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Examining the G-20 Summit and the Accompanying Protests

Aired April 18, 2009 - 04:30:00   ET


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, HOST: Hello and welcome to this special edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS in which we'll be looking back at the biggest media event of the year so far, the G-20 Summit and the accompanying demonstrations and protests.

In this program, we'll start by examining how three very different organizations prepared for the second. In the second part of the show, we'll be analyzing how events unfolded over the two days before speculating about the summit's winners and losers.


FIONNUALA SWEENEY: England's capital city and last minute plans for G-20 are being made. In the East, climate change protestors host a press day. In central London, ITN's news team planned their coverage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A bomber is in town. It is the real build up to the G-20.

SWEENEY: While in the West, the capital's daily evening paper prepares.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here, as part of the news desk setup, we're going to for the first time have a dedicated Twitter screen, which is going to be monitoring everything that comes through on the Twitter feed. So you really upstate live action as it happens.

SWEENEY: While it comes as no surprise that newspapers and television stations are well prepared for the summit, quite how media savvy the protest groups are is impressive. A day before the demonstrations, and they've invited members of the press to witness their preparations. Models are made and games are created.

RICHARD HOWLETT: Here, we've got a fantastic giant game of - well, mostly we think on snakes and ladders, we've turned into what we're calling planes and windmills. So with this game, you go up a windmill, and you fall down a runway. And so, an example of the way that you might fall down a runway would be, you know, your company's getting out as kind of reducing its emissions through carbon tradings. That's the key thing which we're going to be talking tomorrow.

SWEENEY: In a non hierarchical organization, there are of course no leaders. But the woman who appears to be in charge of the press strategy couldn't be better qualified.

By day, Isabelle Michel's a media and cultural studies lecturer.

ISABELLE MICHEL: What we try to do is to talk to as many people as possible to be able to explain what we're about. So talking to journalists like you is part of a wide range strategy that also includes producing our own media, such as this kind of newspaper, be part of the activist newswire in the media using mobile phones to update a website, using blogs that the idea is that we want to be part of a large social movement.

SWEENEY: She claims that the climate camp doesn't have specific media strategy, but their awareness gives them a definite advantage over protest groups.

MICHEL: If we have enough people coming tomorrow and to come together, take part in the workshops, start talking to each other, build a social movement, that's just as important as having a lot of front pages.

So there is not that - the media strategy is not what is driving the climate (INAUDIBLE). It's part of the climate camp because people read the media. The media's part of society. And therefore, we feel that it's important to engage in the dialogue with the media.

SWEENEY: We'll see more of the climate change group later in the program. But for now, we leave these colorful teams and head for a television studio in central London. I've been invited to sit in on ITN's pre G-20 planning meeting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 0800, the wives will leave 0840 for an 0900 at the Cancer Center. The press is 10.

SWEENEY: As the head of news gathering at ITN, the events of the next two days are of vital importance to Tim Singleton and the organization he works for.

TIM SINGLETON, ITN NEWS: We've got really a perfect storm of events tomorrow. We've got a visit to the U.K. by the president of the United States, which is always a huge thing. We've got 19 other world leaders in town, which usually the visit - one state vision is a big thing. We've got 19, 20 of them all on the same day. We've got protests again on any given day. Then and themselves would be a big enough story for us to cover.

So everything at the same time. And then of course, preparing for Thursday, which is the big meeting at the Excel (ph), which is a big technical preparation job. So it's a perfect storm.

SWEENEY: I ask him if violence will propel the protests of this program's running order.

SINGLETON: Well, violent protests will always make news. But obviously, it's not just a story if it's violent. A lot of people feel passionately about the issues behind this G-20 and want to hear their opinions heard.

There was a piece from March over the weekend, which covered and made our front end bulletins. So whatever happens with press reports in the strength of the normal news values.

SWEENEY: At "The Evening Standard," there's also a lot riding on how the next few days go. We're shown round the newsroom.

DAISY DUMAS, EVENING STANDARD: This is our news desk. This basically forms the center of the newsroom. This is where all the news comes into. All the breaking news and the news wires are constantly monitored by the news editor and his team.

