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March 10, 2005

Media and Terrorism: Friends or Foes?

Moderator: Juan Luis Cebri�n
Panellists: Antonio Franco, Hasan Cemal, Giannini Riotta, Matthias Nass, Judith Miller, John Vinocur, Jean-Marie Colombani

In the panel The Media and Terrorism: Friends or Foes, the panellists debated how terrorism should be reported, and whether journalists should feel bound by political or professional imperatives. While some argued that the journalists only obligation was towards the reader, others stressed that it was important to deny the terrorists the oxygen of publicity. One panellist said that democracy dies in bits, meaning that the increasing restrictions imposed on reporting as well as the self-censorship practiced by many journalists had gradually, yet substantially, eroded civil liberties. The panel was organised in collaboration with grupo PRISA.

Audio


Complete audio of the conference

Transcription / Transcripción


Moderador, Juan Luis Cebrián
I am Juan Luis Cebrián, Chief Executive Officer of Grupo Prisa and coordinator of El País, the Spanish daily paper. We have a number of editors, former editors and reporters, including a former editor from a newspaper in Columbia who is joining us, who is now the current vice-president of the country, Francisco Santos. He’s now dealing personally with terrorists in his country after being held hostage for eight months[...]

I will make a short introduction about the questions and then everybody will take their place for three or four minutes just to give a short introduction about their views about the terrorists and media. I have asked them to introduce the problem as a practical one, not with an intellectual approach but talking about the problems that the editors and reporters have in dealing with terrorists, with anti-terrorist policies from the governments, with victims, with widows, with everyone.

I will tell you only two anecdotes to give you an example of what happens to an editor when dealing with news about terrorists. 25 years ago I did a piece of terrorism and the anti-terrorism law has been applied to me, sending 25 policemen into my house without intervention of the judiciary, to search for a hostage who was kidnapped by the [...] terrorists in this country [...] that was a group, in a way organised by the Spanish secret services. So my only responsibility was publishing a statement from the kidnappers, information about the situation that was very good and very difficult for the Spanish police. I have been accused of terrorism myself 25 years ago.

24 hours ago, a senator from the opposition party in this country accused the high commission of the government designed to help victims of terrorism, of being, in fact, a high commissioner to help terrorists because he is (not) in the opposition party, he is not in agreement with the policy that the government is applying to the victims. So that shows you how far the terrorist name is applied to so many people that are dealing with the question but because of professional duties are really involved many times, or in touch, with the people who belong to terrorist organisations. They do interviews, they have dialogues, they receive views. We have Judith Miller at the table, she has been accused of not revealing the sources of the information, again a problem for the reporters. So we are trying to talk about all these things, how to deal with terrorists in the media and I will ask Antonio Franco, the Editor-in-chief of El Periódico of Barcelona to give his intervention.

Antonio Franco
Buenos días, buenos días a todos.

Al intentar hacer una aproximación a los problemas reales con los que nos encontramos en los medios españoles, claro en los medios de comunicación en general, pero en España con la circunstancia especial de que hemos tenido estos últimos años una actividad terrorista regular relacionada con el País Vasco y hemos vivido hace un año un suceso tan importante relacionado con el terrorismo internacional, quisiera hacer una reflexión sobre los problemas prácticos que tenemos en los periódicos, aquí. Teniendo en cuenta que lo primero que se nos aconseja y lo primero que se nos reclama es el respeto, la cohesión y la unidad frente al terrorismo considerando esta unidad y esta cohesión como un factor absolutamente sublime, casi una religión imprescindible para nuestra contribución también a la lucha contra el terrorismo.

Y eso nos trae problemas concretos en circunstancias concretas. Porque también al informar sobre el terrorismo, los periodistas hemos de tener particularmente claro que estamos al servicio de los ciudadanos y no de los gobiernos. Aunque esto quizá parezca una banalidad, hemos de recordar que aquí mismo en este país, hace un año, el interés por conseguir que los ciudadanos estuviesen bien informados sobre lo que estaba sucediendo en Madrid en relación con los trenes, las explosiones y las víctimas, no era coincidente con el interés que había en aquellos momentos por mantener una cierta política unitaria y cohesionada respaldando lo que en aquel momento había sido la política informativa del gobierno. Porque lo que ocurre es que no es solamente en situaciones tan grotescas como la que nos describía ahora Juan Luis Cebrián cuando fue acusado de ser terrorista hace unos años, yo creo que hay muchas circunstancias en las que en situaciones democráticas se llama oficialmente “terrorista” a gente que no lo es exactamente.

Y es allí dónde surge ya la primera obligación crítica, para el mundo de la información, de delimitar, de precisar lo que es cada cosa. Yo diría que a mí me parece lícito que en Irak se distingan los actos terroristas contra la población civil y las actuaciones a veces desesperadas y suicidas de los resistentes contra las tropas extranjeras que ocupan el país aunque las dos cosas se hagan a través por ejemplo de un coche bomba. No diría que una cosa esté bien y una cosa esté mal evidentemente, pero sí diría que tenemos una obligación profunda de matizar muy bien y de enfocar nuestro trabajo precisamente para contribuir a que esos matices lleguen a la opinión pública.

