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INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

White House Official Dismisses an Appeal by Iraq study Group to Adopt Findings as a Whole; Detectives Investigating Poisoning Death of Former Russian Spy

Aired December 8, 2006 - in14001208   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


STEPHEN FRASIER, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: The headlines from CNN. Iraqi and U.S. military officials giving different accounts of a deadly fight that took place early Friday north of Baghdad. The U.S. military says coalition forces killed 20 insurgents in separate security sweeps south of Samara.
During the raid, coalition forces called in an air strike. But local police say they have found the bodies of 17 people in the rubble of family homes -- bodies including women and children.

COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: A White House official dismissed an appeal by the Iraq study group to adopt its findings as a whole. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino says the president is considering several proposals for a change in strategy.

President Bush met with top Congressional leaders from both parties at the White House on Friday. Democratic leaders are pressuring Mr. Bush to change the course in Iraq soon.

FRASIER: Detectives investigating the poisoning death of a former Russian spy in London are hoping to question a key witness Andre Lugoboy. Interfax, the news agency, quoting unidentified medical sources, says Lugoboy is showing signs of radioactive contamination himself, but it's also quoting Lugoboy as saying his health is satisfactory. The former KGB agent met Alexander Litvinenko at the bar of a London hotel, along with an associate businessman Dmitry Kovtun, who is in fact at a Moscow hospital where he shows signs of being contaminated with polonium 210.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora lashing out at the leader of Hezbollah, escalating their war of words. He accuses Hassam Nasrallah of trying to stage a coup. A day earlier, Nasrallah's supporters camped out in Beirut that he will continue to lead the protests until the Siniora government is gone.

FRASIER: In the U.S. Congress, a House ethics panel says Congress did not break any specific rules in its handling of the scandal involving Republican Congressman Mark Foley. But the bipartisan panel did say congressional leaders failed to protect interns who were of high school age. The scandal involved a number of sexually explicit electronic messages sent by Foley to a former teenager, a male intern.

MCEDWARDS: And those are the latest headlines. I'm Colleen McEdwards.

FRASIER: I'm Steven Frasier. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, straight ahead.

FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Fionnuala Sweeney in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories of the moment.

This week, France's new satellite news channel launches in a blaze of light and headlines, but can they maintain independence from the state? We discuss this and the picture of the industry.

Protecting journalists in war zones, the United Nations gears up for its first ever resolution on the subject.

Plus, it's the violent ethic with all dialogue spoken in Mayan. As Mel Gibson's new film hits screens, we discuss the prospects for rebuilding his tarnished image in the media.

And we begin this week with the launch of France's new rolling news channel, which is pushing for market share in a rapidly changing industry. A pet project of President Jacques Chirac, France 24 began broadcasting this week after months of speculation and a decade of planning.

It took on greater importance in the run up to the 2003 war in Iraq, when Mr. Chirac complained of negative press coverage in the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACQUES CHIRAC, FRANCE PRESIDENT (through translator): It is important for a big country like France to have its own vision of the world, a broadcaster's vision, naturally in accordance with our traditions -- our idea of civilization of peace, of humanism, and globalization. It's, I think, what France 24 will express.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SWEENEY: The network will broadcast on two channels - one in French and the other in mainly English, reaching Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

Well, for more, I'm joined from Paris from Francois 24 executive, Jean-Yves Bonsergent. And in London, Sian Kevil, director of BBC World and Mohammed Chebaro, London bureau chief of al Arabiya.

Jean-Yves in Paris, you've just recently had your launch. What do you think you'll be able to bring to the plethora of TV channels already out there?

JEAN-YVES BONSERGENT, CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, FRANCE 24: Hello. Our aim is to cover international news with a French perspective. And we have tried to (INAUDIBLE) this French perspective with human value that will try to have in our editorial approach. And those value will be the diversity of the world, the debate of the confrontation, and also, the culture and the (INAUDIBLE) a la Francaise.

SWEENEY: So, for example, the day you launched, the Iraq study group report was released. A major story on every network. Let me ask you what did France 24 do differently to any of the other networks, for example?

BONSERGENT: What is important to do is not to be arrogant what news is. The fact is a fact first. So when we are making news and we know all of us that when we're making news we need first to see where the fact.

So we will do the fact. But after it will be through the analysis, it will be through the commands. It will be through the magnitude we get from different part of the world, the reaction of what is report is saying, that will make something very different from what the approach of the others.

SWEENEY: Sian, let me ask you, does France 24 provide you with any competition? How do you regard it?

SIAN KEVIL, DIRECTOR, BBC WORLD: I think any new player in the market is going to be competition. And I think fully speaking, I think the BBC welcomes it.

