Christiane Amanpour | The Power of Truth-Telling | 2019 Skoll World Forum

Christiane Amanpour | The Power of Truth-Telling | 2019 Skoll World Forum

– It’s so great to have you here. – It’s great to be here, I loved listening to your introductory
remarks and I feel very much the same way as you do
about seeking the possible out of the impossible, about
not giving up on this world and knowing that we can
individually make a change and a difference and
accelerate the process of making things better
so it’s great to be here. – Well when we thought about
accelerating possibilities we couldn’t think of anyone
who helped the rest of us think of ways we can do that by beginning those kinds of journeys with the truth with knowing what we need to know. And yours has been quite a journey. I was thinking as I was
looking over these honors that just continued to pour in Christiane and the many different ways in
which you’re accomplishments are noted and I, since
we’ve known each other from the very beginning of our careers, when, we will not say
how long ago that was, is this the narrative, is the current Christiane’s story anything close to what you might have imagined
the possibilities to be? – Well not really because
I’ve actually been at CCN for 36 years nearly, in September it will be 36 years, I mean
I started as a desk assistant and so it was completely
and utterly entry level and worked my way up
but people often ask me did you want to be a
journalist all your life or when did you know you
wanted to be a journalist. And I didn’t actually, I actually thought I was going to be a doctor,
and I was at boarding school here in England and long
story short, I didn’t get the right grades to go to medical school. So I was a little bit wondering
around in the wilderness and quite upset about what
my life was going to be and my parents and myself,
we’d grown up in Iran, because my father is Iranian
and my mum was English, is, and I thought oh ca rumba, I’m
gonna have to go back there and don’t know, and arranged
marriage or be a secretary or I don’t know what the
hell was going to be my path and out of the blue came a revolution. Now I really shouldn’t be celebrating that because it did in fact
turn the world upside down, it turned families upside down
and the Islamic revolution of Iran has been the template
for the disruptive relations between East and West and
between Islam and Christianity and the whole thing for the last 40 years. But, I was old enough to recognize it and to know that this was
something massively important and to be on the streets
when suddenly my city was turned into martial law
and everybody who’d I grown up believing on the heroic side turned out to be the villains and vice
and et cetera so it was a major turning point, a major learning moment but it also made me
want to be a journalist because I thought wow, I
want to tell these stories I want to be able to explain
these seismic shifts to people and I also was very
conscious of the photography, the pictures of the instance
and the video of what was going on, so that’s what made me want to be a journalist. – Well the video of you
on the front lines of war when you came into our
world and into our presence as this most-recognized face
of CNN, a burgeoning source of news and information
at the time and sometimes people think you were
born in a fatigue jacket . You’ve been standing on
front lines all your life and when in fact, working
as a desk assistant was hardly there, so
what sparked you to say, oh that I can do? – Well here’s the thing,
I’m not sure whether it’s terribly fashionable
or part of people’s job descriptions or job
expectations these days but 36 years ago when I first joined CNN it was sort of absolutely
taken for granted that you would start at the
bottom, and if you’re very lucky you would work your way up to somewhere. It wasn’t just the expectation
that you’d arrive someone and all door would be open
to you and you would have this phenomenal, fantastic, great job and you’d be so fantastic,
it didn’t work like that. And actually I’m kind of glad
that it didn’t work like that, no I’m very glad because I really believe that to be competent, to
be authentic, to be able to have the authority,
and especially for women, the authority is very
important to be able to have the confidence to do this
kind of work, or whatever kind of work, you need to learn
it from the nuts and bolts upwards and then create this
thing that becomes your career, your mission, your purpose or
whatever it is but it can’t be created out of clouds
it has to be created out of scaffolding and that
scaffolding of working very hard and coming in on my own time
and offering to do whatever it took, writing, producing,
cleaning my boss’s desk, doing the Twinkie tun, all
of that kind of stuff I did and I was also always, always
said yes, and I actually asked for opportunities in which, to say yes. And I would be very dramatic
