There is scarcely a world leader Christiane Amanpour has not interviewed, a conflict or humanitarian crisis she has not covered, or a journalism award she has not received. She started her career in 1983 as an assistant on the international assignment desk at CNN in Atlanta and was quickly dispatched to report in the field. The excellence of her coverage of wars in the Persian Gulf and the Balkans in the ’90s prompted Newsweek to claim that Amanpour’s reporting had made CNN “must-see TV for world leaders.” Jeff Zucker, the chairman of WarnerMedia News and Sports, has called her the most important journalist in the history of CNN. Since 2009, she has hosted the show Amanpour, which airs on CNN International—a version of it, Amanpour & Co., airs on PBS in the U.S.—where she holds elected officials and business and government leaders to account. In addition to her 11 Emmys, four Peabody Awards, two George Polk Awards, three duPont-Columbia Awards and the Courage in Journalism Award, this November she will be given the International Emmy Directorate Award. For more than 30 years, she has relentlessly pursued the truth, but, as Amanpour tells World Screen, objectivity should not be confused with neutrality.
WS: In the age of the tweet and the sound bite, how important is it to provide context and in-depth analysis?
AMANPOUR: It’s more important than ever. In fact, it becomes increasingly important to have in-depth analysis, investigations, a lot of fact-checking and actual reporting on the ground. Because suddenly, the world has become inundated with social media and a certain number of characters defining the entire context of a very complicated world. Whether it’s the mass shootings in the United States, the rise of white nationalism in the United States and the violent white nationalism that is becoming domestic terrorism, the populist and nationalistic policies that are taking over in many, many countries, and most importantly, of course, climate change, these are way too important and such huge issues that they cannot be left to a few characters on Twitter or a few posts on Instagram or Facebook or whatever. The role of the reporter to go in depth, to look at things in context and to get the real facts out there for people, is becoming much more and not less important.
WS: Throughout your career, you have spoken about the difference between neutrality and objectivity. What is the difference and how does it still apply today?
AMANPOUR: I learned very, very early on, almost 30 years ago now, that objectivity does not mean neutrality. Not in Bosnia, when we were faced with genocide and some expected us to make a moral equivalence on all sides and I refused point-blank. I refused to make a factual or moral equivalence. In my view, when you’re dealing with issues like genocide and the violation of international humanitarian law, if you cause a false equivalence and are neutral, you are an accomplice to these crimes. I feel that has been borne out in the events that have happened since then and in my reporting since then. And whatever it might be, genocide or climate change, there are facts and there is a way to tell the truth and be objective without being falsely neutral. Let’s take climate change. There is no equivalence between the huge amounts of science and evidence that show humans’ role in climate change versus the deniers who say the science is not there and that it’s a hoax. There is just no equivalence whatsoever. And I believe that the mistaken reporting over the years, where reporters thought they had to give each side equal time, has led to us being faced with an imminent climate catastrophe. For me, that is enough of a lesson. I’m glad I learned it early and I will never be neutral, I will only be truthful. That’s my mantra now.
WS: What are the dangers of President Trump and other leaders calling legitimate news organizations “fake news” and creating an Orwellian environment where everything is topsy-turvy?
AMANPOUR: Whether you take George Orwell and the real upside-down, inside-out way that he wrote in 1984 that showed us the dangers of doublespeak and fake news; whether it’s the propaganda that a superpower like the Soviet Union used to use; whether it’s the attempt to distort the truth, this has been going on forever. You mentioned President Trump. He has inspired a whole load of leaders and people around the world to now use that term, “fake news,” to fight back at truths that they don’t like. Now with social media, these untruths, conspiracy theories and propaganda are exponentially broadcast and transmitted around the world. When people say they don’t know where the truth is, that is a very dangerous fact for our democracy, our civilizations, our humanity and our communities. So I say that people have a responsibility now. They need to go to the proven organizations with track records of telling the truth and fact-checking, like the New York Times, the Guardian, CNN or PBS. There are legitimate news organizations that have spent decades in the trenches bringing the truth to people, and that is what people should go to. And, of course, governments have huge responsibilities. The tech platforms have huge responsibilities. And it’s time for the tech platforms to stop ducking under this charade that they are just transmitting, that they are just connection devices; they’re not. These are platforms that, frankly, in many instances [offer] journalism and are publication platforms. Therefore, they should have the same rules as we all do in the journalism sphere.
WS: How much more dangerous has the journalism profession become since you began your career? You are quite active in wanting to keep journalists safe.
AMANPOUR: I am very active. I’m on many boards. I’m a special Goodwill Ambassador for UNESCO for the Freedom of Expression and Journalist Safety. I’m an honorary member of the Committee to Protect Journalists. I’m a board member of the IWMF [International Women’s Media Foundation]. I advocate all the time for the freedom and safety of journalists. To think, as the Committee to Protect Journalists says, that the leading cause of death among journalists is deliberate killing. As you can see, it’s completely skewed from the leading cause of death of the general population. Increasingly, bad actors, whether governments or militia or terrorist organizations, don’t want to hear the truth. They want to silence the truth-tellers. They want to silence the messengers and they are doing that. So, yes, it has become much more dangerous.
Because we risk our lives over and over again, despite these terrible and mounting dangers, to bring the truth to people, our profession should be respected and not denigrated by the highest levels of power. Because when you start denigrating the truth, you start blurring the lines between democracy and dictatorship.
WS: What is the mission of Amanpour and Amanpour & Co., and what do you want to offer viewers?
AMANPOUR: No matter what platform we’re on, whether it’s online, on television, on social media, wherever it might be, my mission is the same, and that is to bring the truth, context, more in-depth reporting and analysis. And I am delighted that this is a successful formula. For me, the most important thing is that it bears out my belief that this is what most people want. They want somewhere where they can go to get more than the sound bite, more than, “on the one hand…” and “on the other hand…,” more than cable news conflict television. I do believe this is more and more necessary today because of the risk we all run of getting submerged by untruths and conspiracy theories.
WS: I loved Sex & Love Around the World. Do you see yourself doing more such shows?
AMANPOUR: I would love to do more of these. It was as eye-opening to me and as engaging as I hope it was for the viewers. It was something totally different for me, but it came out of my desire to see the other side of humanity, the more intimate, personal side of people. For my entire career, more than 30 years now, I have been reporting on people in extreme conditions of terror, war, religious hatred, famine, refugees, migrants, disease. It was really important to see that actually, these aren’t statistics. These are ordinary human beings like you and me and they have feelings and desires for love and intimacy and fulfillment. I was really happy to be able to explore that side. It was great fun and it taught me a great deal as well. I’d love to do a lot more and I’d certainly like to focus on men and boys next time around.