"I don't agree that impartiality will be compromised with 'embedded' journalism"


The news channel space is getting more competitive in India. Recently NDTV, Zee and CNBC launched business news channels. The Times Group is also planning a foray into the news channel segment. Meanwhile, Sahara is launching an English news channel for the South. All this means that the existing channels like CNN have to keep on guard.

This year CNN celebrates 25 years of existence. Indiantelevision.com's correspondent Ashwin Pinto caught up with CNN international senior VP Rena Golden for a lowdown on the challenges as well as CNN's plans for the future.


Could you talk about the organisational restructuring that took place in 2004 and what this achieved?

Several years of investment in CNN International has enabled us to continually evolve and stay ahead of the competition, both editorially and commercially. No business grows by standing still.

To better serve the way our audiences watch CNN International, we changed the way we produced our news, and made smarter use of the technology and staff available. This process involved some staff changes, including the elimination of some positions.

You recently established a bureau in Pakistan. What are the main challenges that you expect to face in reporting from this region?

CNN has been present in Pakistan for some while and like any country works within the laws and media framework of that country. Any challenges or problems that arise are dealt with on a case by case basis.

Are there any areas where you feel CNN could improve?

As a journalist, I would say that you are only as good as your last report, article or photograph. So I strive along with all my colleagues to do better all the time.

Are you planning to introduce a regional service in India and for any of the Asian countries in the near future?

CNN's focus is on providing the best international and regional news service to audiences in the region. We constantly re-evaluate ways to better serve our South Asian audiences. CNN is a successful international media player and has made public its ambition to go regional and local.

We have already executed this plan successfully in some parts of the world. CNN has identified several countries for a regionalisation drive and we believe that it is a question of being presented with the right opportunity.

On the programming front what new initiatives have been planned for the year?

In 2005, CNN will celebrate its 25th anniversary of the groundbreaking creation of 24-hour TV news, which will be celebrated with both on and off-air initiatives to commemorate 25 years of broadcasting 24 hours of global news events. The anniversary will be marked with special global events, including four landmark CNN Connects programmes, that tackle issues facing the world in the decades to come.

There will be a series of vignettes celebrating the people and events that have had a global impact in the last 25 years; themed feature months with top 25 lists of, amongst others, innovations, technology, trends and sporting moments that have changed our lives since 1980. We will also be showcasing four specially commissioned CNN Presents documentaries on issues of global importance. This initiative kicks off with a documentary on global warming in March 2005. Further, special programming commissioned for June 2005 to mark the 25th anniversary will be shown on the channel.

In 2005, CNN also marks 20 years of international broadcasting alongside 20 years of Larry King's agenda setting interviews and 10 years of bringing the news to Internet readers through CNN.com. Apart from our 25th anniversary celebration, we will also focus on many more subjects, new shows in 2005. Editorially, we believe and have been known to be leaders in factual and accurate reporting and will not compromise this position.

Recently, I read a report that the format of CNN Headline News is being changed. Could you talk a little more about this?

CNN Headline News has launched three amazing new shows covering entertainment, legal news and a new prime time news show. They have proved to be very popular with the viewers here in the US and have brought a new audience to Headline News.

So far what response has CNN Headline News received from the Asian cable fraternity? Has it been launched in India?

Turner Broadcast System Asia had announced the introduction of CNN Headline News to the Asia Pacific region in November 2004. Initially launched in the US in 1982, CNN Headline News is currently available to more than 84 million households and in more than 600,000 hotel rooms in the US, Canada and in some parts of Latin America and the Caribbean. CNN Headline News is faring very well since its launch in the region. It has been launched in India on the Dish TV platform, aimed particularly at people with an appetite for global news.

While CNN's Young Journalist Award initiative is laudable one issue as far as India is concerned is the lack of trained TV journalists. How can we overcome this problem?

