CNN's million-dollar anchor

How can this woman command a seven-figure salary? Emma Daly reports
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The Independent Online
People on the streets of Sarajevo and Jerusalem, New York and Tehran stop Christiane Amanpour to ask for her autograph: you might not know her, but she is the most famous journalist in the world - and now, its highest-paid foreign correspondent. The face of CNN for her reporting from the Gulf war, Somalia and, most of all, Bosnia, Amanpour has just signed a new, ground-breaking deal, in which she will work both for CNN and CBS, one of the big three domestic US networks.

As CNN chief international correspondent, Amanpour, who is Anglo-Iranian and started out at The World Tonight on Radio 4 (with Dominic Lawson, editor of the Sunday Telegraph), will take home around $1m; as a part- time on 60 Minutes, the doyen of US current affairs shows, she will clear another $500,000 - or so media reports claim. (Amanpour says the figures are inflated, but as she was brought up a Brit she won't discuss salaries anyway.) ABC and NBC, rejected suitors both, go home empty-handed.

Amanpour, who is stunned by the torrent of interview requests since the deal was announced, acknowledges her "luck" but mounts a robust defence of her journalistic skills. "I know there's a lot of hype about it, but the bottom line is I wanted to continue international reporting and have the opportunity to do a lot more in depth," she says in a telephone interview from Paris, where she is based. "I think I've proved I'm not a celebrity, I'm a worker, I'm a field reporter, I'm doing the job."

Amanpour has been billed as America's answer to Kate Adie - which is a joke. Adie, in common with all British journalists, could only dream of a seven-figure salary, even if she factored in fees for books and supermarket openings. Reporters who work for Sky News, the first British equivalent (to use the word loosely) of CNN, started off well, as the fledgling satellite channel doubled salaries to poach correspondents from ITN and the BBC. But Sky, whose output was pretty shoddy, decided to cut its costs and now uses television agency pictures with voice-overs added by reporters in London. Actual foreign reporting trips and correspondents based abroad are almost non-existent.

Amanpour grew up and was educated in England. Her natural home might seem to be the BBC, but "they didn't ask me". Instead, "I've brought a little something to the American system. I just admire more than anything programmes like Panorama and Assignment. Those are the kinds of programmes I would really like to do and I' m moving towards that with 60 Minutes."

It is clear that Amanpour's package is partly a product of the American scene, where anchors (or news-readers, as we know them), can command up to $9m. Their British counterparts could expect perhaps pounds 130,000. But she is in a league of her own. She is, simply, a very good and very hard- working reporter, who spends much of her time out and about on the streets, at the frontline, in the corridors of power, talking - and listening - to anyone.

"She does it day after day, year after year, in difficult circumstances, which leads me to believe she views this as a calling rather than as a way to get an enormous pay cheque and a lot of publicity,'' says Kurt Schork, the Reuters correspondent in Sarajevo who has worked with Amanpour for several years.

And as the cable news war hots up, with networks such as NBC planning 24-hour stations, Amanpour's ability to think on her feet, to deliver clear, crisp reportage live for as long as she must, whether there is a breaking story to fill the vacuum or, far worse, a news lull, her value increases.

Martin Bell, the BBC's veteran foreign correspondent, earns perhaps a tenth of Amanpour's salary but is a fan. "I always called her the million- dollar woman and CBS is lucky to have her, however much it costs,'' he says.

Adie, who earns perhaps pounds 90,000 a year from the BBC, became a household name as the only visible female correspondent in dangerous places, although there have always been women working in the field. Amanpour's gender is less of a factor in her rise. She can charm her targets, she looks good on television, but at a network known for employing women she was just one of many female correspondents. And in her early days with CNN, she covered plenty of dross - professional wrestling, dog shows and the like - although always with enthusiasm.

"I started off at CNN 13 years ago making less than $10,000 a year,'' she says. "Now I make a little more than them but it doesn't change my lifestyle, my working habits, my priorities.''

In July 1992, when Amanpour left to go on holiday after a stint in Sarajevo, her camerawoman, Margaret Moth, decided to stay on. A few days later she was hit in the face by a high-velocity sniper round that shattered her jaw. Amanpour went to visit her in hospital. "At that time she was unrecognisable because she was so badly wounded, and I remember a) the terrible knowledge of what might happen to any of us and b) that I was called by the desk in Atlanta while I sat there. They asked, when do you want to go back to Bosnia? So I closed my eyes and said I'll go now, because I knew if I didn't go straightaway, I wouldn't because I was so frightened."

She returned - and so did Moth, months and many operations later. Amanpour has, despite the best efforts of Peter Arnett - who wrongly claimed to be "the only Western reporter" in Baghdad during the Gulf war - become the face of CNN. The Washington Post, for example, cited "the Amanpour factor" to describe the impact of CNN's instant coverage on policy-making - or the lack thereof, when it came to Bosnia - in the White House and elsewhere.

Apparently, she is known as the "Queen of Bosnia" (though not by friends or colleagues); and she can be a princess at times, as her crews can attest. But the tantrums are rare and most of the time she is "good fun" to work with, one CNN colleague says.

She lives alone in Paris, making the most of civilisation by going to the movies, eating out, dancing, riding her bike to work and reading - she loves Kipling, she once confessed. Like most foreign correspondents, she tries to conduct some kind of private life in the quiet times away from work.

At 38, and with her CNN contract due to expire, Amanpour had to make a decision; television does not have a terrific track-record when it comes to putting middle-aged women on camera. The choice was to stay with CNN, which offered her carte blanche, or to move to a domestic network where she would have access to an American audience. In the end, she secured both, and she will still be out and about in search of the story.