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Press Freedom in China; Turkish Government`s Relationship with the Media; Green and the Media

Aired August 10, 2007 - 14:30:00   ET


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.
This week, the final sprint to the start of the Olympic Games. China faces criticism on its commitment to press freedom. Turkey`s new parliament is sworn in. We assess the country`s media landscape. And thinking outside the box - the push for media outlets to go green in their operations and programs.

We begin this week in China, a country now in the final countdown to the 2008 Olympic Games. The world`s attention turned to Tiananmen Square, as a glittering ceremony was held to mark exactly one year until competition begins.

(INAUDIBLE) separations are regarded as the most intensive (INAUDIBLE) for any games in Olympic history, as it continues to face criticism on issues such as pollution, food safety, human rights, and press freedom.

Concerns prompted a protest by journalists group Reporters Without Borders at the headquarters of the Beijing Olympic Planning Committee. Protestors unfurled posters depicting the Olympic rings made from handcuffs. The group says China continues to restrict press freedoms, despite pledges to liberalize during its bid to stage the games.


VINCENT BROSSEL, REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS: We are not against the games. We are supporting the idea that the games must be free, fair, and a good opportunity to improve the human rights situation in China.


SWEENEY: Despite the criticism, Olympic organizers say regulations introduced at the start of the year to ease reporting restrictions for foreign journalists had been well received.


JIANA XINOYU, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, BOCOG: We welcome more constructive criticism on faults and problems of our work from the media.


SWEENEY: The concerns of the Paris based Reporters Without Borders are echoed by the Committee to Protect Journalists. It says China`s poor press freedom landscape could hinder visiting reporters and could also have a lasting negative effect on local journalists once the international spotlight has faded.

The group is also calling for the release of 29 Chinese journalists jailed for divulging state secrets.

Well, to discuss this further, I`m joined from Beijing by Bob Deitz, the Asia program coordinator with the CPJ. And here in the studio is Simon Long, the Asia editor with "The Economist."

Bob Deitz, your experience being in Beijing at the moment following this great launch for a year countdown to the Olympics. Any sense that press freedoms on the street are any different to what they might have been before?

BOB DEITZ, COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS: No, I don`t think there`s been any significant change at all, Fionnuala. For foreign journalists, some restrictions have been lifted. But in fact, they hadn`t been applied to journalists for a long time. There were restrictions on freedom to travel throughout the country and interviewing people. Those restrictions were listed in January. But really, they have been largely ignored.

And as for local Chinese journalists, I think we`re continuing to see the same amount of pressure, and actually more pressure, coming on them that we`ve seen from the government of Hu Jin Tao since they came to power several years ago.

SWEENEY: What kind of pressures on local Chinese journalists?

DEITZ: Well, the obvious pressure is jailing. But most of the pressure that people face here is much more subtle than that. There is an increasing elaborate apparatus for censorship that works from the top down.

Even though we`ve seen an increase in media outlets in China, there`s been a lot more newspapers, magazines, publications, online publications. The apparatus and the censorship, which has been flowing from the central government, still goes - comes down to the local level. And people aren`t really free to report.

Most reporters in China think of - have come up with a sort of moral compass, knowing how far they can go on stories. And if they don`t fold into the range, then their editors certainly will.

SWEENEY: Simon Long here in London, let me ask you. In the run up to the Olympics, have you noticed any discernable change in press freedoms in China?

SIMON LONG, ASIA EDITOR, THE ECONOMIST: Not really. As Bob says, I think there has been very different fundamental change. It`s not true that there`s been no change at all. And if you look at the domestic Chinese ego, it`s far more prolific, diverse than it used to be.

But still, as restricted when it comes to touching fundamental political questions.

As for the change in regulations covering foreign journalists who travel within China, it has made some difference. Our own correspondent tested out these new rules or lack of rules in January by visiting Hunan Province, where there were restrictions on covering scandals to do with hundreds of thousands of people who`d been infected with HIV through blood transfusions.

He got to the village he wanted to go to, was immediately detained by the local police, as would have happened before, but was able, in this case, to call up the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing and say hey, what`s going on? They told him to sit tight. And after a while, he was allowed to carry on with his reporting.

SWEENEY: But that`s only because of the Olympics. I mean...