You know, all competition, I think, makes you raise your game.

SWEENEY: I bet everybody says they welcome competition, but do you find that you have to modify or maybe refocus certain aspects of your programming?

KEVIL: No, I think absolutely we think we've got a winning formula. Our audiences are rising. We are quite clear about what the BBC stands for. I think it's got a reputation of 70 years in the international market. I think we're quite confident that that formula's worked over 70 years, and will continue to work.

So yet, we'll look at it. We'll certainly see is they're doing something that we think is good. And we will look at whether that could be added in, or into the mix of what we do.

But I think broadly speaking, we're pretty certain we're a compass. We know where we're going.

SWEENEY: Let me put the same question to you, Mohammed Chebaro. Who do you regard in al Arabiya as your competition, presumably al Jazeera, the Arabic network?

MOHAMMED CHEBARO, LONDON BUREAU CHIEF, AL ARABIYA: Of course, I mean, like we have an Arabic speaking medium that for - I mean, an Arab speaking medium in the first hand is our competition. I mean, we'll wait for France 24 to launch its Arabic service, and then to see how far - how we can, you know, look at things. But also, we come from a tradition which is 15 years old. Al Arabiya is only three years old, but NBC is 15 years old, which is a group.

And we have been in the tradition of making news as well with Arab eyes. You know, looking at the world, international news and current affairs with Arab perspective and bringing in both, you know, the international world into - to the Arab world and Arab world to the international scene.

SWEENEY: There has been criticism, though, that your network is going to be influenced hugely by the government. It's seen by many as Jacques Chirac's baby. And the interviews given on its launch night were many by French politicians. How do you respond to that?

BONSERGENT: First of all, as you have seen maybe on the launch of France 24, Chirac was also there. But the point is true that we are a total independent company, private company belonging to two main shareholders, but it's (INAUDIBLE) the private company was bought on TV channel in France, and France Television. That is a public channel.

And all of them have just 50 percent of the share. So we are totally independent. And the management of France 24 is totally different out of any lobbies, any government, any political pressure.

SWEENEY: Sean Kevil, there's a saying that travel doesn't necessarily broaden the mind that really only hardens one's one prejudices to begin with. Is there a danger here that the viewer, particularly watching on broadband, will just go to the channel that particularly agrees with their views, or views with which there might be sympathetic or their perspective.

KEVIL: Actually, I think the audience doesn't seem to bear that out. I think that there will be some big players in the market. I think the BBC will be one of them, just because of the range of resources that we have around the world, which means that, you know, that they - we will be able to provide something that some of other niche channels won't.

But what audiences seem to do increasingly is that there's a - there's seems to be a growing demand for international news. And what they seem to be doing is often going to a number of stations and comparing.

So you know, CNN, BBC, we may be the staple diet for a lot of people. But you know, they may switch over and have a look at whether there's a different angle, or another aspect on that story. And it doesn't seem to necessarily mean that they watch us less. It just means that they will watch a few others in addition.

SWEENEY: But if we're all channel hopping, where does al Arabiya, for example, make itself distinctive? Why will the bureau want to stay with you?

CHEBARO: We always look at objectivity and being impartial. For example, for our Arabic speaking audience around the world, i.e. we made ourselves an address that after, you know, the dust settles, you come back to us. Like in the market everywhere, there is CNN, which is you know, hot on breaking news. But then you have perspective from the BBC, for example.

I'm not trying to, you know, drive a wedge here. But also, you know, you have al Jazeera. And then you have al Arabiya. And then, the audience are the master basically. They are the final people who have a say. And we have made the news in many market and according to many research that OK, after the dust settles, we go back and get the exact, you know, recipe of what really or the doors of what happen today.

SWEENEY: In a playground where there are so many players, is there actually time for managers to sit back and gain perspective on what they're doing and what the competition is doing?

KEVIL: I think if you don't, you're going to end up being potentially a bit lost.

SWEENEY: I think you have time to look into the future and see if - you know, the multi platform mediums.

KEVIL: Well, I was about to say, I mean, I think you don't step back and, you know, see what's going on, you know, even you know, Google linking up the sky, you know, Google doing other things with Youtube.

You know, you have to be aware of what's going on out there and seeing how it applies. And certainly, I think all the major news providers now are moving into, you know, video on demand into the web area. And you know, that is, you know, obviously going to be part of the future.

I still think that there will be a place and quite a big place for the newer channels, but part of the future is going to be obviously creating concept people can get at other times when it suits them in the way that they want.

And I think if you don't step back and have a look at what's going on, I think you'll lose.