En ningún caso ni siquiera en situaciones tan dramáticas como las que hemos vivido aquí en España, hemos de aceptar que el periodismo pueda ser interpretado, de ninguna manera, ni por los terroristas ni por la opinión pública, hemos de evitar que el periodismo pueda ser interpretado como el brazo comunicativo, o el brazo informativo del gobierno aunque sea absolutamente legítimo que el gobierno pida en esas situaciones la unidad y la cohesión y la actuación coordinada.

Y otro punto muy breve con el que quiero acabar es que, aunque no me siento en absoluto neutral ante el terrorismo, evidentemente, tengo que decir que me parecen frecuentemente demasiado abstractas, inconcretas, imprecisas, algunas de las cosas que nos dicen a los periodistas o que nos teorizan sobre lo que tenemos que hacer frente a los hechos terroristas. No sé demasiado bien qué quiere decir exactamente que “no podemos ser neutrales ante el terrorismo”. Entiendo lo que filosóficamente podría haber detrás de eso, pero no entiendo muy bien que es lo que se me pide que haga en función de eso.

Yo creo que debo ser riguroso, veraz, que debo contrastar la información, que debo contextualizarla, que no debo caer en el error de utilizar el lenguaje propagandístico que utilizan los terroristas, pero no sé qué más tengo que hacer o no sé si soy invitado a hacer algo más que eso cuando se me pide que “no sea neutral frente al terrorismo”.

Igualmente tampoco sé exactamente qué significa cuando se me pide que sea absolutamente parcial contra el terrorismo. Entiendo también el concepto, pero no sé qué es lo que se espera desde el punto de vista de mi trabajo profesional y de mis obligaciones respecto a la verdad y a la opinión pública detrás de esas llamadas.

El intentar aclarar estas cuestiones y el intentar mantener, en situaciones que siempre son tensas, siempre son difíciles, las ideas claras respecto a que, a quienes servimos es a los ciudadanos, para mí es el eje central de los problemas y de los conflictos, y de los grandes debates internos en las redacciones cada vez que hay un acontecimiento dramático de ese tipo. Muchas gracias.

Juan Luis Cebrián
I believe the first question was, what is a terrorist? It is a resistant. A terrorist? Well, are terrorists members of the resistance against the German troops invading France? Are terrorists the resistance against the American troops invading Iraq? I think it’s a good question. The other good question is, what is in the apology of terrorists which is… what does that mean for a newspaper man or newspaper woman? To be an apologist of terrorists, does that mean to publish a statement of terrorists? And why shouldn’t the papers publish a statement from terrorists?

I will hand over to Giannini Riotta. He is the Deputy Editor of Corriere della Sera and is the Chief Correspondent in New York too. He travels very often from New York to Milan.

Giannini Riotta
Thank you Juan Luis . For many years we believed that the media was the battlefield of terrorism, that when Black September kidnapped and killed Israeli athletes in Munich during the Olympic Games in 1972. They didn’t want to harm Israel, to inflict military damage on Israel. They wanted to tell the world, “We’re here! We can terrorise you, we can terrorise Israel, we can disrupt this great order that is the Olympic Games. Theorists like Umberto Eco gave us this interpretation, that the media is the battlefield of terrorism. After September 11th I started to get the impression when we said, “Things changed” and that the media is not a battlefield anymore, but is the target of terrorism, meaning that while some talk about disrupting the economy, disrupting institutions of the Western world, he would really like to obstruct and destroy the network of communication because he understands that that’s the right way to paralyse our world. Is he going to be successful? Yes, he scored a lot of bombs.

Salman Rushdie, the British-Iranian writer that is persecuted by the fundamentalists wrote once that the fundamentalists believe that we do not believe in anything, that we don’t have a core of philosophy, of faiths, of values and pretty much the group that keeps together the Western world is oppression against anyone who doesn’t belong to the club, and they buy a new sweater and join the [...] every other season.

The cynicism in the Western media sometimes leads you to think that he is right. At this table sits Judith Miller and what is happening to her, I’m waiting to hear from her and I want to welcome her. What is happening to her is really interesting to us and, of course, it’s really troubling and painful for her because while she was attacked by other colleagues, for example, the New York Review of Books for her coverage of the Iraqi war and the build up to it, at the same time she’s threatened with quite a few months of jail for not telling a judge who her sources are. Is it possible to call her the word terrorist?

On the one hand, when I was in Iraq, it was very difficult to interview people, to talk to people because they were threatened, they were intimidated, there was a physical danger. Giuliana Sgrena was released just a few days ago. At the same time, the states that are fighting terrorism impose a huge burden on you trying to make a point, that there are things that you shouldn’t say, there are things that you shouldn’t cover. While Sgrena was in the hands of her kidnappers, with who she does not exactly disagree with because the interesting thing was that she agreed with many of the things they were saying and promoting, and, at the same time, she was their victim. We knew a lot. We knew that there were segments, that there were movements, we knew who was following her, at what stage the negotiation was at. We could not disclose any of these details because the police prayed us not to, because the government prayed us not to, and, what is very interesting for editors around this table, because even the writers, even the reporters who were collating those details were saying, “I know this and this and this, but please, I don’t want to write it because I don’t want to endanger a friend and a colleague at this hour of distress”. What is the right call there?

