Egypt demonstrations: How CNN is handling the attacks on journalists
As international journalists covering the unrest in Egypt have been forced by angry mobs to retreat to their hotel rooms, President Hosni Mubarak (in an interview with ABC News’ Christiane Amanpour) condemned the violence being perpetrated by some of his supporters, but said he could not immediately make good on his promise to resign because it would plunge the country into “chaos.” We talked to Tony Maddox, executive vice president of CNN International, about how the news network is handling the particularly volatile situation.
Why do you think the attacks on journalists have been so intense during this conflict?
TONY MADDOX: I think Egypt is a very big, powerful, influential country. What happens there is of great resonance. You’re talking about the end of a 30-year era of government which was sustained with force and rigor and an intolerance of opposition. So when you have this public outpouring that’s being shown around the world, it doesn’t surprise me that the role of the press is under such scrutiny and that we are coming under pressure.
Do you think those who are attacking journalists think they’ll get more attention if they go after the media? Or that they’ll scare the media away?
I always think it’s counterproductive. Ultimately the journalists never go away. It never really casts the people chasing after them in a good light. It always appears thuggish and bullying and it’s always regrettable. In this case, we got caught up in crowd violence, though we have no evidence the government was instigating that. It was likely the pro-government demonstrators who’ve been attacking us.
You have 35 staffers in Egypt right now, including eight on-air correspondents. Have you increased security for your reporters and crew members in light of all these attacks?
We had good security arrangements from the get-go. You don’t get on big stories like this for CNN unless you have a good track record covering big, heavy stories. We have a couple of folks out there with decades of experience covering stories like this. We knew what the security risks were going to be. We knew how to cope with that. But we also sent in trained security professionals whose sole job it was to manage the safety of our personnel there. There was a security adviser with Anderson [Cooper] and his team when they were attacked. He played a key role in being able to guide them out of that horrible situation.
What do these security guards do?
They’re often called bodyguards, but that’s absolutely the wrong description: You know, big, hunky bodyguards in black T-shirts trying to scare people away. They’re seasoned, military-trained individuals who are always looking for escape routes, who know how to spot when things are starting to get out of hand. They’re also looking for a place to get to safety. They’ve got absolutely outstanding first-aid skills. They set up the standard operating procedures of calling in and calling out. They’re very much a key part of how we operate in these circumstances.
At this point, have you — along with the rest of the networks — been forced to retreat completely from on-the-scene reporting?
Today has been a particularly heavy day, a particularly challenging day. I think everyone is keeping their heads down and regrouping. We can see most of what’s going on still. We’ve got good contacts out in the field. We’re just not hitting the streets.
Will this change anything about how you cover such conflicts in the future?
We’re CNN. We’ve done a few of these, and we’ll do a few more. We’re a bit like the military in that we learn from each one of these big events, but as of so far, we’re very proud of the job we’ve done on this.