LONG: Those restrictions - the lifting of those restrictions was particularly with the Olympics in mind, but they have said that it works, they will leave them lifted afterwards.

SWEENEY: And one - what denotes working for the Chinese government?

LONG: Well, that would be the big question. One suspects that they will look at the foreign coverage of the Olympic Games. And they will see how much coverage has there been of the glories of Chinese modernization of the triumphs of sport, how much has there been of human rights abuses, of pollution, of poor working conditions in factories, of what they would see as negative coverage in China. And one suspects that if the coverage if predominantly negative, then the blanket will come down again.

SWEENEY: Bob Deitz in Beijing, is it your sense that the government restrictions could change any time in the run up to the Olympics, depending on the kind of coverage that China receives?

DEITZ: No, I think China has learned to live with international coverage that`s critical. And that they`ve been able to accommodate themselves to that.

And I think it`s significant that they lifted the restrictions on foreign journalists, but not on local Chinese journalists.

I think the greater concern is with their own domestic media. And that poses the greatest threat to, first of all, the hegemony of the Communist party. And to aggravating the civil unrest that poses really the greatest challenge to the government.

You know, when you come to Beijing, you see a magnificent new city. And it really does look terrific, aside from the pollution, of course. But once you get outside of China in the major cities, you get into villages and townships where the wealth has passed people by. Or it`s now infiltrating. And local villagers, and local protests, are constant churning around the country.

And I think the government sees those as the greatest threat to its power and to its control. When the domestic media feel that they can cover those issues and report on them, I think that`s when the government begins to feel the real threats. I think they`ve accommodated themselves to critical international reporting. It`s the threat from the bottom coming up from its own media that causes the most concern.

SWEENEY: Simon Long, would you agree that the threat to China comes from within rather than without?

LONG: Oh, absolutely. I think that`s always been the case. However, I think that they`re also conscious that the border between the foreign and domestic media is quite porous. And it always has been in China because the domestic media have long used foreign reports often illegally in their own coverage.

The Internet in particular makes it much harder to suppress information that there are beyond the official media, there are infinite number of websites in China. And the sheer effort of policing these is extremely arduous.

So now protests, for example, can be organized quite quickly and efficiently by text message, by Internet chatroom. And the authorities are scrambling to catch up.

And Bob`s absolutely right that they`re far more worried about these dots of disparate protests around China being joined up in some way, than they are about what foreigners think.

SWEENEY: Bob Deitz in Beijing, the Committee to Protect Journalists has just published a report about press freedoms, human rights abuses in China. I`m just wondering as an individual coming into the city whether or not you have any problems at all with the Chinese authorities being part of that organization?

DEITZ: No. We came in with a fairly high profile. And we - they knew that we were working a report. We released this report yesterday at an open press conference, which we publicized openly. And it`s quite critical of China and of the IOC as well, I have to add.

And there was no interference with the press conference. Some journalists who were there said that they thought they recognized some security officers in the crowd. And we had about 60 or 70 people and about 10 cameras.

But no one`s interfered with us in any way. And I have to say local journalists - local foreign journalists working in Beijing usually assume that their phones are liable to be tapped and usually are cautious in their e-mail messages.

But in general, I think the pressure falls more on the local journalists.

We have not felt any pressure here.

SWEENEY: We have to leave it there. Thank you very much indeed Simon Long here in London. And in Beijing, Bob Deitz.

Well, up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, a new political era for Turkey. What will it mean for the country`s media? That story when we return.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. Now to Turkey, where the ruling AK party is fresh into a new five year term after winning a big majority in last month`s general elections. The new parliament was sworn in last week, dominated by the Islamic orientated party, headed by Prime Minister Retch Edwin (ph). It`s regarded as a challenging time for the government, which has been warned by the opposition to safeguard the nation`s secular principles.

Well, Turkey is also in talks to become part of the European Union, membership of which is dependent on a raft of conditions. Among them, a commitment to free speech and media freedom.

So what can we expect from the government of a country where it is still a crime to insult Turkey`s reputation? To assess Turkey`s media landscape, I`m joined from Istanbul by journalist Andrew Finkel. And here in London by Fadi Hakura, an analyst on Turkey with Chatham House.