My training since I started covering Mafia terrorism in my home town of Palermo, the anti-mafia of mayor of Palermo is sitting right in front of us, my training is that the more you say, the better you help the freedom of information and that’s always the best way to fight terrorism. That’s a very general statement. Then when you come to practicalities, it’s very often very, very dangerous.

So we come to a point where our own training is against us. For many years when we saw the poster of the front page of El País that you edited at the time when Tejero attacked the parliament in this country and the headline “El golpe fracasó”, because for me that was… –I was younger then, you were an editor, I was a reporter, so we were both young, but you were in a much better position–, for me that was how to beat terrorism with a newspaper. “El golpe fracasó”. I don’t even know at the time when you wrote the headline that you knew that the coup had failed, maybe yes, maybe no. But to give the Spanish and world public the idea that the Spanish democracy can be very young, but it’s strong and it’s not afraid and this guy Tejero, we will dispose of you.

That works, but can we do that today? It’s a mass market. Let’s very briefly try to understand why it is a market. Covering a meeting of kids within a global movement, I heard the most illuminating statements that describe our situation now. This young guy, very funnily dressed, said that the international media is great at covering events, but it’s very lousy at covering processes leading to events. And he is right. The coverage of September 11th in the international and America media was superb, if you go back and see how we treated Afghanistan, how we treated the rise of al-Qeada... Let’s say about me. A friend of mine, a reporter at Della Sera brought me in Brooklyn to listen to the preaching of the blind man in Brooklyn that then was arrested. I listened to the reporter, I listened to the man (…) that the people following him were jerks and that there was no way that that guy in the cellar in Brooklyn was going to challenge the powerful almighty United States. There was only one fool in that room, it was me.

Second, double standards do not work. We always apply double standards. Some of us apply double standards to our governments, well they can be nasty but they are nicer than the dictators in the third world. Some of us apply double standards to the Third World. Well, they can massacre their own citizens but they are poor and then they are being called victims [...].

We have to stop applying double standards and we have to start applying that civil rights are universal. The French Revolution taught us that civil rights, human rights, citizenship rights are universal. Please let’s not forget about it.

We have to fight [...] Let’s keep fighting for covering the process. There are very few events in Africa that we cover but we have to cover the process that is going on in that country, everyday. And the marketing people would say that this would cost us copies and we tell them, what would you rather have, copies or your life in the future? Choose.

The real clash of civilisation based around people is wrong, I don’t know whether he is in the room or not but he is wrong anyway. The real clash of civilisation is tolerance between tolerance. We have to side with whoever is siding with tolerance, in whatever country, in whatever faith, in whatever political system, and our enemy is the guy who promotes intolerance, whether in Washington, in Karachi, in Kabul, in Baghdad, wherever.

Yesterday, I heard a very compelling statement from one of the widows from September 11th. She said that she doesn’t get interviewed anymore because she has too many nuances, the people in the media want her to say, “Fuck you! Screw you!” and if you don’t say that, and I apologise to the ladies, they don’t interview you. Look at the books that are on international best selling lists all over the world, starting from the United States to my own country. They are not (about) nuances, they say the Muslims stinks or they say President Bush stinks, and they sell a lot of copies. The truth is on the nuance.

They say that the devil is in the details but not. What should we do? We should apply what we have learnt in junior school: be fair, be honest, be compassionate. And as Robert Capa used to say, in this country during the Spanish Civil War, when the political commission is asking “you give us all always pictures of buried people, poor people, people who have seen people dying, give us some great picture” and Robert Capa said: “The best propaganda is the truth”. Mr Osama, Mr Bush, whoever, the best propaganda is the truth. Thank you.

Juan Luis Cebrián
We do believe in universal rights compared to civil universal rights there’s the new anti-terrorist law approved by the British Parliament, compared to civil universal rights of Guantánamo. Those rights we really do believe in Western countries –which is the difference between Karachi and Paris–, if finally we use the same meaning for the same idea. I think it’s a good question, double standards for words.

At the beginning of the take-over of the Spanish Parliament by the Guardia Civil we thought in the media that they were terrorists, then we knew that they were militaries; they were not terrorists then, they were rebels, doing the same thing, using the same weapons, taking the same hostages and threatening the same government. So this difference between rebels, because they were militaries and terrorists because they were not, is really a double standard of words. [...]

The third speaker will be Hasan Cemal, an Editor-in-Chief from the Milliyet National Daily in Turkey and Cumhuriyet. Hasan has dealt a lot of times with the core situation in Turkey at the time when even the word Kurd was forbidden to be published in the Turkish newspapers.