and say I have to quit now because I really need to
do this and you’re not gonna let me do it, but I
have to go somewhere else or do it on my own or whatever. So a couple of times I did that. – [Interviewer] I can
testify to that actually, – But I also walked,
filled dead-man’s shoes quite a few times, and
they were men’s shoes and that’s what happened
and then when CNN exploded onto the world’s consciousness was during the first Gulf War. And it just happened to be my first story. – Just happened, let’s take a look at that first video, there’s
certainly no one here who doesn’t have this
in their memory embedded but to remind us of what
launched this narrative. – As dust fell people were still marching. This is the entrance to the city of Basra. Here were are in Habila a
village that has not had any food distribution since June. When the families had
finished looking at the names that are posted on those boards
they come here, this is now a memorial to the victims
of the Srebrenica massacre. Where in the Koran does it
justify the killing of innocents? Christiane Amanpour, CNN, with elements of the Galilee Division in Israel. I’m Christiane Amanpour
in Iran, in Amsterdam, in Jerusalem, in Washington, D.C., so come with me around the world. We’re very interested to
see what’s going on here. – What do you think when
you look at those images? – You know I think wow, I mean I really — – That’s sort of what we all think too. But the wow is more because
I just can’t believe I’ve had this unbelievable opportunity, I mean it’s just so phenomenal for me and it’s crazy, it’s just
crazy, I’m just an ordinary girl who grew up in a middle
class family in Iran and this is what happened, and I grew up with CNN and I feel CNN is in my DNA and most particularly
because as you know very well the founder of CNN is
somebody who would lead and organization like this one, right, because everything that he
believes you all believe. He was the world’s first,
I’d say entrepreneur with a conscience, he
created the media revolution with 24/7 CNN, he then went on to do, bringing people together
during the Cold War with the Goodwill Games, he was the first mega public capitalist person
to lobby for the environment and for climate, corralling loose nukes after the fall of the Soviet Union. And most particularly, and
this is really important in today’s world, again,
in our DNA at CNN, there is no other, we believe,
and we have been taught to believe that everybody counts. Ted Turner would not let
us use the word foreign. It was international and I was pissed because I wanted to be
a foreign correspondent. Instead I had to be an
international correspondent. But the point was, the
point was, that each and every nationality,
ethnicity, religion, social-economic group, whatever
it is, had its own place in the world and its own dignity
and we had to respect that, and we couldn’t take these kinds of sides. – So true, and I respect
so deeply that you brang this forward
because it is leadership and it was Ted Turner and it is Jeff Skoll who have the leadership
visions which are shared in this case which is news too important not to tell the stories that
matter no matter how hard it is to tell those
stories, and you yourself went to the hardest places
and it’s easy to admire that as we do as courage, as bravery, it took that because you
were at great personal risk. In what ways were you
thinking about the work then as a new way of story telling,
recognizing that you had an opportunity to create
a new kind of narrative. – I think Bosnia was the
turning point and one of the first images there
where I’m running across this, under sniper fire, and this and that. In Bosnia, which I covered
along with many of my colleagues for the entire war, which was practically the whole of the 90’s, Bosnia then Kosovo, taught me everything about this job and about truth and
neutrality and objectivity and about myself as a person
and about our profession as a power for good, so
just to quickly run down, Bosnia was the first
place where journalist became deliberately
targeted, up until then in Vietnam in Central America
in the Middle East, etc. journalists generally were
considered friends of all sides. They could tell everybody’s
story, they were welcomed, and if they were injured
or killed it was usually sadly in the crossfire, in
Bosnia it changed completely. And therefore we lost a lot
of people, wounded, killed, I always touch wood
that luckily I survived unscathed in that physical way. So courage didn’t occur to me at the time because what you’re trying
to do is survive and you have to have your wits about
you in order to do that. I learned afterwards
though that moral courage was even more important
than physical courage and I always used to
quote, and I still do, Robert Kennedy’s famous
speech in South Africa about moral courage and how