Andrew Finkel in Istanbul, you yourself in the last 10 years or so in Turkey have had your own run ins with the authorities. How has the landscape changed over the past few years?

ANDREW FINKEL, JOURNALIST: Well, I think there`s a certain boredom, a certain ennui with the harassment, which journalists face. You`ll remember that there have been certain high profile cases in Turkey, the prosecution of Nobel Prize winning author Orham (ph) Harmut, the successful prosecution of a newspaper editor called Tran Dinku (ph) was indeed murdered in the street.

So people still do face harassment, but I think there`s a sense within the government itself that they would like to see this end. And I think they feel this is a great embarrassment to Turkey, particularly Turkey which has a European vocation, a Turkey which wants to become a member of the European Union similarly.

SWEENEY: And Fadi Hakura here in London, remember if you will, how media censorship came about in Turkey, how it evolved over the last 20, 30 years or so?

FADI HAKURA, CHATHAM HOUSE: Well, traditionally, the secularist establishment, namely the military, the courts, the bureaucracy had a very, very tight control over the flow of information in Turkey over the flow of information from the - to the media. Certain taboo subjects, for example the Kurdish issue, for instance, was not widely discussed - openly discussed in Turkey until recently, primarily in large part because of the really so-called guardianship that the military felt or the guardianship that the military felt was its role in Turkey.

SWEENEY: Who has more to fear, the government or the military in Turkey of press freedoms?

HAKURA: Well, traditionally, the - although the level of tolerance of criticism amongst politicians in Turkey is not as high as say in the West, but I think the military generally has a greater apprehension of more spotlight or the media spotlight on its affairs. It`s traditionally been very secretive, for example, on military procurement, on activities in the Kurdish dominated Southeastern part of Turkey. And it`s taken - and it`s not been an institution that generally has been quite open to the - to media scrutiny as in - as other media - as other military organizations outside Turkey.

SWEENEY: OK. Andrew Finkel, let me ask you...


SWEENEY: Please do.

FINKEL: No, I was just going to interject. I mean, the military still keeps a list of prescribed journalists, journalists of which it approved. So if there`s a briefing within the chiefs of staff, there`s certain journalists that can attend and certain journalists that can`t attend.

Now the thing that - I think the note is here is that the rest of the press doesn`t really get upset about this. And I think the real guardian, the real person who`s going to safeguard freedom in the press in Turkey should be the newspapers and the press organization themselves. And I think they really have to try that much harder to, you know, defend their privilege as the (INAUDIBLE) of state, Fionnuala.

SWEENEY: Of course, we often hear about Article 301. And the European Union is about to rule on the progress that Turkey`s making in terms of press freedoms, human rights, etcetera in its application to join the EU. How much - how likely is it under this new government, Fadi Hakura, that we might see an amendment or even the abolition of Article 301?

HAKURA: Well, the government has clearly indicated that they would like to amend the article, rather than abolish it. They see it as an embarrassment for the country.

SWEENEY: It`s insulting Turkishness.

HAKURA: It`s insulting Turkishness. Nevertheless, Article 301 is not the only article that undermines freedom of media in Turkey. For example, there was a feisty magazine called "Nocta" in Turkey that published the diaries of one of the generals in the Turkish military, which implied that the - -some of the generals might want to stage a coup in Turkey. And the magazine was raided by the police. And effectively, it`s closed on its publication.

So there are - so it`s not just a question of laws, but also about culture and attitude has to change in favor of greater flow of information, greater scrutiny, and greater freedom of the press.

SWEENEY: And Andrew, this is happening at a time, though, when it seems that more and more people in Turkey are turning against membership of the European Union because of the pressures it sees being placed upon it. Does Article 301 light a candle, a flame in the heart and the conscience of the Turkish public?

FINKEL: Well, there`s certainly a small section of the Turkish public, a very nationalist section of the Turkish public, which is very keen to preserve Article 301 and the ability to prosecute insults to Turkishness. And they bring much - try to evoke prosecutions. And I think they do so pretty much with the intention of embarrassing Turkey among its European allies.

So the high profile prosecutions were very much the result of almost private initiatives with a sympathetic prosecutor, a very nationalist lawyer, some of who managed to persuade a local court to take out a prosecution of an important person, and really to sort of embarrass Turkey in front of its European allies.

