October 25, 2020

How Syria Media Advisers Decided Who Would Speak to President Assad

The Syrian government wanted an American morning show to televise an interview with Mr. Assad on Wednesday, as a rebuttal of sorts to President Obama’s Tuesday-night address to the nation, according to ABC staff members. Mr. Assad’s previous interview, with Charlie Rose of CBS and PBS, had received international attention on Monday. So Mr. Stephanopoulos secretly flew to Beirut, Lebanon, just as Mr. Rose had before the CBS crew drove across the border to Damascus.

But Mr. Assad must have had a change of heart, because once Mr. Stephanopoulos was in Beirut, the interview was called off. Mr. Stephanopoulos returned to the United States empty-handed. (On the bright side, he quickly scored another big interview, this time for real: he sat down with Mr. Obama in Washington on Friday.)

Mr. Stephanopoulos’s 11,000-mile journey demonstrated the Syrian government’s sometimes-effective, sometimes-confounding strategy toward communicating with the West through major news media outlets. Mr. Assad’s circle of media advisers is said to include two women, Bouthaina Shaaban, a Western-educated interpreter and author who has occasionally appeared on television to defend the government, and Luna Chebel, a former Al Jazeera anchor who arranged Charlie Rose’s interview earlier last week.

David Rhodes, the president of CBS News, said Mr. Assad’s media team is small, loyal and locally based. “If you want to book Assad, it’s not like you call Howard Rubenstein,” he said with a laugh, invoking the name of the famed public relations man. (The American registry of companies doing business with foreign governments shows no public relations or lobbying firms with current ties to Syria.)

Ms. Shaaban has been mostly unreachable by Western reporters since the Syrian uprising in early 2011 — “no contact” is how Jon Snow, a veteran anchor for Britain’s Channel 4 News, put it, much to his chagrin. But that changed shortly after reports of a massacre of civilians outside Damascus on Aug. 21. She surprised Mr. Snow by granting him a live television interview on Sept. 4.

Richard Roth, a former staff correspondent for CBS News, said of Ms. Shaaban, “I don’t know that she ever made a convincing case for Assad’s policies in any broadcast of mine, but she was swell TV: articulate, indomitable, official and — crucially — English-speaking.”

Ms. Shaaban, who has a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Warwick in Britain, is often described as a Syrian government spokeswoman and has presented herself to reporters as, in Mr. Roth’s words, “someone who could pull strings in Syria.”

She had been a liaison for Mr. Rose’s interviews of Mr. Assad in 2006 and 2010. But when Mr. Rose returned to Damascus for the interview last weekend, Ms. Shaaban was not present, according to Jeff Fager, the chairman of CBS News, who accompanied Mr. Rose on the trip. This time it was Ms. Chebel who arranged the face time with Mr. Assad.

In the last few weeks, Mr. Assad has also spoken with reporters from newspapers in France and Russia, allowing him to influence public opinion in those two countries. But it was the interview with Mr. Rose, televised by CBS and PBS last Monday, that was the most widely picked up by the international media. The Syrian government calculated correctly that a sit-down with an interviewer like Mr. Rose would be perceived as credible and would receive universal attention.

Mr. Fager said he came away with the impression that Ms. Chebel was “a serious player” who speaks with Mr. Assad several times a day. Mr. Rose had never met her before this month’s interview.

It was important to Ms. Chebel and Mr. Assad’s other advisers that the interview be televised in its entirety somewhere, sometime. And it was — by PBS — after excerpts had been shown on “CBS This Morning,” the weekday newscast that Mr. Rose co-hosts.

Ms. Shaaban and Ms. Chebel did not respond last week to repeated interview requests.

Mr. Rose may also have had an advantage over other interviewers because his PBS program, “Charlie Rose,” is seen all over the Middle East and elsewhere through a distribution arrangement with the Bloomberg cable channel.

