: Cameron's not the only politician embracing the technology. Even U.S. President Barack Obama is using Twitter, letting us know what he's doing and thinking.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I Barack Hussein Obama do solemnly swear...

SWEENEY: His inauguration was followed on Twitter, and according to the site Twitterholic, President Obama has more followers than any other Twitter user. Celebrities and businessmen too are Tweeting, including Britney Spears, P. Diddy, Richard Branson, and Yoko Ono.

Twitter is just one arm of a whole range of new communication technologies. Take Facebook, blogs, and podcasts, for example. But what checks and balances are in place to ensure accuracy?

MARCH: You should always be checking your sources, whether it be on the wires or a rumor or a contact, you know, is - this is just basically journalism. You know, just because it's Twitter doesn't mean it's gospel. And no matter what platform you're looking at, whether it's TV, you know, newspapers, or the web space, you know, the Twitter universe, you know, you can still liable people.

SWEENEY: Both Jones and March say there are pitfalls for journalists using Tweets or Tweeting themselves, but used sensibly, it's beneficial. The main advantage being that it offers a voice often to those who wouldn't be heard. You just need to learn the Twitterquette.


SWEENEY: Up next, the socialite war photographer spied on by MI-5. We speak to Lee Miller's son about the revelations and his work as the curator of her vast photojournalism archive.


SWEENEY: Last month, we brought you the story of the British Army photographer John Bevin, who captured the lives of soldiers on the front line in Afghanistan. This month, another famous war snapper, the glamorous Lee Miller, is in the news. Secret files just released reveal that the American model turned photographer was investigated by the British intelligence service MI-5 on suspicion of spying for Russia. You may find some images in this report disturbing.


SWEENEY (voice-over): Lee Miller had many lives. She was a model, muse, fashion icon, gourmet cook, and most famously, a war photojournalist. She was also investigated by Britain's domestic security service MI-5 after someone wrote a note claiming that Miller was a Communist.

That's according to intelligence documents just made available to the British National Archives.

ANTONY PENROSE, LEE MILLER'S SON: This is the MI-5 dossier. Lee has come to the attention of the MI-5 people because it says here a friend on the staff of "Vogue" magazine tells me Lee Miller, who is the photographer for that magazine, is a strong Communist. And why this person should have seen fit to denounced Lee, I can't really understand except that, of course, coming in from as an outsider as she did to "Vogue" at that moment may have incurred jealousies among some of the existing people there. And perhaps that's the answer to it or perhaps they would rather a zealous sort of person who was hunting aliens and enemies.

SWEENEY: MI-5 ultimately decided that while Miller may have had an eclectic group of friends and colleagues, she was not a security threat. Antony Penrose is Lee Miller's son and the lead curator of her photographic archives. Stored here at Farley Farm in the south of England.

This is Lee's former home. And it's where she and her husband, British artist Roland Penrose, were under British surveillance back in the 1940s and '50s when Cold War suspicions were fervent.

PENROSE: It's rather striking to think that there may be people lurking in bushes outside in the bushes outside in the garden watching over her. But I - the only thing that I recall was that on a couple of occasions, a very polite uniformed policeman arrived and asked questions as to who was staying in the house. And it didn't bother my parents at all. They knew they had nothing to hide.

I don't think it had any influence on Lee's career at all. It can't have done, because she was allowed to become a war correspondent for the U.S. Army. She was given full security clearance to go into all kinds of places. And she wouldn't have been given that if she had been suspected by special branch of being a spy.

This house now is a museum of Lee Miller's and Robin Penrose's work.

SWEENEY: Growing up, Penrose says he barely knew his mother. He certainly had no idea of the extent of her contribution to journalism, particularly her efforts during World War II.

PENROSE: I was astonished when my late wife Susanna went into the attic of this house and found these huge parts of cardboard boxes. And they contained her negatives and her photographs and her manuscripts and her letters and army movement orders and all that kind of thing.