Hasan Cemal
Thank you. I have been working as an active journalist with regard to terrorism news, and coming from a country very familiar with terrorism. For instance, I heard what the mayor of Madrid said about one thousand victims for the last thirty years and in Turkey, (there has been) more than thirty thousand victims for the last nearly fifteen years. For all these years I haven’t achieved to keep the balance between not being a tool of the terrorist propaganda and not being called by the anti-terrorist laws, legislations, and to keep the basic principles of my profession, journalism.

For instance, a couple of years ago, it was just after the Afghan war, I was in Kabul. I met a couple of Turkish radical Islams in Islamabad in Pakistan and I interviewed them. They hated the secular regime in Turkey, the cursed regime, and they said they left Turkey to live in Pakistan and that one day that regime would be overthrown by force.

I interviewed them, I wrote [about] them, and then, just a couple of months before the March 11th bombings of Madrid, the bombings of Istanbul took place, it was on November 15th and more than forty people were killed in two bombings. [...] I interviewed in A’zamabad [...] on the Turkish-Iranian border and he was the man of al-Qeada in Turkey, in Istanbul. And then my interview and that coverage came to the Turkish press and I asked myself whether I had become the tool of the radical Islamists or not.

But now in the meantime, in 1993, I went to [...], to Lebanon, controlled by Syrian military to interview a Kurdish separatist organisation, PKK, the leader of it is now in jail in Turkey, Abdullah Ocalan. I spent two nights with him. I came back–it was in 1993–, and I wrote a lot about him. On the one hand, all the time I asked myself the same question, whether I’m propagating his views. And secondly, whether I am going to be called by the anti-terrorist law which is very harsh in Turkey. And thirdly, whether I could contribute a kind of fighting against a dirty war which is going on, secretly, in Turkey as well.

For all these years it has been very difficult to keep the balance and still I have been very like a free bird as a columnist, but still I find it very difficult. Nowadays of course, especially after 9/11 o 3/11, there is talk about a new type of terrorism. For instance, Anthony Giddens I think I read a piece in the International Herald Tribune, he said that it is not possible to deal with the new type of terrorism within the legal orthodox framework.

That is a dangerous idea, I mean I don’t totally reject that idea but still he has to be very careful because the curtailment of the civil liberties, the curtailment of the press freedom, of media freedom is a dangerous thing in my opinion. We have to be very careful, yes, responsible reporting and everything, but in the meantime, we have to be very careful about our freedoms and for this reason I agree with my Italian colleague. He said that the best propaganda is the truth. Thank you very much.

Juan Luis Cebrián
I am glad you mentioned the International Herald Tribune because of Anthony Giddens’ article. We have here a former editor of the International Herald Tribune who is a great American journalist, and by the way, is an American journalist who speaks wonderful French too, really something very appreciated in Europe. John Vinocur is now a columnist contributor for the IHT.

John Vinocur
Thank you Juan Luis. If I leave a bit early please see no disrespect. There’s a nasty transport strike in Paris today and an air controllers’ strike at the same time that the inspection committee at the international Olympic Committee (…) I know you’re interested in getting the Olympics here so maybe that’s good news for some people.

Juan Luis wanted that we talk in practical terms. I’m going to try to be as practical as I can. News agencies, AP, FA, Reuters, AFB are the essence of journalistic existence, whether it’s television, print media, basically you don’t know what’s going on without them. And if you look at them, and Riotta made an interesting point looking back at the Munich Olympics all those years back, there was no doubt in anybody’s mind that the people who killed, who seized those athletes in Munich were terrorists.

And if you take that as the high point or a starting point and you look at the continuing decline in frankness in the capacity of those news agencies and everyone downstreaming from the news agencies, the television stations, radio stations, the newspapers, to use that key word terrorist. If you read the news agencies, there are almost no more terrorists. There are activists, there are militants, there are urban fighters, urban guerrillas, who remain instinctively for us a terrorist. And a particular case. We can see the diminishing element of courage in our treatment in what we know is a disgrace, what is anti-human, what is against the civilian population, acts that go outside every boundary of decency and we are calling them undertaken by this activist group or this. What? This group of militants? And you can make the choice.

I think of one example in particular. In one country, Germany, you will talk about the Israelis who live in the occupied territories as living in [...], settlements in English. If you look in France, in most places they live in colonie, in colonies and they are colonists. Nobody in the media seems half as afraid to designate who these people are with opprobrium or relatively less disapproval that would go with the word settlers or settlement, and we’re running away as fast as we can, in many cases, from designating what we know to be nasty, miserable anti-human groups by their right name, and we’re running away as well from saying that this is jihad terrorism or Islamic terrorism or Chechen terrorism or whatever the circumstances are. This is measurable, this is a retreat, this is an extremely negative development, and, in some respects, it is unfortunately mirrored in the language of politicians.

In this country, you have a prime minister who announced in an interview with the magazine Spiegel, “I don’t talk about Islamic terrorism anymore. It is only international terrorism”. Shocking to me, but how do newspapers treat a speech by Zapatero in which he will not pronounce the words, that they are the truth, the words that deal with the problem as it really is.