that’s even more difficult often than physical
courage and I learned that in a very clear way in that I was profiled for my work in Bosnia and somebody said, oh but Christiane, she’s taking sides, she’s not objective and I was very upset. And because objectivity’s our golden rule so I had to think about what that meant. And I said well what did they
mean, I’m telling the truth. And the truth was that there was one side which were the victims and another side which were the aggressors,
that’s the truth and international criminal
law has been trying that in the verdicts that the
criminal tribunal in the Hague actually came out with after the war. One side were the aggressors
the other side were the victims and I couldn’t muddle the
two, I knew it instinctively and as as journalist I
had to tell the truth. And the truth meant that
sometimes we were unpopular, with the do-nothing brigade, oh all sides are equally guilty, oh it’s
centuries of ethnic hatred and a lot of people
believed that therefore they did nothing and
therefore there were massacres every day of the week
until we had Srebrenica. In which case our democratic
world that’s built on values like human rights and justice
could no longer look away and they had to intervene,
so I basically said, objectivity does not mean neutrality. Truth does not mean
neutrality, you cannot create false moral or factual equivalences and if in cases of
genocide and the wholesale violation of international
humanitarian law, if you do that, A you’re lying,
and B you’re an accessory and I refuse to be an accessory
to genocide in Bosnia. – This struggle to find the
truth, to know the truth becomes more and more daunting every day. We’ve had a lot of conversations about it at this year’s forum and in your struggle to get the truth, the truth of a story, the truth of a leader,
and to bring it to us. You moved from those fronts lines to another kind of front
line which is a face-to-face confrontation with leaders,
let’s take a quick look at just a bit of Amanpour, the
show that you host for CNN. – Welcome to the program,
President Barzani, today we live in an
unpredictable environment, and news races around the
world at breakneck speed. – As long as he’s here, I’m here. – You’re talking about President Trump. My show brings you the latest
news and top news makers. What would you like the
American people to know? And we also dive below the headlines to explore vital issues
impacting our lives. I mean you can’t argue with that, right? – I can. – Your administration didn’t
do it, big mistake, right? – I think it was a big mistake. – Your right in the middle
of the Me Too Movement, do you think things are getting better? – Do you fancy singing a few bars now? – It’s crucial we make
sense of what’s happening. – Is Russia making us racist,
is that who’s doing it? – You said we shouldn’t
sugarcoat the consequences, this is surveillance,
that’s pretty controversial. – Well it’s the truth. – And fully understand what’s at stake. – So among that group which has included every single leader in
the world, maybe not, who have you not gotten
to that you want to? – I can tell you one I’d like
to talk to, Donald Trump. – That’s right, you haven’t,
well I was just gonna ask you who’s been the hardest to
get the truth from but. – A lot of people. – May have just answered that question. – It’s tough, I mean my new
mantra for want of shorthand is truthful, not neutral,
I mean that’s a promo so it’s not some of the more
in-your-face opportunities I’ve had with some of these people. But you know, you just
gotta hold them accountable. And you’ve just gotta, I
thought maybe if I could bring my experience in the field into the studio and just talk to people, and
they know that I’ve been there. I mean every single
one of these interviews I’ve been in the field, I did the work before I sit down with them over a period of nearly 30 years so I feel confident, I feel that I can sit
mano y mano with people but it takes a huge amount of studying, a huge amount of research, I say sometimes it’s almost like doing
a PhD every single day. And of course it’s not, because I can’t but you have to be seriously prepared and it’s not easy and
you have to be prepared not to be popular and
you have to be prepared not to be liked and sometimes
you have to sit there with undemocratically elected leaders, chest bristling with all sorts of medals which their either earned or didn’t earn. And they’ve got squads
of heavily-armed people around them you think if you ask them the wrong question you
might get pounced on. – I wondered about that in
watching Amanpour as I do, sometimes that feels like a more fearful or even dangerous environment. – I mean when I went to
ABC I call it On Assignment for a brief period of
time when I left CNN. I said it was a whole