CHEBARO: I think there's new content coming into the market. We're not only the news gatherers any more when the audience themselves are playing that role as well. I think the market is moving so fast, I think, you know, it's very difficult to digest it for any manager.

SWEENEY: All right, we'll have to leave it there. Jean-Yves Bonsergent, thanks very much indeed for joining us from Paris. Sian Kevil of the BBC and Mohammed Chebaro of al Arabiya.

Well, up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, protection in war zones, an unprecedented measure of the United Nations to safeguard journalists. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SWEENEY: Welcome back. In this year alone, at least 75 journalists have been killed in conflict zones despite increased safety measures. Now in a bid to protect war correspondents and their professional independence, the United Nations Security Council is set to adopt a resolution condemning attacks and urging combatants to protect the press. It's the first ever resolution of its kind.

And to discuss this further, I'm joined by U.N. Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, and from Baghdad by CNN international correspondent Nic Robertson.

Jan Egeland, first of all, tell me how this draft resolution came about and whether or not it's likely to be adopted?

JAN EGELAND, U.N. UNDERSECRETARY FOR HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS: It's a hugely important resolution that France is putting forward, backed by all of the Europeans at the Security Council.

The whole point is that we are seeing that journalists, along with aide workers and other unarmed civilians in conflict zones are being targeted.

We are being more and more targeted. For us to see that the journalists who are there to tell the truth about what is happening with the civilian population are themselves becoming targets just shows how terrible modern conflict has become.

SWEENEY: Nic Robertson in Baghdad, you have found yourself in many a dangerous hot spot, including where you are right now. Can any United Nations resolution actually have any impact whatsoever on the ground?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it can certainly have some impact. It would difficult to imagine how it could control the environment here in Iraq, where journalists are really at the mercy of insurgents and militias who are targeting them, because they believe that they're spreading a sectarian message or a political message that they disagree with. This is something really new where journalists are being the target or whether it's just criminal gangs abducting people because they thing they can extort money from their companies. So it's difficult to see how it would control that.

But I think in the overall big picture, it is somewhat of a reassurance to know that after a conflict is over, people could be prosecuted for allowing their armed groups to target journalists intentionally.

We are here as an independent witness and observer to what - to what's happening. And in the past in conflicts, we've been treated that way. It's a changing environment, Fionnuala.

SWEENEY: A changing environment, Jan Egeland, so has this resolution been prompted by safety for journalists because of what the changing nature of conflict as much as it is by lofty ideals of independence and being there as a witness to events?

EGELAND: I think everybody sees that the way it's going now, it's going in the right - in the wrong direction. And important is - of the resolution is that it calls upon states to investigate all of these killings and abductions of journalists.

It calls for the perpetrators to be punished. And they can be punished after the conflict, during the conflict, any time in the future. And it would hopefully lead to some of these warlords, military leaders, dictators, generals, government leaders to think twice before they ask for targeted killing of this radio journalist or that person.

Nearly all of them are killed because of what they said, how they told the truth. Very few of them actually are killed in the crossfire or as collateral damage.

SWEENEY: There's a huge distinction, though, to be made from reporting from Darfur and perhaps reporting from another area like Russia, for example. Do you see this resolution having more impact and taking effect in some places, rather than others?

EGELAND: Well, the problem is precisely what Nic Robertson said. In those areas where there are all sorts of bands, militias, with very little unity of command, we have less control with really what is happening. In those countries where there is a leadership that can be - held accountable, it's easier.

Still, I think, this is a resolution which is a step in the right direction. More than 500 journalists have been killed since 1992. And many more in the last two, three years than at any other previous period, including 90 in Iraq since 2003.

SWEENEY: Nic Robertson, you're in Baghdad now obviously, but you have traveled with Jan Egeland recently in Darfur, where yourself and your crew became involved in a skirmish not by bandits, or local militia, or government soldiers, but by refugees. Doesn't that highlight the problem of being a journalist in a war zone anyway that it can be - one can be an arbitrary target rather than targeted by a band or a militia because of what you've said or what you're worth?

ROBERTSON: Well, and I think that it also highlights what can happen to NGOs and the U.N. workers themselves, where a crowd, because they've been - they're angry about a situation or an environment, that they turn on the people who are actually there to report on it, and to inform the world about it.

And that does highlight one aspect, where journalists are there as witness and get caught up in the violence and associated with the targets of - in that particular violence.

But a resolution that would lay down international boundaries for what's right and what's wrong in this environment for journalists could go a long way, however difficult it is, to protect the people here in Iraq, for example.

There are 155 people - journalists and people who work with them, drivers and translators, who have died in the past 3.5 years or so of violence here, according to an Iraqi study group. They - these people are trying to do a job, that is to inform Iraqis about the situation of their country.

