'CNN-IBN is a win-win partnership' - CNN International Managing Editor - Asia Pacific Ellana Lee

Based at the network‘s regional headquarters in Hong Kong, Ellena Lee is one of the most dynamic and successful young executives working in Asian television. She manages the on air and online news and feature programming produced in Hong Kong, in addition to CNN‘s correspondents and newsgathering teams across ten bureaus in the Asia Pacific region that stretch from Islamabad to Tokyo.


Some of the programming initiatives under her tenure include taking CNN‘s Asia-produced programming to Beijing, Delhi, Mumbai and Seoul for dedicated weeks of coverage. She has overseen the launch of a new weekday business program from Hong Kong, World Business Today and also managed the network‘s Talk Asia program as it has travelled across the Asia Pacific.


Named as a Young Global Leader in 2008 by the World Economic Forum, Lee has steered CNN in the Asia Pacific to received a variety of awards, including a 2008 Peabody for the network‘s global coverage of the US presidential primary campaigns and debates and two Asian Television Awards for best news program for ‘CNN Today‘ (now renamed ‘World Report‘) and best talk show for ‘Talk Asia‘.


In an email interview with, Lee shared her views on the state of journalism in India, CNN‘s viewpoint and the changes she has brought in her three year tenure as managing editor.




How do you see India as a news market? How different is it from other Asian countries? When it comes to news gathering, how different do you see India among other countries around world? Your take on the exploding media scene in India what so many news channels that have launched?

India is a fascinating television news market thanks to the number and diversity of channels and the press freedom that the media enjoys. The Indian media is a powerful force to be reckoned with, which makes the need for responsible journalism even more necessary. Indeed, there are clearly some quality control issues regarding journalistic output while the lines between journalism and advertising have too often been blurred. From a domestic Indian perspective, the concept of news has undergone a transformation over the past five years due to key factors including the entry of private (non-governmental) players in the news space and the speed of technological innovations, so there will doubtless be many more changes ahead.

How is CNN‘s coverage different than other international players like BBC? What is your DNA?

Production and ownership of our content is our cornerstone and it has allowed us to expand the depth and breadth of coverage. It is very important for us that CNN provide original news to its audiences and not aggregate third party material which people can get from elsewhere. In 2009, we embarked on the biggest newsgathering expansion in our history, a multi-million dollar investment in staff and resources to bolster our world-class, award-winning journalism as well as give us the power to move swiftly into developing new business models.

CNN also continues to evolve to meet the needs of our international audience through platforms including online, broadband, mobile and interactive television. Our strategy is to make use of most of the growing digital technologies and platforms to enhance our reach and be in continuous touch with our audience. That‘s why we offer multiple touch points for the consumer to access CNN content anytime, anywhere.

The issue of paid news and plagiarism have been raised in the Indian media repeatedly and quite often in the recent past. Your comment?

Journalism should always be responsible, impartial and unimpeded by any external factors, be they financial or otherwise. There have been examples of plagiarism and paid media within India which raise serious questions about the independence and objectivity of some reports.

What is CNN‘s policy on paid news and journalistic ethics?

We adhere to the highest standards of journalism and never compromise on journalistic ethics. We have never and will never accept any payment for any news coverage, period.

CNN has adopted a broader perspective on global matters. Can you throw some light on the same?

In 2009, we embarked on the biggest newsgathering expansion in our history, a multi-million dollar investment in staff and resources to bolster our award-winning journalism and give us the power to move swiftly into developing new business models. This also reflects our philosophy of "Go beyond borders", our commitment to delivering intelligent news in a connected world where stories and people are not defined or limited by geography.

Journalism should always be responsible, impartial and unimpeded by any external factors

You were promoted as managing editor of the APAC region in 2007. In the last three years, what changes have you brought in the editorial during this time?

Rigorous editorial discussion and accountability, clarity of thought and speed of action from all our journalists. As Asia itself grows in influence, we strive to reflect its rise through smart story telling. In my short time as managing editor, we have seen explosive growth in the digital and social media sphere and so we make sure our journalists are comfortable on all platforms and work across divisions to maximize a story‘s impact.

What about CNN‘s ambitions to go regional and local? You have CNNj in Japan, then Turkish and Korean CNN, why not in India? And if you say partnership with CNN-IBN, the editorial content is all under IBN18?

CNN-IBN and CNN International have enjoyed a very fruitful newsgathering relationship. For our CNN-IBN audience, we are able to offer a window into key international stories such as the Chilean miners story. And in turn, CNN-IBN offers our international viewers key stories making headlines in India. It really is a win-win partnership.

How has the tie-up with IBN18 helped CNN in India?

CNN-IBN and CNN International have enjoyed a very fruitful relationship with respect to content sharing, helping us provide even more complete and rounded journalism from India for our global audiences.

How will you position CNN in Indian context vis-a-vis other APAC countries?

We don‘t ‘position‘ India or other countries. We report the stories that matter for our hundreds of millions of viewers around the world. We have bureaus in Delhi and Mumbai and are proud of our coverage from India.

How many people you have in your Indian editorial team?

The CNN Editorial team in India is led by New Delhi Bureau Chief, Phillip Turner. CNN boosted its presence in India with the appointment of Sara Sidner as the New Delhi-based international correspondent. Then, in 2008, as part of CNN‘s international newsgathering expansion and content ownership strategy, the network announced the opening of its editorial operation in Mumbai as well as the appointment of Mallika Kapur as the network‘s Mumbai-based international correspondent. We have dedicated newsgathering teams to support these bureaus.

What are the plans for India, how are you going to consolidate your position?

CNN International has a long and special relationship with India spanning more than two decades. We were the first International broadcaster to interview Dr. Manmohan Singh. Our programming in India runs the gamut from political and business news to stories that bring out the human dimension of India. For example, our coverage of the Commonwealth Games highlighted some of the problems in the preparation, while also focussing on stories which bought out a different and uniquely Indian flavour of the games for our viewers. For instance we covered how authorities were using langurs to deal with the macaque monkeys of Delhi in the run-up to the games.


In the past, we‘ve focussed in-depth on India through special theme weeks like ‘Eye on India‘ (2004, 2005 & 2007) and ‘India Means Business‘ (2008). India is a nation with one of the youngest populations globally and we examined its youthful essence by giving a voice to ‘Generation Next.‘ In October 2010, ‘CNNGo‘ the monthly travel show on CNN International featuring a unique take on global destinations, visited Mumbai and took viewers beyond Bollywood and the bulls and bears of Dalal Street to explore some unique aspects of this vivacious city.


Going forward we are looking at further expanding our coverage from India and continuing with our investments in technological innovations. We are also keen to work alongside the remarkable talent pool that is India‘s youth.

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