CNN International’s missing piece

Earlier this week, columnist Glenn Greenwald wrote about a surprising lapse in coverage by the international arm of CNN. Fed by former CNN reporter Amber Lyon and an anonymous source inside CNN, Greenwald painted a picture of an organization succumbing to pressure from the U.S.-supported Bahraini government.

Lacking coverage is nothing new in journalism. Ever since the internet, news organizations have struggled to put together deep, comprehensive coverage – especially of international stories – due to the cost. But CNN (the American branch) put up $100,000 to make an hour-long expose of the brutality of the Bahraini government. To CNNi, the cutesy name the cable news giant slapped on their international brand, it was free money. The program would be well-watched, generate ad revenue, and reaffirm CNNi’s commitment to getting waist-deep in the muck.

CNNi’s decision not to broadcast “iRevolution” was extremely unusual. Both CNN and CNNi have had severe budget constraints imposed on them over the last several years. One long-time CNN employee (to whom I have granted anonymity to avoid repercussions for negative statements about CNN’s management) described “iRevolution” as an “expensive, highly produced international story about the Arab Spring”. Because the documentary was already paid for by CNN, it would have been “free programming” for CNNi to broadcast, making it “highly unusual not to air it”. The documentary “was made with an international audience as our target”, said Lyon. None of it was produced on US soil. And its subject matter was squarely within the crux of CNN International’s brand.

So why not run it? CNN’s responses were lacking at best, and sounded more like the prefab responses more fit to an oppresive regime than a leading international news organization.

“The documentary ‘iRevolution’ was commissioned for CNN US. While the programme did not air in full on CNN International, segments of it were shown. This differing use of content is normal across our platforms, and such decisions are taken for purely editorial reasons. CNN International has run more than 120 stories on Bahrain over the past six months, a large number of which were critical in tone and all of which meet the highest journalistic standards.”

Highest journalistic standards? How about this: After Lyon tweeted that CNNi’s failure to air her documentary “baffled producers,” she got a call.

The following day, a representative of CNN’s business affairs office called Lyon’s acting agent, George Arquilla of Octagon Entertainment, and threatened that her severance payments and insurance benefits would be immediately terminated if she ever again spoke publicly about this matter, or spoke negatively about CNN.

CNN refuses to comment on those allegations, noting that they don’t discuss personell matters, but the story doesn’t look good for CNNi’s integrity. And that’s without even mentioning the messy business CNN is in with state-sponsored programming.

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