different kind of war zone and particularly at that time I went to do as Washington Sunday morning talk show which was a colossal failure
but I own my failures. And it was a colossal
failure because they simply didn’t want to be asked
the real questions. It was all process and
politics and we’ve seen where that’s got us,
so I believe in policy and trying to get real
answers and I also believe in solutions and I know
that there are solutions under all this mess and I like to see if we can get it out, and the huge issues that we’re faced with now,
climate is my biggest issues, it should be everybody’s biggest issue. And I think that, here’s another instance of how not being truthful
and trying to be neutral has brought us to the brink
of this cataclysmic moment where the press has also
played a very negative role in trying to seek equal
time and equal fact, which is just not true,
a handful of deniers and the overwhelming number of science cannot be treated equally
and it’s the young people who are hopefully gonna
get us out of this. People like Greta Thunberg and the others who hopefully will shame the generation that has not done nearly enough. – Let’s stay with this, wide
agreement from this audience and we’ve been struggling with this in session after session,
there isn’t any subject that we don’t tackle here at the forum in which the media and
the role of the media increasingly distressing,
increasingly distrusted, plays the part, how do
you feel about that, and what can we, as
active, engaged citizens anywhere in the world do about this. – Well look, it’s
obviously very bothersome I mean to be in a
profession which is suddenly seriously distrusted is not
a comfortable place to be and is actually quite sad
because I strongly believe that this profession, especially
in the democratic world which has either constitutional or non-constitutional respect
for freedom of expression and free press, you know, to be told, well I don’t know where to seek the truth is a little bit of a gut punch. And I think that there are
places where you can find the truth and I do believe
that it is up to individuals now to search for that,
we’re doing our best, there are brands in this environment which have been proved to
be truthful, trustworthy, credible, authentic, by
experience, longevity and being at the pyramid,
the top of the pyramid, so there’s the CNNs,
there’s the New York Times there’s the Wall Street
Journal, there’s the BBC, everywhere in the world,
you can find the truth but you have to be willing to do that and not be lazy and be
overwhelmed and overcome by this ridiculous habit
of just social media-ing and scrolling and believing every stupid conspiracy theory that’s out there. I think people have to take responsibility if they want to get the truth. Yeah, it’s not just on
us, it’s on everybody. – It’s such an important
point and let’s talk about it just a bit more because it is easy to kind of throw up your
hands as a media consumer and say, it’s just a landscape of babel, which is certainly feels like, our set opinions and
these as we know silos in which we are hearing
the same echo over and over but you as a journalist,
and someone working for a news organization,
you are inside the beast as it were, what can you
do and what can we do? – Well I think we can continue
to do what we have to do and that is the reporting,
the seeking the facts, the seeking the truth
and bringing the stories. Look, I think I agree that
if there are complaints that some of today’s
news events, situations are covered too much in like
panels and talking heads and I’m a reporter, I
actually came into the studio for personal reasons, for my
son and because he needed me at that particular time, I left Europe, I went to the United States,
it was less obvious there that I could be this fireman
traveling around the world. So for a period of time I
thought I would try to do it in the studio, but I
think in this profession we must all be reporters,
we must all be willing to go out there and seek
the facts and the evidence, who was I talking to,
Robert Caro, the famous Lyndon Johnson biographer who has not yet written his fifth and
final episode but he has written his own memoir
about working and he said a couple of things which
I think were really good. Maybe you can’t actually define the truth, I mean I think you can, but he said, maybe you can’t but what you can do is go out and find the facts
and the empirical evidence and fact by fact, piece of
evidence by piece of evidence you build the picture and
is the accurate picture of what’s going on, so that’s
our basic responsibility. Then the other responsibility he said, a copy-editor of his when
he was a young cub reporter had told him what you
should do in your notebook when you’re doing interviews
is write the word shut up. And he didn’t mean for the
other person to shut up he meant for us to shut up, give the space for them to talk and then
