The Guardian newspaper in Great Britain this week published an eye-opening critique of CNN International’s financial arrangements with foreign countries, accusing the network of blurring the line between advertising and news to generate revenue. The story was triggered by CNNi’s decision not to run a documentary critical of the Bahrain government’s violent treatment of Arab Spring demonstrators last year.
Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald reports that CNNi has pursued relationships with Middle East governments to make up for lost corporate sponsorships after the 2008 economic crisis. Those relationships include allowing governments to pay for programs that more closely resemble infomercials than news. Greenwald said disclosure is minimal or nonexistent. “Eye on Kazakhstan,” for example, includes a disclosure that it was made “in association” with two entities that are listed only by their logos, which happen to be logos for two agencies of the Kazakh government.
Promotions of the series “Eye on Bahrain” contain no disclosures about its sponsorship by that nation’s government. In 2010, CNNi even broacast a report on a military parade that had been made by Bahraini state television with only a brief disclosure that it was “not prepared by CNN journalists.”
Much of this might be invisible to American viewers of CNN, but the Guardian notes that the website for Fareed Zakaria’s program has included articles by Rob Sobhani, who has business interests with Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. In some instances Sobhani’s connections are noted but in other cases they are not. Greenwald writes,
The line at CNNi between news and advertising is severely blurred by these arrangements, but the line only gets blurrier as its executives expand the scope of these income-generating opportunities in partnership with the world’s most repressive regimes.