“It helps to be able to do unedited interviews and to have a reputation for being tough, fair, curious and informed,” Mr. Rose said.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/16/business/media/how-syria-media-advisers-decided-who-would-speak-to-president-assad.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

David Frost, Interviewer Who Got Nixon to Apologize for Watergate, Dies at 74

The cause was a heart attack, his family said.

Mr. Frost’s highly varied television career mirrored the growth of the medium, from the black-and-white TV of the 1960s to the cable news of today.

He knew how to make his guests “make news,” as the television industry saying goes, either through a sequence of incisive questions or carefully placed silences. He showcased both techniques during his penetrating series of interviews with President Nixon, broadcast in 1977, three years after Mr. Nixon was driven from office by the Watergate scandal, resigning in the face of certain impeachment.

Mr. Frost not only persuaded Mr. Nixon to end a self-imposed silence, he also extracted an apology from the former president to the American people.

The sessions, described as the most-watched political interviews in history, were recalled 30 years later in a play and a film, both named “Frost/Nixon.” In the film, Mr. Frost was portrayed by Michael Sheen and Mr. Nixon by Frank Langella.

Since 2006, Mr. Frost’s television home had been Al Jazeera English, one of the BBC’s main competitors overseas. Mr. Frost brought prestige to the news network, while it empowered him to conduct the kind of newsmaker interviews he most enjoyed.

“No matter who he was interviewing, he was committed to getting the very best out of the discussion, but always doing so by getting to know his guest, engaging with them and entering into a proper conversation,” Al Anstey, the managing director of Al Jazeera English, said by e-mail.

He was “always a true gentleman,” Mr. Anstey added, alluding to the charm that others said made Mr. Frost so successful in securing such a wide array of guests.

Among those guests in recent years were Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, the actor George Clooney and the tennis star Martina Navratilova. A new season of Mr. Frost’s program, “The Frost Interview,” began in July with the astronaut Buzz Aldrin. The season was to continue through mid-September.

One of his first interviews for Al Jazeera made headlines when his guest, Tony Blair, agreed with Mr. Frost’s assessment that the war in Iraq had, up until that point in 2006, “been pretty much of a disaster.” In a statement on Sunday, Mr. Blair said, “Being interviewed by him was always a pleasure, but also you knew that there would be multiple stories the next day arising from it.”

David Paradine Frost was born April 7, 1939, in Tenterden, England, to Mona and W. J. Paradine Frost. His father was a Methodist minister.

While a student, Mr. Frost edited both a student newspaper and a literary publication at Cambridge University, where he showed a knack for satire — something on which the BBC soon capitalized. In 1962, Mr. Frost became the host of “That Was the Week That Was,” a satirical look at the news on Saturday nights. While it lasted only two seasons in Britain, “TW3,” as it was known, was reborn briefly as a program on NBC, and it is remembered as a forerunner to “The Daily Show” and the “Weekend Update” segment on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”

After “TW3,” Mr. Frost was the host of a succession of programs, from entertainment specials (“David Frost’s Night Out in London”) to more intellectually stimulating talk shows. While most of these were televised in Britain, Mr. Frost crossed the Atlantic constantly; he once said he had lost count of the number of times he had flown on the Concorde.

He filled in for Johnny Carson twice in 1968, and was subsequently offered a syndicated talk show, which premiered on a patchwork of stations across the United States a year later. That series came to an end in 1972.

His most memorable work happened several years later, when his interview with Mr. Nixon was broadcast around the world. At one point Mr. Frost asked about Mr. Nixon’s abuses of presidential power, prompting this answer: “Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

“Upon hearing that sentence, I could scarcely believe my ears,” Mr. Frost wrote in a 2007 book about the interview, published to coincide with the “Frost/Nixon” movie. Mr. Frost said his task then “was to keep him talking on this theme for as long as possible.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/02/world/europe/david-frost-known-for-nixon-interview-dead-at-74.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Egypt’s New Leaders Press Media to Muzzle Dissent

On a second state channel, a police officer gave an interview, assuring the public that the department was working night and day to “secure the people.”