SWEENEY: It wasn't until after her death in 1977 that Penrose's late wife Susanna searched the attic and found a manuscript and boxes and boxes of photographs.

PENROSE: There's something like 60,000 negatives in the collection. Fortunately, most of them were from the Roloflex, so they're nice big negatives which are easy to work with. And we keep them in here all very carefully filed and catalogued in a controlled environment.

This is the liberation of book and (INAUDIBLE) and you can see there are really horrific images here. She's looking very closely into the faces of the dead and the dying to see if maybe any of them are missing friends.

It's hard to imagine these images being published in "Vogue," but many of them were, particularly in the American edition. Later, we come to liberation of Dachau, which was just outside of Munich. And that was literally only a few moments away from when she entered Munich on its day of liberation or its day of capture.

SWEENEY: It was just after the unshackling of Dachau that this picture was taken, the famous image of Lee Miller bathing in Hitler's tub.

PENROSE: Her often drawn straight away to the combat boots put on the bath mat. And there is something wonderfully incongruous about them, but also something deeply moving, because the morning of the day in which Lee is photographed in the tub, those boots carried her around the concentration camp of Dachau. And right now, she's stamping the source of Dachau into Hitler's nice clean bath mat. And so, she is sitting in that tub, not as a guest in his house, but as a victor. She's exacting an act of revenge.

SWEENEY: Later, the horrifying scenes of war haunted Miller and had harsh effects on her health. She did little to promote her talents. So it's been up to Penrose to preserve and promote her work.

PENROSE: Lee's contribution to journalism was unique. There were other women war photographers, but there were very few who were with the infantry. And I think she was the only one that made it as a combat photographer. She blazed a trail for the many other really extraordinarily gifted women correspondents and photographers there have been since.


SWEENEY: Still to come, drawing a war. Why an Israeli animator is under fire for his film on Gaza.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. You're watching INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Cornered, marginalized, and living in fear. This is how an Israeli filmmaker is portraying the plight of Palestinians in Gaza, much to the disgust of some.

CNN's Ben Wedeman spoke to film animator Yoni Goodman and his critics.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The cartoon starts off simply, a bird and a boy. But he's in Gaza trapped. This 90 second animation called "Closed Zone" is available on the Internet and was produced by Geesha, an independent Israeli group advocating Palestinian freedom of movement.

The animator Yanni Goodman also worked on the award winning film, "Waltz with Basheer" about the recollections of a veteran Israel's 1982 nation of Lebanon. "Waltz with Basheer" took a very Israeli view of that invasion and the subsequent massacre of Palestinians in this (INAUDIBLE) refugee camp in Beirut.

This latest animation tried to look at Gaza's predicament from the perspective of a Palestinian civilian.

YONI GOODMAN: This general tendency to (INAUDIBLE) Palestinians as, you know, Hamas supporters. And I don't think that - I hope so. And I think they're just normal people that just want to live their life. And sometimes we tend to forget that because of the war, because of terrorist attacks, because the bombings. It's very easy to forget and say let's get back at them. They voted for the Hamas. And I think we have to think of better solutions.

WEDEMAN: Israel controls Gaza's coastal waters airspace and all but a small strip in Gaz and Egypt. And as the animation shows, Egypt's hands are no more merciful than Israel's.

The animation, however, has come under a barrage of criticism for being one sided, downplaying the impact years of militant rocket fire has had on the civilian population of southern Israel.

Israeli media professor Yariv Ben Eliezer is finding it hard to keep his criticism down.

YARIV BEN ELIEZER: I respect his right to say what he wants, but you have to respect my right to vomit on his creation. This guy doesn't serve his own people. He's very eager to serve his enemy. Fine with me. Let them use it as a piece of propaganda. And let the guy get the reward from Ahmadinijad for being a Jew hater.

WEDEMAN: Sari Bash brushes off such criticism.

SARI BASHI: The film was not naive. And we clearly show Kassam rockets being fired from Gaza. But we also show that Israel's response both in terms of the military operation and also in terms of the closure does not stop the Kassam rockets, and it only punishes people who are uninvolved.