Being based in Atlanta, it would be difficult for me to comment on Indian TV journalists. With awards like the CNN Young Journalist Awards in India and Pakistan and other similar awards across the world, we receive an overwhelming response. Some of the work we received in India's CNN YJA 2003 and 2004 editions in the print, online and TV categories from young journalists in India and Pakistan were truly outstanding. The television category saw some awesome entries from both countries and it is truly amazing that the media in this region is so talented.

The winners of CNN YJA undergo an intense schedule at CNN's headquarters in Atlanta or regional headquarters in Hong Kong, London or New Delhi, designed to add value to their existing journalistic experience. They are provided with a thorough insight into the functioning of the world's leading news network giving the winners a detailed overview of how the network operates. They also meet with CNN International's editors and anchors, and experience first-hand the workings of CNN's editorial and programming teams.

"It is interesting to note that even with the growth of news channels in India, viewers are still tuning in to CNN. Our core audience and demographics remain loyal"

A few years ago you had in an interview told us that CNN was looking to beat the first mover advantage that BBC has in the region. In terms of channel share how is CNN faring in India?

It would be unfair to look at our viewership in terms of channel share. The audience that CNN caters to would like to know more about global developments. CNN leads in viewership amongst business decision makers and affluent adults who seek international news and information.

The Indian affluent group continues to grow, travels regionally and globally and does more business around the region while Indian companies have started expanding globally. With these developments, we are seeing a growing interest in international news and business. Your World Today being in a prime time slot is an indication of this growth. Then we have World News Asia, Talk Asia, CNN Today etc which are widely viewed in the region.

Research proves that when big global stories happen, viewers turn to CNN and I am confident we will continue to grow our position in the international news market. It is interesting to note that even with the growth of news channels in India, viewers are still tuning into CNN, and at times like the Gulf War, we see that CNN still leads the way. Our core audience and demographics remain loyal.

According to the most recent Pan Asian Cross Media Survey (PAX), CNN International remains the undisputed news leader in Asia, and has grown its monthly reach among business decision makers, top management and the total Pax demographic.

Pax has allowed us to track long-term trends in our audience, which is now at an all-time high in terms of monthly viewers. The most recent two Pax data releases have also shown increases in our weekly audiences, indicating that new viewers are now becoming ever more regular viewers.

The Indian news channel scene is getting crowded. How is CNN able to differentiate itself in order to cut through the clutter?

CNN is targeted at the 'discerning internationalist', who is interested in knowing what is happening around the world. We are an international news provider covering global news and so are different from local news channels. Our content reflects this, and we bring viewers coverage of global events with a regional perspective. On the news front, CNN's New Delhi Bureau Chief, headed by Satinder Bindra, focuses on covering domestic news and developments and has filed numerous stories from India. In addition, CNN's feature programmes such as Business Traveller, Global Office, Global Challenges and Talk Asia have already done many stories out of India, and we will continue to do many more.

Are you looking to increase your repertoire by adding more lifestyle and entertainment shows like the property 'Living Golf'?

We have been doing a number of lifestyle and entertainment shows which are popular with audiences in India and elsewhere. Shows such as Talk Asia, Business Traveller, Global Challenges are now telecast at a time more suited to Indian viewers. We will continue to cover fashion/ entertainment and lifestyle topics/ personalities as well such as the Oscars, the recent MTV Asia Aid Tsunami concert in Bangkok, interviews with entertainers like Diana Krall etc.

What effect is the new media, like mobile phones, having on the way TV news broadcasters like CNN work?

The world over, wireless has become a huge industry. Mobile technology has completely revolutionised how information is accessed, handled and viewed in our society. It has seen an exponential growth over the years and is a technology of the future which can only grow. Also, it helps to create a more interactive format with viewers that allow them to be more involved with the entire news process. In addition, news has been one of the key drivers in encouraging people to use more advanced services on their mobile phones, with it being one of the most sought-after mobile services.