After the military removed Mr. Morsi from power while promising that it was not “excluding” any party from participating in Egypt’s future, the leadership moved forcefully to control the narrative of the takeover by exerting pressure on the news media. The authorities shuttered some television stations, including a local Al Jazeera channel and one run by the Muslim Brotherhood, confiscated their equipment and arrested their journalists. The tone of some state news media also seemed to shift, to reflect the interests of those now in charge. “This is evidence of the return of the military police state in its worst form,” said Mohamed Abdel-Razek, 28, who worked as a newscaster at Misr 25, a Brotherhood station.

The crackdown on the channels, carried out with well-orchestrated speed, was another sign of just how far Egypt’s Islamists had fallen. Having recently been among the most prominent voices on television, they struggled for days to be heard. When Egyptian television stopped covering their protests, the president’s supporters provided live streams on the Internet to show Egyptians their numbers.

Human rights activists condemned the closings and said they thought that the authorities, now under a spotlight, might cave to pressure. Most of the detained journalists have been released, but even so, the crackdown added a martial note to Egypt’s transition, seeming to undermine the military’s assertion that it intended to stay out of politics.

And, as violence erupted throughout the country, the shifting media landscape hardened the feeling that Egypt was inescapably stuck in the past. As in the uprising more than two years ago, when Hosni Mubarak was toppled, bridges became battlegrounds and the country counted new dead. Rumors were treated like fact before evaporating, leaving nothing but doubt.

As Mr. Morsi’s supporters dialed up their language against the army and Islamists were accused of deadly attacks, the military seemed able to count on wide latitude from the public to exert its control.

In another echo of the last revolt, the military started accusing foreign news media of spreading “misinformation” and, in at least one case, interfered with their work. During a live broadcast, soldiers stopped a CNN correspondent as he reported on clashes in downtown Cairo, and briefly confiscated a camera. After the BBC and other outlets reported that pro-Morsi protesters had been killed by soldiers outside the Republican Guard club, an unnamed military source told the state newspaper, Al Ahram, that “foreign media outlets” were “inciting sedition between the people and its army.”

Some private outlets have also thrown their weight behind Egypt’s new leaders. A reporter at one newspaper said that her editor had given his staff explicit instructions not to report on pro-Morsi demonstrations and to make sure that articles indicated that the perpetrators of violence were always Islamists.

The reporter requested anonymity, and her claims about the editor’s remarks could not be independently confirmed. A look at Saturday’s articles on the Web site of the newspaper seemed to corroborate her assertions.

The arrests and closings affected longtime journalists, producers and technicians, as well as firebrand clerics at some of the channels who were widely seen as engaging in hate speech and promoting violence.

The shift of power and changing tone of coverage were apparent on Wednesday, even as Egypt’s defense minister, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, prepared to go on television and announce the end of Mr. Morsi’s presidency. Millions of people had marched for days, demanding that result.

State television prepared the public for the earthquake, in soothing segments that made no mention of Mr. Morsi or the Brotherhood, which instead was referred to as “that group.” A host interviewed a retired general, who spoke about the central, critical role of Egypt’s military over decades. Clips of fighter jets screeching through the sky were played, as well as patriotic anthems.

During another interview, a legal expert discussed the question at the center of Egypt’s crisis: whether constitutional or popular legitimacy was more important. The expert explained that any ruler had to have the support of the people to succeed, bolstering the case that the military was about to make, that the people had spoken.

General Sisi had hardly finished his announcement when, at an office of Al Jazeera’s local affiliate in the Agouza neighborhood, men in civilian clothes carrying guns broke down the door, according to journalists who were there. They asked for identification but provided none of their own. They took mobile phones, computers and iPads — anything the journalists could use to communicate. Then they took the employees, and others there, downstairs, where police wagons and other men with guns were waiting.

The other stations were closed down at almost exactly the same moment, in what appeared to be a well-coordinated clampdown.