you find all the information in those spaces, don’t always believe that what’re your saying
is the most important. It’s an occupational hazard and sometimes I’m guilty of that so
I’ve started to write SU, I’m trying to make my questions
shorter and listen more. – I’ll try to do the same. – [Christiane] You’re doing just fine. She was my boss once, I have to be good. – A good one though. – [Christiane] A very good one. – You chose at another point
in your personal narrative that you needed a still a
bigger way, a longer way, a more deeper way, to tell stories. And you chose to make documentaries. – Oh that, yes, oh yes, yes, it was fun. – But why, I mean you– – I did my first documentary with you and again it was a bit of
sort of a stereotype buster, I went back to Iran, I did
the story of reform in Iran at that time, boy it
seems so long ago, 1999, through sort of my own personal story. – [Interviewer] And
got in a lot of trouble and got banned from going home. – Got in a lot of trouble,
and was banned for five years. And then I’ve done a few
in the post 9-11 world, I’ve done Osama Bin Laden,
documentaries, God’s warriors about the major sort of epochal divides, religion and politics, whether
it’s the Christian right in the United States,
the orthodoxy in Israel and the fundamentalism
in the Islamic world. All had a major role to
play in politics as well. And then I did something
different, this past year I did sex and love around the
world, I thought it was time. – It is, believe me, different,
and we can’t show you the whole thing but we’ll
show you just maybe, well we have time for just a bit of it just to give you an idea
of another Christiane. – [Christiane] I’ve
learned from war survivors how to rebuild, I’ve asked
world leaders about the moments that really matter, I’ve
discovered the passion created by faith, and now I’m on a new, unexpected journey to understand
the rules of engagement in our most intimate relationships. Tokyo, in a city of contradictions, I want to know more about how
the women here live, and love. Do you think Japanese society
is changing for women? Ladies, let’s talk about sex. We’re on our way to see new
refugees from Afghanistan and I’ve always wanted to ask about how they managed
to maintain intimacy. Were you ever told that
you also have a right to be happy, to be loved? – We have to be careful
with this question. It is a dangerous question. – Wow. – Well we had to be very judicious in editing what we could share out out of that documentary but– – It was PG, it had to be PG. – It was, but it was a different look at Christiane Amanpour. – It was, it was, because I got this idea of brushing my teeth before going to work during the height of the Syrian war. – Believing impossible
things before breakfast. – Correct, during the
height of the Syria war and watching all these people come out as I’ve seen so many refugees fleeing throughout my career and I
suddenly thought to myself how does it work, I mean
it’s one thing to survive but how do you then continue as a family, how do women, I wanted to
see it through women’s eyes to be honest, this series,
how do you have sex in a tent with your 10
children lying next door to you and 200,000 other people as neighbors with just a thin piece of, you know, what do you tell your
daughter about growing up and then that just
spread to more questions about intimacy, it’s really
more intimacy than sex. We didn’t do anything
about the seedy underbelly, this wasn’t about sex
trafficking or pornography or prostitution this was
about ordinary people in ordinary lives, sometimes
extraordinary situations and how intimacy played
a role particularly in empowering women and how they felt they could claim, in the term of the day, agency, in their own intimacy fulfillment. – Actually it’s a very
serious documentary, all kidding aside, because
it does bring up issues that are very hard to
discuss in any other arena and you ask some very dangerous questions. – Oh you heard, you
heard that Afghan woman tell me it was dangerous
to ask an Afghan woman about whether she was happy or not. A dangerous question,
that really struck me. – So we’re at the end of our time together and there’s so many more
questions I want to ask. But I’ll just ask a
dangerous one, what’s next? – Oh, I’m not telling you. – [Interviewer] That’s fair. – Because I don’t know, more of the same. – Thank you very much Christiane. – [Christiane] Sex and love
from men’s perspectives. – Oh well there you go, and
one thing we know for sure that whatever you do
Christiane we can look to you to know that we are hearing the truth. – Thank you I’ll try. – And we’re grateful for all that you do to make that come to us. – Thank you. – Please continue. – And thank you. Thank you very much. – Christiane Christiane, come back. – Thank you very much.

Danny Hutson

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