This is what most of the activity will be going on tomorrow. And this team will be controlling in turn our specialists and reporters who sit all around here.

SWEENEY: Right, uh-huh.

DUMAS: Five of our reporters are going to be out covering all of the events of the day. And then they will be working with the team here, who are also going to be monitoring the wires and news that comes directly into the newsroom via the news editor. Together, they'll all bring the news back to the news editor and will go onto the pages. About 11:00, the first one goes out.

SWEENEY: There's increased pressure this time because a new editor started at the paper less than a month ago.

GEORDIE GREIG, EVENING STANDARD: The protests for the G-20 summit, the planning began about three weeks beforehand. We had a meeting of the political editor, the features editor, the news editor, the commentary editor. We got whole group together to decide how do we treat the gathering of the most powerful people on earth coming together in London? And this is the greatest gathering of powerful leaders since the 1946 in London. So there's a huge possibility of how do we project this story, what's the different things we have to think about in terms of security, in terms of the social dynamic, in terms of the political dynamic, in terms of the global difference that'll make from this visit to London. We are always ready for something which is completely not on our radar.

And that is just being the nature of being in journalism. That's the excitement of it. Half of you wants to think that all your preparations are going to be absolutely perfect. Half of you wants them all thrown out, something incredibly chaotic happens, and you have to gather that spontaneously. And with the difficulty but the excitement of immediate journalism.


SWEENEY: We'll hear more from staff at ITN and "The Evening Standard" later in the program. But after the break, we'll be looking at how events unfolded over the two days of protests and meetings.


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And this is the middle of the city of London. And today, it is in lockdown. I came here about an hour and a half, two hours ago, got stuck in the middle of the protests, which are sort of over that direction towards the Bank of England, which is where most of the protestors are thronged. There are thousands and thousands of people here.



SWEENEY: When a major (INAUDIBLE) event takes place in one of the world's most famous cities, it's bound to attract attention, welcome and unwelcome. For the media, an influx of world leaders and the attendant pressure groups present several challenges. The primary one being to identify the genuine stories when so many people are trying to promote their own causes.

In this part of the program, we look at how the events of those two days at the start of April unfolded.


SWEENEY: A capital divided. Protests taking place in the city. Masks (INAUDIBLE) for press outside the prime minister's front door. And in the east in an anonymous conference center, politicians gathered to do what they'd been elected to do. The day after the fight before, and Gordon Brown attempts to sum up what's been agreed at the summit.

GORDON BROWN, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: This is the day that the world came together to fight back against the global recession. Not with words, but with a plan for global recovery and for reform and with a clear time table for its delivery. And our message today is clear and certain. We believe that in this new global age, our prosperity is indivisible. We believe that global problems require global solutions. We believe that growth to be sustained must be shared and that trade must once again become an engine of growth.

SWEENEY: It was a momentous press conference, witnessed by reporters from at least 50 countries. More than 3,000 media personnel were at the center, which had played host to a number of events.

There had been photo calls, official and none of them impromptu. And some had (INAUDIBLE) of protests outside. The muted anger expressed was a far cry from the at times barely concealed fury exhibited by the protestors the day before.

CNN was of course on hand to witness it all.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm currently with one of four protest groups that are marching through London's financial district on their way to the Bank of England, which is the target of today's action. This is all part of the G-20 meltdown financial fool's day.

JIM BOULDEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Where we are is Bishops Gate. This is where the climate exchange, one of these sort of exchanges that companies use. And the climate people said that there were going to descend on here and have a climate camp. Let me show you what you're doing. They're setting up their tents. And they say that they are going to be here all day and spend the night, and then march off to the summit tomorrow morning.

ANDERSON: Yeah, I can hear you now. And this is the middle of the city of London. And today, it is in lockdown. I came here about an hour and a half, two hours ago, got stuck in the middle of the protests, which are sort of over that direction towards the Bank of England, which is where most of the protestors are thronged. There are thousands and thousands of people.

SWEENEY: And back in our office, our web team were also observing how this protest was different to those that had preceded it.