Events stoked the growing sense of victimhood among the president’s supporters at a demonstration in Nasr City, where the sudden loss of privilege was acutely felt. As journalists were warmly welcomed at the sit-in, there was no talk of Mr. Morsi’s own prosecutions of his opponents in the news media, which while less draconian, were just as selective. The protests were covered live by at least three of the shuttered stations, including the local Al Jazeera network, which was seen, like its Arabic-language parent, as sympathetic to Mr. Morsi and the Islamists. After the arrests, Palestinian networks carried the protests, and people shared videos online. Al Jazeera now has a camera back up at the site.

Seif el-Bgeegy, a 29-year-old plumber who helps guard the protests and is responsible for cameras at the site, said that the images would be protected by “millions” of the president’s supporters inside.

“If they came in, they’d go to war with the masses,” he said.

Mayy El Sheikh and Ben Hubbard contributed reporting.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/07/world/middleeast/egypts-new-leaders-press-media-to-muzzle-dissent.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

American Al Jazeera Channel Shifts Focus to U.S. News

When Al Jazeera’s owners in Qatar acquired Al Gore’s Current TV in January, they said that Current would be replaced by Al Jazeera America, an international news channel with 60 percent new programming from the United States.

The remaining 40 percent, they said, would come from Al Jazeera English, their existing English-language news channel in Doha, Qatar, that is already available in much of the rest of the world.

That plan is no more. Now Al Jazeera America is aiming to have virtually all of its programming originate from the United States, according to staff members and others associated with the channel who were interviewed in recent weeks.

It will look inward, covering domestic affairs more often than foreign affairs. It will, in other words, operate much like CNN (though the employees say they won’t be as sensational) and Fox News (though they say they won’t be opinion-driven).

The programming strategy, more ambitious than previously understood, is partly a bid to gain acceptance and give Americans a reason to tune in. It may help explain why Al Jazeera America’s start date has been delayed once already, to August from July, and why some employees predict it will be delayed again.

Al Jazeera also has yet to hire a president or a slate of vice presidents to run the channel on a day-to-day basis, which has spurred uncomfortable questions about whether earlier controversies involving the pan-Arab news giant are creating difficulties for the new channel.

The Arabic-language Al Jazeera was condemned by the American government a decade ago for broadcasting videotapes from Osama bin Laden and other materials deemed to be terrorist propaganda. Others have criticized the Arabic and English channels for being a mouthpiece for Qatar, though the channel’s representatives insist that is not the case. Other questions about bias persist; as recently as last week, the Al Jazeera Web site was accused of publishing an anti-Semitic article by a guest columnist.

But Al Jazeera America employees profess confidence that they will be able to work free of interference. Some are already rehearsing with mock newscasts. Others are fanning out to report news stories from parts of the country rarely visited by camera crews. Still others are setting up new studios in New York, where the channel will have a home inside the New Yorker Hotel, and in Washington, where it will take over space previously occupied by ABC at the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue.

New employees are being added to the rolls every weekday from places like CNN, “Frontline” and Time magazine. “We expect to have approximately 800 employees when we launch,” said Ehab Al Shihabi, the Al Jazeera executive in charge of international operations, including the American channel. He declined to comment on the delays, but said the channel would start “later this summer.”

Since January, he and his colleagues’ overarching message to lawmakers, mayors, cable operators, and potential viewers has been that Al Jazeera is coming to America to supply old-fashioned, boots-on-the-ground news coverage to a country that doesn’t have enough of it.

A series of announcements about new hires like Ed Pound, an experienced investigative reporter, and new bureaus in cities like Detroit have bolstered that message. Public relations and marketing firms retained by Al Jazeera, like Qorvis Communications and Siegel Gale, have worked to limit opposition to the channel and increase support for its arrival.

