CNN International’s Response to the Guardian – Update
UPDATE: Here is CNN International’s response to Glenn Greenwald’s story in the Guardian about Amber Lyon’s documentary, iRevolution: Online Warriors of the Arab Spring.
CNN International has carried advertising and sponsored content since the 1990s. The critical issue is that our editorial operations and our commercial operations are completely separate. No deal ever buys any editorial influence.
Alongside many other international news outlets, CNN International has carried a very small amount of advertising from the Bahrain Economic Development Board.
Before, during and after the production timeframe and airing of this specific documentary our editorial coverage of Bahrain has been plentiful, thorough, unbiased and frequently critical, as our previous response below underlines and any search on CNN.com will attest.
CNNI’s previous response after the jump.
1. False: CNN International did not air “its own documentary”.
The Truth: It was never intended to air on CNN International. It was an hour-long program about the impact of social media on the Arab Spring that was commissioned for CNN US, where it ran in June of 2011. The portion of it that concerned Bahrain lasted about 13 minutes.
Despite Greenwald’s speculation about the editorial choices that are made when operating multiple networks with different audience profiles, there is nothing unusual about this programming decision.
2. False: CNN International ensured Amber’s reporting “was never seen on television by Bahrainis or anyone else in the region.”
The Truth: Amber’s reporting from Bahrain was actually featured and promoted on CNN International. This happened months before the full documentary aired on CNN US. While not exhaustive, here are examples when her work was featured:
- April 11, 2011. Amber’s Bahrain reporting was featured four different times across the day on CNN International . This included a 14 minute segment that aired in European prime time where a lengthy portion of her reporting (which became part of the documentary) was shown and Amber was interviewed for nine minutes over two segments of the show.
- April 12/overnight April 13, 2011. Amber’s reporting is again featured four different times. Again, during European prime time, there is a 17 minute segment with Amber highlighting her Bahrain reporting. A five minute segment of her Bahrain report is shown and she is interviewed and takes questions from Facebook and Twitter.
- April 15, 16, 17 and 18. An entire half hour program called “Best of Backstory” is dedicated to Amber’s reporting from Bahrain. It runs five times, including a run in European prime time on April 16, 2011.
- Amber was thrilled with CNN International’s showcasing of her work. She said on the air: “I was surprised. I didn’t know that that many people would look at the story so positively or really thank CNN for it. I think they created a thank you Amber Lyons CNN Facebook page and I got tons of tweets and the response has really been phenomenal.”
- All told, CNN International featured Amber’s reporting from Bahrain at least 16 times in this one week period and it received almost 3 and a half hours of airtime.
- At the core of Greenwald’s accusations, he casually uses references to the entire iRevolution documentary as interchangeable with Amber Lyon’s reporting from Bahrain. This is sloppy and misleading. Only a portion of the documentary covered Amber’s experiences in Bahrain, and that reporting was heavily featured on CNN International. The other segments concerned Tunisia and Egypt. Had Greenwald been clearer about this distinction, the underlying (and false) premise of his article would have fallen apart.
3. Misleading: Amber and her crew were the principal vehicle for CNN’s coverage of Bahrain in 2011.
The Truth: Amber went to Bahrain for a documentary to be aired on CNN US. Programming executives at CNN International did not even know she was there until she began tweeting from Bahrain. This was because Amber failed to follow CNN policy when traveling to and reporting from areas in turmoil.
In fact, by the time Amber arrived in Bahrain, CNN already had been covering the unrest in Bahrain for many weeks. By mid February 2011 CNN had already deployed several of its most well respected international correspondents to report on the unrest and the government’s violent response, including Nic Robertson, Arwa Damon, Rima Maktabi and CNN International Anchor Hala Gorani. Damon, Maktabi and Gorani are all fluent Arabic speakers.
4. False: CNN avoided covering events in Bahrain “in the first half of 2011.”
The Truth: CNN had multiple, top level international correspondents reporting from Bahrain as early as mid February 2011. These extraordinary reports and the multiple features of Amber’s reporting in April alone prove the falsity of Greenwald’s claim.
5. False: CNN pulled its punches in its reporting on the situation in Bahrain in 2011.
The Truth: CNN International ran more than twenty stories in February 2011 that were critical of the situation in Bahrain, including a piece by CNN Anchor Hala Gorani that spoke directly to the carefully managed public image of Bahrain and how that compared with harsh realities of life for those in the Shiite majority who are excluded from the government. Indeed, during the months leading up to the US airing of the documentary, CNN produced and aired 40 separate packages critical of Bahrain and the events unfolding there.
6. False: There was something scandalous about a requirement that the documentary include a response from the Bahraini government.
The Truth: Seeking and publishing a response from the subject of a story is Journalism 101.