Israel's policy towards Gaza is a policy of collective punishment in response to illegal rocket fire by militants on (INAUDIBLE), Israel punishes civilians in Gaza.

WEDEMAN: For Yoni Goodman, the profound bitterness that divides Israelis and Palestinians imprisons both people, just like the bird at the end of this clip.

GOODMAN: At the end, I think we all in a cage in a sense. There's no real freedom from this situation, not for us and not for them. This whole situation, it's like a huge block and we have to find a way together to, you know, just stretch free of the situation.

WEDEMAN (on camera): Cartoonists do seem unlikely candidates to find a way out of this situation, as he puts it, but then again, the politicians, the diplomats, and the generals have clearly failed so far. So why not give the artists a chance?


SWEENEY: Today's media consumers are supposedly more savvy than ever. So how do you view the news? And do you believe everything you see? A new exhibition aims to challenge the way images are presented and interpreted. U.S. artist Sean Snyder is behind the show at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts.

Max Foster went along and spoke to the ICA's director of exhibitions, Mark Sladin.


MAX FOSTER: Mark, lots of artists have tried to interpret what's going on in the media, particularly the news media. It's always an incredibly different whole thing to do, isn't it, particularly to put into an exhibition. How do you try to do it here? How do you try to convey those ideas that the artists have?

MARK SLADIN, INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ARTS: Well, this is an exhibition by Sean Snyder. And that subtext of the news media is really at the heart of what he does. But this isn't an exhibition of kind of paintings or sculpture. It's an exhibition where he uses that raw material of the news and the information circulating in our society, analyzes it, presents it, makes you think about how you receive and interpret that information.

FOSTER: So your visitors come in. And first of all, they see this big block of pictures, which is raw material, right? This is the sort of imagery that he's worked with, and he's looked at, and (INAUDIBLE).

SLADIN: Well, you the subject, research it, troll the Internet, find material. And then he's using this documentary material, reassembling it, reinterpreting it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the near future, photojournalists may no longer be necessary. Participants bystanders and spectators, live for recording events will pass on images to agencies for editing purposes.

SLADIN: This film is called "Casio Soko (ph) (INAUDIBLE) to Mars." And I think that title gives you the hint that this piece, it's not only about the recent invasions, American led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. It's also about the corporate involvement in those areas. And the way corporations play their role in essentially colonizing conflict zones. So this piece, it's a very complex piece. I think it's incredibly strong piece. It talks about a number of things. It talks about journalistic conventions and how they're changing with the proliferation of information technology.

It also talks about how amateurs are becoming journalists, and how soldiers, for instance, are kind of downloading images from these complex (INAUDIBLE). And these are now readily available.

FOSTER: Here's the crucial question, though. For people that are watching this program, and who watch news programs, how do you think they would interpret news programs having been to this exhibition?

SLADIN: It really makes you think about how you receive information, how you receive news. It makes you question more the basis of both stories that you're given.

FOSTER: So effectively, you're getting some information, but it's not all the information?

SLADIN: Completely. I think one of the things that Snyder is trying to do is to make you realize the multiple perspectives from which things can be seen. And the way information is always being manipulated. Nothing that you're given is presented to you straight.


SWEENEY: CNN's Matt Foster with that report.

We end this month's show with a tribute to the broadcasting pioneer Paul Harvey, who has died at the age of 90.


PAUL HARVEY: Hello, Americans. This is Paul Harvey. Stand by for news. Paul Harvey News.


SWEENEY: The news commentator and radio talk show host quirky star made him one of America's most familiar voices. Harvey was best known for his show, "The Rest of the Story" on ABC and his old fashioned outlook on life.

Don't forget, if you want to see any part of our show again, log on to our website. You'll find us at cnn.correspondents. And while you're there, check out the archive and take part in the quick vote. Our address again

That's all for this edition of the program. I'm Fionnuala Sweeney in London. Thanks for joining us. We'll see you next time.