News censorship never ends well for governments, says CNN exec.


Tony Maddox, the executive vice president and MD of CNN International, is responsible for CNN's international news and information portfolio. Maddox also oversees international newsgathering, editorial and programming oversight. Under Maddox's watch, CNN has expanded its editorial operations to Kabul, Afghanistan; Lagos, Nigeria; Nairobi, Kenya; Mumbai, India; and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Maddox joined CNN International in 1998 after 13 years with the BBC. On a visit to South Africa in December 2011, Maddox shared his views on social media and 'citizen reporting,' the recently signed 'secrecy bill' and CNN's editorial operations in Africa.

Q: Tell us more about the size and scope of CNN International's operations in Africa?

A: Africa is a big part of CNN and I think will continue to grow. We have invested in a hub in East Africa and Lagos and have also increased our investment in our Johannesburg bureau. All of this means we are better able to respond to stories across the continent, such as those emerging from Somalia at the moment. If you look at an event like the COP17 conference in Durban, our Johannesburg bureau [was] able to cover it in real depth, and [we] also invested a great deal in the Ecosphere initiative that monitored social media during the conference. These... really helped bring our audiences close to the story on the ground.

Q: Is this a market that is becoming viable commercially for international broadcasters such as CNN?

Africa has always had an enormous amount of potential, but I think it is beginning to realise that potential to the full. African companies in areas such as banking and telecoms are genuine global players now. The infrastructure is improving, people's prospects are better and investment is coming into the continent from all over the world, including the likes of China and Russia. Many of our African advertisers - people like Glo, MTN, Zenith Bank, UBA and South Africa Tourism - have long-term relationships with CNN. I think Africa is absolutely commercially viable for CNN, and the entrepreneurial culture on the continent will only make it more so.

Q: Will MEA operations ever gain enough scale to be run from outside Europe (ie be run from within the MEA region)?

A: Atlanta is the hub of our operation and I'm sure that will remain the case, but we have always used regional hubs to give us a sharper focus throughout the world. For example, we made an important investment in our Abu Dhabi bureau, which has made a fantastic contribution to our coverage in the Middle East - and given a lot to our audiences throughout the world. Our Africa bureaux are already a very important part of the CNN global jigsaw, and the investment we made and continue to make in them is recognition of Africa's importance. As Africa changes, I'm sure our investment in our Africa operation will change in tandem.

Q: CNN has worked hard to integrate social media and 'citizen reporting' into how it covers news. Tell us about that process and why CNN felt it was an important one to embark upon?

A: I think social media is exciting and important for newsgathering, and it is here to stay. The proliferation of devices like camera phones and the rise of bloggers and media such as Twitter mean that information flows in a different way now. Very often the first reports from the scene of a news event come from eyewitnesses, and these spread very fast.

All this is impossible for news organisations to ignore, but it also presents challenges for audiences. How can they know what's real and what's not? Who can they trust? That's why it's important for social media to be part of what we do. By embracing it, but also by rigorously checking, acting as curators, and applying proper journalistic standards to that content we can make it work for us and our audiences.

With iReport, our citizen journalism platform, we have also built a community of close to a million people who have enriched our reporting and our content enormously.

Q: And how has social media impacted on your news cycle?

A: I think speed of information is clearly the key impact. Many stories are broken on social media now, including from our own journalists. This means we have to be faster on our feet, but also wary. Accuracy is the absolute cornerstone of newsgathering and always will be, and that puts pressure on a newsroom when a story breaks via social media.

We cannot have people everywhere and nor can any news organisation, but we can ensure we check our sources, corroborate everything and make absolutely certain that we do not mislead our audiences by taking social media at face value. So the news cycle is much faster now, and there is more information around, but the principles of good journalism still apply. If anything, more than ever.

Q: How interactive will TV (and specifically TV news) eventually become?

A: I think that you're already seeing a very interactive relationship between CNN and our audiences through social media and initiatives such as iReport. Where this will eventually lead I think may be partly determined by technology, but it's great to have a close relationship with our audience and to get many perspectives on a story, as well as instant feedback on what we do. What won't change are the professional standards, principles and techniques that underpin that, because that's where we're bringing value to our audiences.