STEPHANIE BUSARI, CNN: They've been very organized, kind of using Facebook to sent out invites, to you know, get the highest number of protestors as possible. Twitter has the advantage of being in real time. And obviously, the benefits are huge for protestors trying to mobilize a massive amount of people at the same time. You send a short message to all your followers. And they all receive it in real time. You can update it.

SWEENEY: At the heart of the demonstration, the climate camp protestors we met in part 1 of the program.

ISABELLE MICHEL: We set up camps. And with the aide of bunting and bicycles, we blocked a large portion of Bishops Gate and set up camp just in front of the European Climate Exchange to highlight the fact that carbon trading is a completely flawed way of addressing climate change.

The mood was really, really joyful. There was a great sense of conviviality, of sharing, of learning from each other. And it was just being - it was just a great feeling of success of having done what we said we would do. And to show that committed genuinely well intended people can achieve great things when they come together.

SWEENEY: Many journalists claim the atmosphere was calmer than they had expected.

ALEX THOMSON: I absolutely thought what would happen was four demonstrations would come from the four points of the compass, converge in the square outside the Bank of England, and be held in there, and hemmed in there for much of the rest of the day. And that's pretty much what happened. I did expect that the crowd would be a lot more disposed to violence. I thought the anger out there for the banks, which is there and quite reasonably there, would be transmitted like the middle England streets of people in this demonstration.

But the crowd were very peaceful. I think 90 percent of the people that were intent on a peaceful day and had a peaceful day out.

SWEENEY: As he was reporting from the city, "The Evening Standard" was producing page after page of coverage. Outside Buckingham Palace, another meeting point. There was certainly an international feel to the media crowd.

DMITRI MELNIKOV: It's made news for today and activity for tomorrow. So we're making life every hour from here. And our colleagues are now at the meeting of Russian President with President Obama. So we're waiting for the latest news, the news update here. Yeah, sure it's big news. It's number one news today. And all media in Russia.

BIRGIT MAASS: Yeah, it's a very big event indeed. I think they're all here. They're all trying together as much information, background information as they can. And no, it's a very big event. I mean, Angela Merceles (ph) is a prominent player within the summit.

RAFAEL DE MIGUEL: We share the same interest as the rest of the world. I mean, we are in the middle of a big crisis. It is affecting very much to the Spanish people. We have a high level of unemployment. And we want answers from London.

SWEENEY: The Buckingham Palace fight was also one that had been identified by ITN as being of critical importance. But as world events unfolded on that early April day, its news agenda started to change as well.

MARY NIGHTINGALE, ITN: Well, were going to be doing the whole program from here, anchored from here and then throwing back to London for other news, but actually there's another huge story which has broken, which is a helicopter crash, a helicopter with 20 oil workers coming back to Aberdeen has gone down about 35 miles off the coast. So obviously, that's pretty significant. And so we're going to do the whole program from here and treat both stories with equal weight I think.

All of the leaders are going to be in Buckingham Palace having tea with the Queen. Mr. Bonno will have had a meeting with her beforehand. And I think we're going to see quite a lot of action here. But they've been rehearsing the out riders coming up and down the mall here, all the flags are out. I mean, it's, you know, it's a pretty exciting, pretty, you know, energetic vibe out here at the moment.


SWEENEY: And we'll keep the energy levels high in part 3 of the program as we look at the summit's winners and losers.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So that we are giving people the tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty. We will also support the United Nations and World Bank, as they coordinate the rapid assistance necessary to prevent humanitarian catastrophe. I have to say, though, that this is not just charity. These are all future markets for all countries and future drivers of world economic growth.




OBAMA: It's hard for 20 heads of state to bridge their differences. We've all got our own national policies. We all have our own assumptions, our own political cultures, but our citizens are all hurting. They all need us to come together.


SWEENEY: At the conclusion of any major event, it's nearly always possible to speculate as to who might have been the winners and the losers. On this occasion, the question that we're asking is who got their message across the best? The protestors or the politicians?

In this final part of the program, we'll be attempting to answer that question as we revisit the organizations we met earlier and ask them who shone at the summit?


SWEENEY (voice-over): U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the press at East London's Excel Center.