Whatever can be done to make their life safer, it is the Iraqis here. And it is the Algerians in Algeria and the Russians in Russia and many kind of Philippines - Filipinos in the Philippines. It is the local journalists who bear the brunt of the attacks. The international reporters often targeted for kidnapping maybe, but it is the local reporters who mostly seem to get caught up in the violence, because they're easy and soft targets.

A journalist was killed here just last week working for a radio station, an independent radio station in Baghdad. He was an easy shot, an easy kill. Whatever can be done to protect these people, these local journalists, is going - is worthwhile and necessary, Fionnuala.

SWEENEY: Jan Egeland, I mean, Iraq aside, do you think that there is an increasing trend in terms of danger to journalists in the last few years that is different from previous years?

EGELAND: I'm not in doubt about that at all. I think the independent voices and the independent eyes and ears are being targeted.

In Darfur, both aide workers and journalists are now meeting extreme obstacles of traveling, of seeing, of reporting. In Colombia, Latin America, we've seen the same problem many places. We've seen Anapolitovskya, who was killed because of her reporting, it seems, on Chechnya.

There is a trend that people do not want the truth to be told. And it is indeed the local reporters, the local aide workers who are the real heroes in this story, because they are putting their life at stake more and more. And we need to defend them.

SWEENEY: Nic Robertson in Baghdad, Jan Egeland in New York, thank you both very much indeed for joining us.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, a blockbuster or a bomb? Can "Apocalypto" save Mel Gibson's reputation in Hollywood? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SWEENEY: Welcome back. In the full glare of the world's media, Mel Gibson is attempting to salvage his reputation with this weekend's release of his latest epic, "Apocalypto."

The film is violent with all dialogue in the Mayan language. And it's already received some great reviews, while the film's release draws outrage over anti-Semitic remarks Gibson made when he was arrested for drunk driving.

Can the film be judged on its merits alone? And can Gibson repair his image? To discuss this further, I'm joined from Los Angeles by Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman.

How important is this movie for Mel Gibson?

HOWARD BRAGMAN, HOLLYWOOD PUBLICIST: It's huge for Mel Gibson. You know, it takes you about one day or one evening in Mel's case to dig a very deep hole. And it can take you literally years to get out of this hole.

And this is really his first step out. And I think it's important to remind people that Mel Gibson is not known for his antics on Pacific Coast Highway. But he's really a filmmaker, and actually a respected filmmaker.

SWEENEY: How does somebody in Hollywood, as big a star as Mel Gibson is, try to rebuild his image when something has happened last summer it took place?

BRAGMAN: Well, first of all, you do your apologies, which I have to confess, I don't think he did a very good job of apologizing. I don't know how much you saw over there, but his apology, first of all, didn't go deep enough. He looked nervous. He looked scared. And he never really acknowledged the roots of his anti-Semitism that he grew up in a home with his father, who was as Holocaust denier. He never really had a cathartic moment and owned up to it. So I don't think it was a good apology.

But what you want to advise your clients to do is go back to their base, go back to what they're known for, which is making movies. And I think the good news for Mel Gibson is he will be judged on this movie, whether it's a good film or a bad film, it will remind people that he's a filmmaker, and not just a bad driver.

SWEENEY: It seems to be pretty standard practice now, though, for somebody when they're make a faux pas, for want of a better word, to A, apologize; B, if necessary, go into rehab and be extremely contrite, stay silent for a little while, and then try and hope that the media image is rebuilt. Does it always work? And why doesn't it always work?

BRAGMAN: No. It - because you have to apologize correctly, number one. You have to apologize at the right time. I think Mel apologized far too many times, in fact. He apologized too soon. And it wasn't complete enough.

I think they've called 2006 the year of the apology. And the one person I look to was Danny Devito. I'm not sure how much attention it got in your country, but he went on "The View," and reportedly he was drunk, which is Barbara Walter's show here. And he handled the apology beautifully, because he called Barbara Walters, and he apologized one on one. And end of event, and he goes on with his career.

SWEENEY: Finally, a question, though. You mentioned Danny Devito. He has the same publicist as George Clooney. We assume he's allegedly been out drinking the night before that particular program. The role of the publicist - what makes.

BRAGMAN: Ann was his publicist. A good publicist is a smart publicist. A good publicist is strong enough to tell his client what's right and what's wrong. And he's not afraid of his client. And you - the best publicists have a plan and a strategy. And you have to say here's what we're at, here's where we want to go, and here's the plan to get there.

And to succeed, you need a client who's going to go along with that plan.

SWEENEY: All right, thank you very much indeed for joining us from L.A., Howard Bragman.

And that is all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. 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.

END

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