I attended, just a month ago, in Munich, and I saw the trend myself, movement away from dealing with reality... in a speech at the security conference, Schroder gave an important speech about NATO in Europe and in his speech he talked about terrorism, and for the first time that I can remember, because I’m interested in Germany, the Chancellor used the phrase ‘international terrorism’ to describe what, in the German lexicon, had always been described as jihadism or Islamic terrorism.

Crash back to 2004 in February Joschka Fischer gave the same speech that Schroder gave in 2005. Fischer talked about jihadism as the central anti-democratic force in the world and the new totalitarianism. Did anybody note, in a single article, the movement in the vocabulary that we use or our leaders use from jihadism and the single most anti-democratic force in the world to international terrorism? Does anybody question whether people we may have called in another era terrorists are now being called militants, activists, urban guerrillas, etc.?

I think the problem is ours, I think we have to look at ourselves. There’s a debate, a legitimate debate about it but we have to be [...] that we have moved to a less confident, less brave and less exact set of circumstances. Thank you.

Juan Luis Cebrián
I think John has pointed the finger at a very freaky question. Is it Islamic or international terrorism? Now there were catholic terrorists in Northern Ireland at the time of [...] they were catholic, they were members of [...] so I think it’s a very freaky question which is full of debate, as John said, but it’s not easy. As a matter of fact, the Spanish government is trying to talk one year after the massacre at Atocha station, not about Islamic terrorists. They are confident that there are more than twenty million Islamic people living in European cities, so it’s a really debatable question.

So I will go to Judith Miller. I will not introduce her as she has already been introduced by my colleague Giannini Riotta [...]

Judith Miller
Thank you very much Juan Luis. Once upon a time, not too many months ago, I would have been here as a journalist who would have been hanging around the periphery of this conference, since it’s not open to the media, to pick up some of the highlights of the provocative discussions that have taken place here, but I appear before you mainly as a litigant or as a case study, as it were, of the deteriorating relationship, in some respects, between the government and the press in the United States in our relatively new national security-minded post 9/11 world. Now I don’t wish to be dramatic here this morning, and I realise that there are many other journalists practising their craft in far more difficult and dangerous situations than the luxury of working in the United States. And I wish to stress that I continue to believe that I am lucky to practise journalism in one of the most open and free countries in the world.

But there’s little doubt that aggressive journalism and ensuring the public’s right to know are particularly challenging in a country in which a growing body of information is stamped secret or considered too sensitive for the public to know in the name of national security. That’s what I hope we can talk about today.

A little bit of background on the details of my own case and situation for those of you who don’t know it. Last fall, Matt Cooper, a colleague of mine from Time Magazine and I were sentenced to serve eighteen months in jail for refusing to reveal our sources in a national security criminal investigation involving the disclosure of what the government alleges was the name of a CIA covert agent. Now, I never wrote a word about this woman or her husband, but last August, the special prosecutor in this case was trying to find out who knew, who had leaked her name, and I received a suppina.

The name of this agent was actually revealed by a syndicated columnist who is still on television every week, Mr Robert Novak, and he named Valerie Plame, who may or may not have been an undercover operative, as being the person responsible for having gotten her husband a job, a very sensitive job as it turned out. In July 2003 the Times published an article by Ms Plame’s husband, Joseph Wilson, a former diplomat, who criticised President Bush for saying that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear weapons material in Africa. Mr Wilson had made a trip to Africa the previous year at the CIA’s request. When Novak reported that two senior administration officials had told him that Wilson’s wife was an agency operative, Wilson then charged that the disclosure was ‘pay back’ for his criticism of the decision to go to war in Iraq and a special prosecutor’s leak investigation began.

I decided not to testify, not to respond to the suppina, and, while I had conducted interviews about the Wilson-Plame affair, I felt that, because I hadn’t written a word about this case, I was on particularly strong ground. Now I would have to say that our publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, who was a former reporter himself, was the first to understand the journalist principle at stake in this case and he offered his total support as had Bill Keller, our Executive Editor.

Without the resources of the New York Times, I doubt if I would be sitting here before you because fighting one of these investigations is costly, extremely costly, and not just in terms of money, but in terms of time. Without the support of a paper like mine, I doubt I could be waging this fight at all. Now thanks to my paper the wheels of justice have been turning a little slowly, but right now my newspaper and I are appealing. Those appeals are just about at an end and the day of reckoning may be at hand.

I feel that I cannot reveal my sources because sources, confidential sources are the life’s blood of what investigative journalists do. If we reveal their identities we give up our right to encourage people to step forward, concede wrong-doing in the corporations within our government. If my case were unique, there might be less concern among journalists in the United States, but it’s not. Over a dozen journalists have faced similar suppinas in this and other cases and very recently a reporter in [...] was jailed for refusing to reveal his sources. So I feel that in our country, although the laws are usually very good at protecting journalists, from Asia to Africa and certainly here in the European Union, the law provides better protection on its face than interpretations of law provide better protection than [...] and journalists like me in the United States.

