Journalists under attack in Kosovo

On the ground: CNN official says it's `tough' to cover what's going on in Yugoslavia because the Serbian government and media targets its correspondents.

Radio And Television

March 31, 1999|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

One week into the conflict in Kosovo, and the one thing television news operations know for sure is that covering this war is one of their toughest assignments in recent memory. That's especially the case for CNN, the leader on international stories.

"It's extremely challenging for us," Eason Jordan, president of international networks and global newsgathering for the CNN News Group, said in a telephone interview.

"First of all, elements of the government and elements outside of government are truly hostile toward journalists and CNN in particular. Secondly, there's an orchestrated [Serb] media campaign against CNN.

"You can imagine if you were a journalist in a country from a news organization that was being targeted by that country's news media.

"It's a very difficult situation for us. It's tough. It's tough. It's quite different from Iraq. I wouldn't call Iraq necessarily a friendly environment, but it wasn't as hostile a one either. Iraq was a neutral environment [by comparison]," Jordan said.

CNN now has 15 correspondents in the region covering the story.

They have one in the Serbian capital of Belgrade, Brent Sadler, who was let back into the city late Friday after being expelled with 30 or so other journalists from NATO countries Thursday.

Christiane Amanpour, the region's most experienced television journalist, is in Albania, just across the border from Kosovo, covering the flight of refugees. Amanpour was also expelled from Serbia on Thursday.

"The exodus of refugees has turned into a very big story in itself," Jordan said. "We are there now with a live satellite and you can see the streams of refugees coming across the border by the thousands."

Jordan said it is the experience and expertise of reporters like Sadler and Amanpour that he believes are in part responsible for what he labeled "an orchestrated media campaign against CNN."

"When you're talking about Brent Sadler and Christiane Amanpour, you are talking about correspondents who have spent more time in the region than probably any other western correspondents in the world.

"And that is part of the difficulty we face right now in Yugoslavia, because the hard-line Serb leadership watches CNN on a regular basis -- a problem other competitors of ours don't have.

"But the Serbs are familiar with Christiane's and Brent's reports. They have been fair. They've been tough at times, and rightly so. But this has caused us to rankle some of the Serb hard-liners who now have targeted CNN for harsh treatment at times," Jordan said.

On Monday, for example, Serb news media said CNN was making up the story of the refugee exodus and illustrating it with file pictures from its library, according to Jordan.

As for dealing with Serb authorities, Jordan said, "If we were dealing with `authorities,' it would be easier than what we are dealing with today, because you have gangs, you have paramilitaries, you have alleged war criminals, you have indicted war criminals, and they don't have any great love for CNN. So, it makes the situation for us extremely challenging."

Our loss, Hearst's gain

The brain drain in local television continues.

In recent months, we've lost Marcellus Alexander, the general manager of WJZ (Channel 13), and Phil Stolz, the general manager of WBAL (Channel 11), to corporate promotions.

Now comes word that Emerson Coleman, director of broadcast operations at WBAL, is leaving to take over as vice president of programming for Hearst-Argyle. The company owns WBAL and 25 other stations nationally, making it one of the country's more powerful broadcast groups.

It is a great job for Coleman, but he will be truly missed. Coleman, 44, is one of the smartest, hardest-working and most socially conscious television programmers I have met in 25 years of covering the medium at the local and network levels. I have learned as much from reporting on him as I have anyone in television during that time.

Coleman grew up in Baltimore and then went off to Brown University, where he earned a B.A. in 1976.

Two years later, he added an M.A. from the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania. Then he came back home to Baltimore and started making television.

After almost a dozen years as a producer at WJZ, he joined WBAL in 1990.

Among his many accomplishments as a programmer, he started "The Bottom Line" with Kweisi Mfume in 1993, as well as the "Remarkable Journey" series, which teaches African-American history and has become a hit in syndication across the country. Both shows are produced in Baltimore.

"It really has been an honor to work in the community I grew up in. It was a dream and an inspiration to be able to work in the community that raised me, and I felt like I could make a contribution here," Coleman said yesterday.

He did, especially in helping develop programs that reflected and engaged Baltimore's large African-American audience rather than trying to exploit it.

Coleman's last day at WBAL is April 14. A replacement has yet to be named.

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