OBAMA: Because I believe that this is just the beginning.

SWEENEY: Protestors reflect on 48 hours in the spotlight.

MICHEL: It was a great success.

SWEENEY: And newsroom staff talked confidently of a job well done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We did really number on that.

SWEENEY: By now, the sights and sounds of London in early April are for many a dim and distant memory. Shortly after completing my stint outside Downing Street, I was sent to report on the tragedy unfolding in Italy.

We're disturbed by a number of aftershocks during the night. The last one being at about 6:30 this morning.

News doesn't really take a break, but G-20 and the events around it could have consequences that will be felt for a long, long time. At ITN, there was a feeling that they'd been part of something momentous.

JULIE ETCHINGHAM, ITN: There was one key element to the G-20, which I think does sort of get people's interests going. And that is the presence of Barack Obama. I mean, I think the sort of start dust that he is able to sprinkle at the moment, his political capital is so great, that actually it has an appeal beyond the politics because here is his extraordinary character with an extraordinary wife, who I think was equally eloquent actually in the time that she was here.

But really, sort of gave the whole of that summit a gloss and sort of razzmatazz that might have been there ordinarily. So I think even if you didn't feel terribly connected to the politics, the spectacle of Barack Obama arriving in the U.K. was pretty enticing.

Protest voices were heard very clearly, particularly the Climate Camp I think made their point that they're very mobile. They're very effective these days. And I think you got-it got plenty of coverage.

But I think given the jostling that had gone on beforehand or the politics, and the arguments about Brown isn't going to get his deal and Sarcozy's going to walk out and Anglo Maass was sticking to her redlines on fiscal stimulus. And you know, you've got the voices from China and India, too.

I think actually, there was a sort of moment of almost photographic unity if you like that the G-20 leaders were able to stand together and say we've made the sort of best that we could have, what we all had to bring to the table.

And I think that was quite striking, actually, by the end of the week.

SWEENEY: Her belief that everyone, including the press, the protestors and the politicians all had something to celebrate was echoed by "The Evening Standard's" deputy political editor.

PAUL WAUGH, "THE EVENING STANDARD": Well, the politics was very important. And obviously, that was always going to be the front page news, the big picture. But equally, the protests were causing quite a lot of disruption for ordinary Londoners that we got a huge city audience. They wanted to know not just what it meant for them in policy terms, but also on a practical level, could they get into work that day.

So we divided that up pretty effectively. We had a team of reporters on the ground covering the protests at worm level you might say. And equally, we had to make sure that the politics was the big picture.

Then again, you do have huge interest in the fashion side of things and on the wives and what they were wearing, and what was happening at Buckingham Palace. We do not normally have to ask number 10 about the details of Gordon Brown's wife's labels or what exactly the lining was on her skirt, but we had to do it this time.

Fortunately, our fashion editor was brilliant at putting a real, her own take on all of that and whether or not, you know, the big issue for them was would Michelle Obama go sleeveless or not when she met the Queen? And we did a really decent number on that.

Essentially, this was a big story for London, but a big story for Britain. It's about Britain's standing in the world, the fact that London still matters, that our prime minister still mattered, that you can corral 20 world leaders to come to our capital city to try and get a deal one something as enormous as global financial regulation and how to tackle a global recession.

SWEENEY: The people behind the climate camp were also content that they h have got their message across, happy that they seem to have developed a working relationship with the press.

MICHEL: We had, for instance, two crews from French TVs. We had Sky, the BBC came. And I think that all the journalists were generally inspired by the mood, first of all, by how well organized it was, and by how genuine people were on the camp. So yes, there was a lot interest.

SWEENEY: As the green campaigners dream of fresh sense to attract attention, politicians are reflecting on how best to exploit the optimism created by the summit. And media organizations, ourselves included, are congratulating themselves on a job well done.

It's a situation that will only exist until the three vastly different sets of people are brought together again.


SWEENEY: Don't forget if you want to see any part of the show again, stop by our website. You'll find us at While you're there, check out the archives and take part in the quick vote. Our address again

That's all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. I'm Fionnuala Sweeney. Thanks for joining us. We'll see you all again.