But my real concern is not just what’s happening to me, my real concern is the post 9/11 climate which my colleagues have talked about. In such an environment I really believe that citizens of free societies need more, not less information but the trend is going in the other way. The Federation of American Scientists in my country is fighting over the release of CIA budget figures from the 1960s, nuclear safety plans that were once available on the open Internet have now been taken off, material is disappearing from the web every single day. A book I co-wrote that was published on September 10th 2001 called Germs about bio-terrorism could never have been written today in the current national security climate, nor could my article on the rise of al-Qeada which was published in January 2001 with very little [...] by the way on what I had written.

Democracy is dying in small bits through the steady erosions of civil lives and civil liberties and a vibrant aggressive press is required as a government watchdog. We may not be perfect and yesterday some of you heard a leading public American official attack the media, blaming us for the re-election of George W Bush. We are not perfect, we make many mistakes but I do not believe that George Bush was re-elected as president of our country because the media was slanted in his favour, and I resent the insinuation that we are sloppy or biased or insufficiently committed to our task. I believe we all know that we are not perfect, but try running a healthy vibrant democracy without us. Thank you very much.

Juan Luis Cebrián
Thank you Judith. [...] here the media has been blamed. It has been accused of being responsible for the non re-election of Mr Aznar after the 11th March so you see the both sides of the tale.

Now it is the turn of Matthias Nass. Matthias is a specialist in foreign policy and [...] of the very famous and respectable wiki magazine at Die Zeit.

Matthias Nass
Thank you very much for the statement which I think can only [...] which I will be coming back to in the end.

I think it definitely becomes clear by now that we, as professionals, face a dilemma that we cannot escape from, that is that terrorism thrives on publicity. Margaret Thatcher was the one that said “Publicity is the oxygen of terrorism” and we, as journalists, are the ones who are providing the oxygen. Now there is no escape from that because our job is to report. As the paper says all the news that’s fit to print and of course terrorism is news that’s fit to print. We have to report about major terrorist activities and the public wants it from us. So it’s a job we have to do. The problem is in doing that we give exactly the publicity to the terrorists that they want from us which makes the media so important for them.

We can show restraint, we can show accuracy, we can show fairness but there’s still always the chance of becoming instrumentalised, of becoming a tool of the terrorists. But of course there’s also the challenge that we become the tool of the government and Judith has just described the atmosphere in America after 9/11.

I wonder whether the media can be neutral in the fight against terrorism. I don’t think we can be neutral, but our role is not the same as the role of the government. Something Bush has said, his famous sentence, “You’re either with us or you’re against us” and I’m not sure this sentence applies to journalism. We have to fight terrorism by reporting about terrorism but not by being spokesmen for the government. I think there is wide agreement among us on that because our major thing is not to be the advocate of the government, but to be the advocate of our readers and I think most valuable thing we can lose is our credibility. I think the best way to defend our freedoms, and what we talked about this morning, the press freedom, is to make use of this press freedom, even if this is uncomfortable, sometimes annoying.

Every one of us who has travelled to America in the last few years knows that there is a tremendous change in the atmosphere. Some of you, like myself, studied there thirty years ago and the mood is different now for very understandable reasons. But, from my point of view, there has been a little too much paranoia and a little too much patriotism in the American media. Why is this important? This is important because the American media shapes the world’s opinion, there is no other media around the world with such a strong influence, that’s why it’s not just a topic for the Americans but it’s a topic for all of us.

Now the good thing is, there’s always two sides of the story in America, the bad sides of Guantánamo, [...] have been uncovered by American journalists and I think there’s always the two sides of the story, you have the [...].

So I think this inbuilt conflict between the government and the media will be there forever. We cannot escape from it. We just have to be very careful in order not to be manipulated, governments, you [...] know what I’m talking about. Governments always have a tendency to try to control the flow of information and we have to be very careful not to be made a tool for this.

Now there’s one more thing that is very important to me and Giannini Riotta talked about a battlefield, the media had become a battlefield. Now I’m speaking of a very personal experience of the last four weeks. Giuliana Sgrena was also writing for us for three years or so and she has become a victim of this war against terrorism, a very unlikely victim and we realised now how very much and how very easily we, as journalists, can be hurt, can go from being an observer to being a part of this fight against terrorism and, all of a sudden, you work together as government, you have to work together as security forces with the military, with intelligence in order to save the life of a colleague. And we learned that this was handled in a very professional manner until the very last moment.

The problem now because of these experiences is there are no journalists, at least Italian journalists anywhere. It has become a war without witnesses and this is a very, very dangerous development, if we cannot rely anymore on some basic kind of protection, on some basic kind of understanding, from both sides in this war. The journalists have to do their job and they have to be given a certain minimum of security. This minimum of security does not exist anymore, in Iraq. It doesn’t exist, in other countries around the globe. And what we see is that the truth is not reported and that the media are paying a very high price for this. And I think this is the most dangerous and the most worrying development we are facing right now in the war against terrorism. Thank you.

Juan Luis Cebrián
Jean-Marie Colombani is Editor-in-Chief of a well-known famous newspaper in Paris, Le Monde. [...]