Al Jazeera representatives seem aware that they are confronting an enormous marketing challenge. But they benefit from the public perception that they have boundlessly deep pockets, thanks to the oil and gas wealth of Qatar. Al Jazeera America has been portrayed by some as a giant stimulus project for American journalism at a time when other news organizations are suffering cutbacks. “This is the first big journalism hiring binge that anyone’s been on for a long time,” said the business reporter and anchor Ali Velshi when he left CNN in April for a prime time spot on Al Jazeera America.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/27/business/media/american-al-jazeera-channel-shifs-focus-to-us-news.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Iraq Suspends Al Jazeera and Other TV Channels

The decision will not banish the channels from the airwaves: as satellite channels based abroad, they are beyond the reach of the Iraqi government. But it prohibits the channels’ journalists from reporting inside Iraq.

On Sunday afternoon, the normally bustling newsroom of one of the channels, Baghdad TV, was quiet. Riad Barazanji, the general manager of the station, which has ties to the Iraqi Islamic Party and some top Sunni leaders, said he told the channel’s reporters, “This is a good chance for you to go home and see your wives and children after so much time covering the uprisings.”

The edict issued by Iraq’s media commission, which has wide authority to regulate who is allowed to practice journalism and what information is reported, covered a range of channels, many of which have aggressively covered the Sunni protest movement in Iraq. Among the channels are Al Jazeera, the pan-Arab network based in Qatar, and Sharqiya, which has a wide viewership among Iraq’s Sunnis. It is based in Dubai and is owned by Saad al-Bazzaz, a wealthy Iraqi businessman.

Only one of the channels is aligned with the Shiite community: Anwar 2, which is based in Kuwait but owned by an Iranian family. It often gives voice to conspiracy theories about the involvement of neighboring Sunni nations in Iraq’s internal affairs.

In a statement released on its Web site, Al Jazeera, which has frequently been criticized by Middle Eastern governments upset over its aggressive coverage, said: “We are astonished by this development. We cover all sides of the stories in Iraq, and have done so for many years. The fact that so many channels have been hit all at once, though, suggests this is an indiscriminate decision.”

The letter that was delivered by the media commission to the channels stated that Iraqi security force commanders had also received a copy, and it ordered them to “do what’s necessary to stop all journalism operations” of the channels. Mr. Barazanji, of Baghdad TV, said he took that as an implicit threat that his reporters would be arrested if they continued to do their jobs. The commission also ordered local cellphone companies to shut off any phone numbers registered to Baghdad TV.

In its statement, the media commission said the networks had broadcast “misinformation, hype and exaggeration” that had deepened sectarian divisions in Iraq. The statement specifically mentioned coverage last week of a raid by security forces on a Sunni protest camp in Hawija, a northern village near Kirkuk, which left nearly 50 people dead and more than 100 wounded, and set off revenge attacks against the army and the police and a call to arms by Sunni tribal leaders. Clashes between Sunni gunmen and security forces continued over the weekend.

The commission said that it had the authority to restrict news coverage it deemed was encouraging “hatred on the basis of national or ethnic or religious identities that can incite discrimination, hostility or violence.”

In a written statement, a senior American official, who insisted on not being identified, said, “Besides giving the appearance of trying to cover up security force actions and intimidate the press, this undermines confidence in the Iraqi government’s ability to govern democratically and guarantee freedom of expression.”

Many of the channels had devoted large amounts of airtime to the Sunni protest movement that began in December and last week took a violent turn that has raised the specter of a new civil war. A report last year by Sharqiya, in particular, that alleged mistreatment of Sunni women prisoners in Iraqi jails, became a rallying cry for the protesters.

The Iraqi government has sought to cast the protest movement, which is divided by many factions, as a plot by Al Qaeda or the Baath Party to overturn Shiite rule in Iraq, and the media outlets aligned with various factions have sought to control the narrative. Last week when channels like Sharqiya were showing images of the mayhem in Hawija, the state-run channel Iraqiya was broadcasting a poetry festival in Basra. On Friday, as some of the channels whose licenses have now been revoked broadcast fiery speeches from Sunni leaders in Anbar Province exhorting young men to take up arms against the government, Iraqiya was showing programs about movies and flowers. On some Fridays, it has run a documentary about crimes committed by Saddam Hussein’s government.