CNN International has really pioneered its delivery of mobile news services and offers a number of different products to enable people to get news on the go. These include a java service with the top 10 stories from CNN, CNN.com on mobile phones and an SMS breaking news service that delivers the latest news alerts direct to subscribers mobile phones. We have even started streaming CNN International directly to UMTS mobile phones in some markets.

CNN is famous for pushing the boundaries of technology, it was one of the reasons Ted Turner was able to create CNN and broadcast around the world. The satellite video phone is one of the most important developments in the last few years. CNN was also a first mover on the web and with six million each day visiting CNN.com we have enabled many more people access CNN news than ever before. We are also leading the way in the delivery of news service to mobile handsets, with a number of different services on offer to mobile users. The future is truly exciting, the digital revolution is moving very fast and this year CNN expects to launch a broadband product in the US that will be a market leader.

Could you talk about the checks and balances that are in place to make sure that stories are fair and accurate?

CNN has earned its reputation of being fair, accurate and unbiased in its coverage. As a global broadcaster, we have a huge responsibility to keep our audiences well informed. We listen to all sides and report all sides of a story while providing fair and balanced coverage.

It is integral to CNN's fundamental principle of fair and unbiased news coverage that no third party, governmental or otherwise has any bearing on our output. Also we make sure that while reporting, correspondents keep their personal opinions aside and all news is put through a very strict fact checking procedure before it's put on air.

One issue that has been the subject of debate is that of "embedded" journalism. Isn't there the danger of impartiality being compromised if for instance a journalist is embedded in the US troops while reporting on war?

I don't agree with the proposition that there is only a thin line dividing "embedded" and "bedded". CNN correspondents are well trained to report both sides of a story in a balanced and fair manner. Time and again CNN journalists have reported both sides of a conflict from various hotspots of the world. "Embedding" cannot rob a trained journalist of his professionalism even as he is witness to only one facet of a story. "Embedding" only provides a journalist access to places and situations to which one is otherwise barred. What they see and report is important but is just one small part of the wider jigsaw of the story.

"Being a global network it is always day-time somewhere and people and events are making news all the time. So it is never dull. This is what drives me on"

What is the situation as far as advertising revenue is concerned?

CNN International has been doing very well in India in terms of ad sales and subscription and is steadily growing. During the last financial year we have added a number of new clients like the Oberoi Hotels and Resorts who were associated with our week-long initiative Eye on India.

In addition to the existing categories of advertisers, with an international presence, even Indian companies and tourism boards etc bank on CNN International to reach international audiences. These brands also want to be associated with CNN International because of the strength of the upscale viewers that the network offers.

What is a normal day for you in terms of routine?

Tough, with a family to love and look after I get up early and make sure that they are all set for the day while also listening to the radio and watching some TV while getting ready to leave for work. The Blackberry handheld email device is both a blessing and pain but it does mean that in an emergency I'm not tied to a computer.

My office work day normally starts before 8 am, sometimes earlier if I have been on a conference call with London or Hong Kong and can stretch into the evening on days when there is major breaking news. As a senior executive I have to attend far too many meetings, but I try each day to make time to at least be involved in how the team in Atlanta news room is flowing.

How are you able to strike a balance between work and family life? It's tough, but important, to make that distinction.

There are some weeks when the news agenda has been very busy when I know I have fallen short with the family. But I have strong team of journalists and managers which does allow me to step back and watch from the sidelines so that I can recharge my batteries and spend time with the family

Finally, while a lot has been spoken and written about the stress in broadcast journalism, what factors have motivated you to persist for so many years at CNN?

No day is ever the same and I never know when and what is going to happen in the news. Being a global network it is always daytime somewhere and people and events are making news all the time. So it is never dull. This is what drives me on. Also CNN is such a dynamic place it is always inventing new ideas and distribution platforms and ways to gather news enabling to broadcast more news from more places, fast and quicker than ever before.

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