Jean-Marie Colombani
D’abord je voudrais rappeler qu’ici nous sommes en Espagne et qu’on peut pas difficilement discuter de ces questions dont nous parlons aujourd’hui sans se souvenir qu’au soir de l’attentat de Madrid, c’est le roi d’Espagne qui a pris la parole et qui a le mieux, avec le plus de force je crois, incarné ce qui est l’esprit européen aujourd’hui en disant « Nous ferons face au terrorisme avec les moyens de l’état de droit ». Je pense que c’est la parole la plus forte qui ait été dite en période de cette nature et la parole qui me paraît le mieux incarner ce que nous sommes en Europe, ce que nous voulons être et ce que nous voulons rester.

Parce qu’ avant de parler de la presse, des journalistes, de leur rôle, de leur place, de la façon dont ils peuvent rendre compte de la question du terrorisme, il faut d’abord voir dans quel cadre on se situe et si nous restons dans le cadre d’un état de droit. De ce point de vue là, ce que vient de dire notre consœur Américaine est évidemment inquiétant, le risque étant pour une démocratie de s’installer dans une sorte d’état d’exception permanent où il n’y a plus de frontières ni entre la guerre et la paix ni entre l’intérieur et l’extérieur, ni entre la législation exceptionnelle et la législation ordinaire. Le point d’aboutissement de cette dérive est évidemment ce que les magistrats Britanniques ont appelé le trou noir de Guantanamo, qui est la négation même de l’esprit démocratique et qui doit nous rappeler que l’on ne peut pas lutter contre le terrorisme avec les armes du terrorisme. Et de ce point de vue là, je pense que nous devons tous garder à l’esprit les paroles du roi d’Espagne au moment de l’attentat de Madrid.

Sur les questions qui ont été évoquées les unes après les autres, l’actualité nous fournit chaque jour des occasions de nous interroger, John Vinocur à parler de la façon dont il faut nommer les choses et regardons ce qu’il vient d’arriver en Tchétchènie : l’assassinat d’Aslan Maskhadov. Pour un certain nombre de démocrates en Europe, son combat pour une nation tchétchène était légitime et pourtant il a été assassiné au nom de la lutte contre le terrorisme et la diplomatie française comme la diplomatie allemande semblent avoir avalisées ce schéma du pouvoir russe.

A l’inverse les mêmes qui acceptent que l’on assassine quelqu’un qui paraissait comme porteur de leurs revendications modérées ou en tous les cas d’aspiration démocratique par rapport à d’autres qui sont des terroristes authentiques, notamment en Tchétchènie, vont parler s’agissant des poseurs de bombes ou des attentats suicides en Irak, de « résistants à une armée d’occupation ». On voit donc que l’utilisation des termes est en effet importante et que l’on est souvent en pleine confusion : comment appeler « résistants » des gens dont la seule préoccupation est de tuer un plus grand nombre de civils qui soient en Irak même si c’est au nom de la lutte contre l’armée américaine ? Mais l’armée américaine, on a oublié qu’elle a aujourd’hui, même si cela a été ex-post, des mandats internationaux.

On voit par conséquent que l’utilisation des mots est en effet importante et que l’on nage tous, les uns et les autres, en pleine confusion et que ces confusions ont souvent à voir avec l’idéologie selon que l’on veut absolument faire rentrer tel ou tel combat dans un cadre légitime ou au contraire selon que l’on veut à toutes forces délégitimer notre combat.

Alors la presse, je crois, n’échappe pas à ce prisme idéologique et il faut avoir l’humilité de reconnaître que chacun de nos organes de presse est aussi conditionné d’abord par son propre territoire et ensuite par sa propre idéologie et qu’il est toujours difficile, même si ça l’est nécessaire, de s’abstraire de ces prismes et de ces grilles de lecture idéologiques. Giannini tout à l’heure a parlé de l’inversion fondamentale qui se produit aujourd’hui : les médias hier comme champs de bataille, comme terrain d’affrontement et les médias aujourd’hui comme cible. Oui les médias aujourd’hui sont la cible aussi du terrorisme parce que les médias sont une authentique arme de destruction massive et que les terroristes comme les gouvernements l’ont compris.

Dès lors qu’il y a une tentation autoritaire dans un pays, regardons la Russie, quel est le premier réflexe d’un gouvernement autoritaire ? ou quelle est la première manifestation d’une tentation autoritaire ? c’est le contrôle de la presse. De la même façon les terroristes vont chercher à influencer la presse, à la manipuler à l’instrumentaliser et de ce point de vue là les enlèvements de journalistes sont là pour nous rappeler quelle est la nature du combat qui fait en effet de la presse une cible : parce que la presse est le meilleur moyen d’influencer l’opinion, d’influencer un gouvernement. Regardons la pression psychologique qui est faite de façon à détruire psychologiquement les journalistes otages en Irak par les groupes qui s’en sont saisis. On voit bien que derrière les otages eux-mêmes ce sont les médias et la capacité d’influence que l’on va avoir sur tel ou tel gouvernement qui est en cause.