For now, Mr. Barazanji said, his station will continue to broadcast raw images of the protests provided by a satellite truck owned by local tribes in Sunni regions.

Yasir Ghazi contributed reporting.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/29/world/middleeast/iraq-suspends-al-jazeera-and-other-tv-channels.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Missing Al Jazeera Reporter Dorothy Parvaz Is Freed

Her fiancé, Todd Barker, told The Canadian Press news agency that she had called him “out of the blue” as she cleared customs after flying into Doha from Iran on Wednesday and had told him she was “treated very well, she was interrogated, but she’s fine.”

“When you don’t hear from someone you love for 19 days,” he was quoted as saying, “you don’t know if they are dead, don’t know if they are alive, you don’t know if they are being tortured.”

News of her release emerged a day after Tehran said it was pursuing unspecified information about Ms. Parvaz. It was not clear what considerations had prompted her release, and Iranian officials made no immediate comment on the development.

But IRNA, an official Iranian news agency, said in a separate dispatch on Wednesday that an Iranian envoy had delivered a message from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the Qatari ruler, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, seeking closer ties with the Doha government.

Ms. Parvaz disappeared upon arrival in Syria last month on an assignment to cover antigovernment protests. Her whereabouts remained unknown until Syrian officials acknowledged a week ago that they had sent her to Iran because, they said, she had traveled to Syria on an expired Iranian passport.

On Tuesday, Iran said Iranian-born Ms. Parvaz, 39, who holds American, Canadian and Iranian citizenship, had committed “several offenses,” including traveling without a valid passport. Iranian passport-holders may enter Syria without a visa, The Associated Press reported, but American and Canadian nationals do require visas. Iran does not recognize multiple nationalities for its citizens, The A.P. said.

Syria and Iran routinely restrict access by journalists and few foreign reporters have been allowed to travel openly to Syria since an uprising began in March.

Up until Wednesday, Ms. Parvaz had had no known communication with her employer, friends or family.

On its English-language Web site on Wednesday, Al Jazeera quoted its own spokesman as saying Ms. Parvaz “has been in contact with her family and we are with her now to find out more about her ordeal over the last 18 days.”

Before her release, Mr. Barker, a lawyer working in Luxembourg, said Ms. Parvaz had not contacted her family since she was sent to Iran, and that he assumed she had been detained.

“In other cases involving journalists detained in Iran, the journalist has been allowed to speak with family relatively quickly after being detained,” Mr. Barker said. “I urge Iranian officials to allow Dorothy to contact her family.”

On Tuesday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, had offered no detail on Ms. Parvaz’s precise whereabouts. He also did not say whether Ms. Parvaz had even been detained. But he called her case “important.”

At a Tehran news conference, which was reported by Iran’s state-run press, Mr. Mehmanparast called on journalists to “avoid problems” by following the rules. The authorities in Iran and Syria, close political allies, have little tolerance for antigovernment protests in their own countries and both restrict outside press coverage.

Al Jazeera had said earlier that Ms. Parvaz appears to have been in Iranian custody since May 1, when Syria deported her. But the news organization, which is based in Qatar, said it had received no official word on her location or condition from Iranian authorities despite repeated requests. Iran’s foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, said on Saturday that he had “no information” regarding Ms. Parvaz, according to IRNA.

Iran had at least 34 reporters in custody at the end of last year, more than any other country besides China, according most recent available numbers from the Committee to Protect Journalists, a press advocacy group.

Al Jazeera said Ms. Parvaz was an experienced journalist who joined the broadcaster in 2010. “She graduated from the University of British Columbia, completed a masters degree in Arizona and held journalism fellowships at both Harvard and Cambridge,” the broadcaster said. “She previously worked as a columnist and feature writer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.”

Alan Cowell reported from London and J. David Goodman from New York.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=4e2770c7e211c70a6df24ba10bb81798