So I think for this reason, Turkey would like to see - it`s not the article abolished, at least it`s a follow to disuse.

SWEENEY: I mean, if we go back to where we started, Fadi Hakura, I mean there has been a lot of movement in terms of press freedom in Turkey. And in fact, a recent report by freedom has suggested that there have been impressive progress recently. Where do you think press freedoms is heading in the next few years, not by the end of this government?

HAKURA: Press freedoms are improving in Turkey. Many, many subjects that were taboo in the past are much more freely discussed, such as the Kurdish issue, such as even the issue dealing with the Armenian question, for instance. So there`s much more greater freedom.

Nevertheless, the key issue or the key problem is that in Turkey, much of the Turkish public do not trust the media. For instance, Pew Research Center carried out a poll recently and found only one quarter of the Turkish public actually trusted the media.

So although things are improving, there`s greater scrutiny. But still, there`s a long way to go.

SWEENEY: And personally, Andrew Finkel, a final question to you. What`s it like for you these days, as I said earlier, having got into some trouble in the past?

FINKEL: Well, I have a column on - in fact an English language Turkish newspaper, a paper called Today Zaman (ph). I write what I want. No one`s bothered me yet. You know, I think the whole idea that at least if they prosecute you, it means that they`re reading you. You know, that`s the only compliment - a better compliment you couldn`t have.

SWEENEY: All right, OK, there we leave it. Andrew Finkel in Istanbul. And here in London, Fadi Hakura. Thank you both very much.

And still to come on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, talking climate change. Television networks challenge to go green. What impact will this have on the programs you watch? One network story after the break.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. Going green, we`ve all been warned about the perils of climate change. Most often, we get the message through the media. Well now, some media outlets themselves are trying to address the issue.

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch has launched a green initiative to reduce the carbon footprint of his news corporation. The company`s TV networks, newspapers, and magazines around the world have been told to implement the strategy, which is even stretching to content.

And it`s starting with the television drama series, "24." Katie Razzle reports.


KATIE RAZZLE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Previously, there was a lot of this. Jack Bauer and the CTU fighting Islamic terrorists, Serbian nationalists, self-styled American patriots. Now there`s a new enemy.

KIEFER SUTHERLAND, ACTOR: Global warming can no longer be ignored, but it can be stopped. And the production team at "24" is proud to be a part of the solution

RAZZLE: "24," that show of gas guzzling 4x4s, carbon emitting flames and choppers, says it`s going green. But don`t get too excited. AT the moment, only the season`s finale will be carbon neutral. That`s one episode of "24" remember. They`ll use biodiesel to power generators, for example. And presumably, the SUVs won`t feature quite as heavily.

The "24" team says they`ll be green plotlines where appropriate. It`s unlikely we`ll see Jack Bauer tasked with saving an American (INAUDIBLE) for a flood, for example, or stopping the ice caps from melting, though if it were, he`d surely succeed. "24" is made by Fox, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch. His son James, reported to have persuaded his father of the benefits of the green cause. Mr. Murdoch saying his News Corp. will beef this issue into our content, make it dramatic.

But can fiction really inspire political change?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The combined volume of water will overwhelm the Thames barrier.

RAZZLE: Britain`s environment agency thinks so. It`s collaborated heavily on the script. Characters and locations for this film, which shows London submerged if the Thames barrier fails. The agency wants public debate now to prepare the way for asking the government for money to pay the flood management to the end of the century.

STEVE EAST, ENVIRONMENT AGENCY: We`re talking tsunami that comes up the Thames miraculously staying within the banks until it reaches central London just couldn`t happen in reality. What we hope is that people watching this film will have their way - just raised about the issues and start asking questions. And then we can start engaging them in the dialogue with the factual situation as opposed to the fictional one, that`s portrayed in the film.

RAZZLE: After "24", a show that was at one time sponsored by Ford, Kiefer Sutherland even thanking the motor company for its support, it`s unlikely season 7 will feature Jack Bauer on a bicycle saving only the immediate area from international terrorism. That really would make it the longest day of his life.


SWEENEY: Katie Razzle reporting there. That`s all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Tune again next time for another look at how the media are handling the big issues.

I`m Fionnuala Sweeney. Thanks for joining us.