Et cela pose un énorme problème à tous les organes de presse parce que, de quelle réalité peut-on rendre compte aujourd’hui en Irak ? La nature du combat est telle, que les responsables de journaux ne peuvent plus envoyer de journalistes en Irak n’importe où, n’importe comment. Nous sommes en situation aujourd’hui, où on devrait dire et expliquer à nos lecteurs que nous sommes très près du point où nous ne pouvons rendre compte que d’un seul côté des choses, que d’une face de la réalité parce que les journalistes sont, soit dans une zone protégée à Bagdad, soit au Kurdistan autre zone protégée, soit très près des troupes britanniques.

L’autre part de la réalité irakienne nous est interdite par les terroristes eux-mêmes qui, par la pression qu’ils font peser sur les journalistes, les menaces permanentes d’enlèvements et les enlèvements, font que nous ne pouvons pratiquement plus y aller sauf à prendre des risques inconsidérés donc forcément on ne va plus rendre compte que d’une partie de la réalité. Cela aussi est une façon de tordre la liberté de la presse, d’empêcher la liberté de la presse ; mais je pense que celle-ci est l’ennemie des terroristes au premier rang comme de tout pouvoir ou comme de toute tentation autoritaire. Donc il faut avoir conscience du fait qu’aujourd’hui en Irak les médias, et notamment les médias que nous sommes, ne sont plus à même de rendre compte d’une façon équitable de la réalité parce que nous sommes à la limite d’une presse, comme disent les Américains, embedded, an embedded press. It’s not totally a free press. Voilà les considérations ou les contraintes qui sont les nôtres aujourd’hui.

Après, une autre question posée par Juan Luis Cebrián était de savoir jusqu’où doit aller ou jusqu’où peut aller l’auto censure de la presse dans ces questions de terrorisme ? Jusqu’où a t-on le droit d’être simplement une sorte de boîte aux lettres où l’on fait connaître les communiqués de telle ou telle organisation terroriste ? Et jusqu’à quel point n’y a t-il pas une part de complicité par rapport à cela ? C’est un piège évidemment extraordinaire et de ce point de vue là nous regardons beaucoup nos confrères espagnols parce que nous nous disons « Dieu merci le terrorisme en Corse a peu à voir avec le terrorisme Basque de l’ETA » mais nous regardons beaucoup la façon dont la presse espagnole se comporte par rapport à cette triste et tragique et longue expérience face au terrorisme de l’ETA. Nous sommes là en effet dans une contrainte où il faut à toutes forces préserver la capacité que nous devons avoir de rendre compte toujours et partout, du mieux que nous pouvons, de façon à faire prévaloir systématiquement le regard libre des journalistes par rapport à la réalité qu’on voudrait nous faire voir.

Un dernier mot pour dire à notre amie Judith que son combat aux Etats-Unis n’est pas un combat isolé et qu’elle va peut-être conduire elle-même, par son exemple dont j’espère qu’elle sortira du mieux possible, à une modification de la loi en France. Parce que du coup, nous nous sommes aperçus, nous éditeurs, qu’en France aussi il y avait un problème de protection du secret des sources et que sans la protection du secret des sources il n’y a pas de presse libre, et sans presse libre il n’y a pas de démocratie. Le combat qu’elle mène est emblématique de l’ensemble de la presse dans les pays démocratiques et nous, nous agissons en France pour que, à partir de ce qu’il s’est passé aux Etats-Unis à ses dépends, nous obtenions une modification de la loi pour inscrire dans la loi qui garantit la liberté de la presse la protection des sources des journalistes. Cela aussi est un front qui ne doit pas être méconnu.

Juan Luis Cebrián
Thank you, Jean Marie. The last speaker was not previewed in the programme. But as soon as I saw that Francisco Santos, vice-president of Colombia, was coming to this meeting, I thought it was a good idea to have him in this panel for many different reasons. Francisco Santos has been a journalist by profession for many years as the Managing Editor of El Tiempo de Bogotá, the reference paper of Colombia that belongs to his family. He has been a hostage of the guerrilla, of the terrorists, the FARC, for more than eight months. After he has been released or he escaped, he came [...] from the responsibilities of the government. So he has been and in his in the very four parts of this table: as a journalist, as victim, as head of the police, and as reporter. Then Francisco is going –although he speaks wonderful English– to address the audience in Spanish because I think he is trying to make some provocative statements and he must believe than in the Spanish language is going to be easier.

(Continued in: Media and Terrorism: Friends or Foes?, part 2).

Photos



From left to right: the moderator, Juan Luis Cebrián; Francisco Santos, vice-president of Colombia; Giannini Riotta, italian journalist; Jean-Marie Colombani, from France and John Vinocur (Photo: Club of Madrid).

From left to right: Judit Miller, Hasan Cemal, Matthias Naas, Antonio Franco, Juan Luis Cebrián, Francisco Santos, vice-president of Colombia, Giannini Riotta, Jean-Marie Colombani and John Vinocur, during the conference about the media (Photo: Club of Madrid).
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