CNN erred in giving more programming time to the family of a Palestinian homicide bomber than to his Israeli victims and tried to rectify the mistake, the network's top news executive said Sunday during a damage-control visit to Israel.
CNN's coverage of recent homicide bombings has provoked anger in Israel and led a local cable company to start carrying CNN's chief U.S. competitor, Fox News Channel. Fox said it expects others to follow suit. Recent comments from CNN founder Ted Turner describing both Israel and the Palestinians as terrorists have fueled Israeli anger.
Interviewed on Israel Television, Eason Jordan, CNN's president of newsgathering, said his company strives for fairness.
"On occasion we make mistakes but that's not because there's any bias," he said. "CNN is not pro-Palestinian or anti-Israeli. We're fair, we're responsible in our reporting, we try to be as accurate as we possibly can be."
Told that a recent CNN interview with the family of a Palestinian homicide bomber received more prominence than one with a relative of his victims, 1-year-old Sinai Keinan and her grandmother, Jordan said: "That was a mistake, it should never have happened and I think we subsequently rectified that problem by airing extensively the interview with the Keinan family."
CNN is airing a series of heavily promoted half-hour specials on Israeli victims of Palestinian terror attacks and Jordan says he has issued a directive ordering staff to "go to extremes" to avoid any impression the company sees moral equivalence between terror victims and their attackers.
'We now have a new system in place where we just refuse to air any videotape or statements of suicide bombers or their families unless there's an extraordinarily compelling situation," he said. "Secondly, we want to focus more on the victims of terror. We have done that. I don't think we've done that enough."
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said he was concerned Israeli government pressure could compromise the objectivity of CNN and other international media.
"I hope that journalism will not turn into shaping and packaging how they (the Israelis) think the media should be," he said. "What is really striking is that CNN is airing one week on the Israeli victims and they don't show the courtesy of having at least one hour on Palestinian victims."
Jordan said there was no link between CNN's fresh programming and the possibility that it could lose local markets to Fox.
Israeli criticism intensified last week when Turner was quoted seeming to equate homicide bombings and Israel's military response.
"I would make the case that both sides are engaged in terrorism," he said in an interview with The Guardian, a British newspaper. He later apologized, saying in an interview with Israeli newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, that homicide bombings are inexcusable.
CNN distanced itself from Turner's comments and pointed out that Turner no longer has an editorial role at the company. But the damage was done.
CNN's Jerusalem bureau was deluged with Israeli hate mail, the company posted an armed guard at the bureau entrance and Jordan flew to Israel, where he visited the sites of the last two terrorist bombings and scheduled meetings with Israeli journalists, terror victims, Palestinians and government officials.
Jordan said the company was taking criticism from both sides, with Palestinian officials he met on Saturday accusing CNN of serving Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
"They believe that CNN is the propaganda arm of the Sharon government," he said.