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TV Note: 8/21/02

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

CNN, CBS paid for al-Qaida tapes

CNN and CBS both paid for videotapes that depict al-Qaida poison gas experiments but insisted yesterday -- without naming their sources -- that the money didn't go to Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization.

CNN began showing its video, from a cache of 64 al-Qaida tapes taken from Afghanistan, on Sunday night, and CBS followed with similar material the following morning.

CNN, which is continuing to air fresh material from the cache, at first said it had not paid for the tapes. On Tuesday, blaming internal miscommunication, the network said it had paid in the "low five figures." The Miami Herald reported the amount as $30,000.

CBS paid a "very nominal, very standard" fee for its tapes, said Marcy McGinnis, senior vice president of news coverage. She wouldn't say how much.

Most television networks occasionally pay for newsworthy video they can't obtain elsewhere. For example, many paid for pictures after Sept. 11 that showed planes flying into the World Trade Center from different angles.

A journalism ethics expert suggested that, in this case, the networks should be more forthcoming about their arrangements.

"The viewer deserves to know, if money changed hands, how much money it was and who got the money," said Kelly McBride, an ethics instructor at the Poynter Institute, a journalism research center. "They deserve to know how often sources are paid. It casts doubt on the credibility of the source if the source was paid."

Both news organizations said they checked carefully to make sure the material was legitimate and said giving more information could put their personnel in Afghanistan at risk. Both networks are concerned about local people learning that their staffers have access to large sums of money.

(David Bauder, Associated Press)

More 'Idol' chatter

Barring a catastrophic failure of Fox's phone-in voting system, American TV viewers, not show producers, will still decide the winner of "American Idol," the network said yesterday.

Fox was responding to published reports that contestants on the talent show had to sign a contract agreeing that producers could ultimately decide the winner or change the rules in midstream.

The contract's standard legal language protects producers of the hit summer reality series if something unforeseen happens, said network spokesman Joe Earley.

"There is no nefarious intent," he said.

Indeed, Earley said, public participation is key to the show's success. "If you mess with the vote, you destroy the franchise," he said. "And who would ever do that?"

Contestants agreed, as part of their contracts for participation, to essentially give producers the right to change the rules whenever they wanted, according to reports in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today.

Rules were bent during an earlier edition in Britain to allow a singer who had become sick extra time to get his voice back, Earley said. (D.B.)

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