LAST week in this column, we commented on the US mainstream broadcasting media’s propensity to cover relatively trivial news at the expense of more serious topics.
In returning to this today, we also draw attention again to the media’s tendency to give international developments less emphasis than their intrinsic significance demands, particularly at a time when America is heavily involved in the rest of the world in so many different fields of activity.
The subject should be of interest to small Caribbean countries because they themselves are dependent on the US for their security, protection and economic wellbeing and they understand the importance of being kept informed.
It is inevitable that the media should concentrate on domestic issues that are of direct interest to viewers and readers. It is, therefore, understandable that it should cover in detail the activities of the controversial Trump presidency, since these affect the nation as a whole. The subject is inherently newsworthy. But the public needs also to know about other important issues at home, including current success stories under his watch even though parts of the media are reluctant to report them when many in the US wish to bring this presidency to a premature end.
While Mr Trump’s erratic behaviour is under constant attack and he faces opposition within his own party, people need to know about his legislative programme in relation to domestic issues like health care and tax reform or what is happening about other matters like deregulation or the opioid epidemic – and in the trade field, for example, there was little publicity given to last week’s announcement of a major order by Singapore Airlines for Boeing aircraft worth 13.8 billion dollars.
On the international front the lack of news coverage is even more evident. Far from the isolationism of the 1930s, America’s leadership of the free world together with globalisation means that it has a widespread presence in other countries together with influence and links almost everywhere – politically, militarily, economically and culturally. With more than a quarter of a million service personnel in some 150 countries around the world, the extent of its military presence alone is remarkable. In such circumstances, events beyond its borders, both near and far, should be of major interest and concern to the American people.
It is worth examining two recent examples of important international developments that so far seem to have escaped meaningful media scrutiny; namely, the US President’s tour in early November of five countries in Southeast Asia – Japan, China, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines – and the recent significant rise of the far-right in Europe.
Coverage of the build-up to Mr. Trump’s visits might have been expected because they ought to be of enormous public interest. Apart from the fundamental importance of China, the main issue will be North Korea’s dangerous nuclear threat, and his objective, presumably, will be to strengthen international resolve and support for denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. But other issues like terrorism and trade are also likely to be to the fore as, having pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, he seeks to show that the US is still fully engaged in the region.
The recent re-election of the incumbent prime minister in Japan also ought to be of considerable interest in the US because of his declared aim to revise the nation’s pacifist constitution which renounces war and prohibits the use of its armed forces to settle international disputes. After seventy years of pacifism as part of a new constitution imposed on Japan by the USA during its post-Second World War occupation, any moves away from this might not be welcomed by other countries in the region given the history of Japanese military expansionism in East Asia during the 1930s.
Meanwhile, in Europe there have been ominous new developments that could have implications worldwide. Social democracy across the continent looks to be in decline with the centrist parties in power since 1945 giving way to the rise of right-wing populist parties. The far-right AfD (Alternative for Germany) party is now the third largest force there. In Italy and France the socialists have been weakened, and elections in Austria and the Czech Republic have resulted in victories for far-right eurosceptic parties, while Poland and Hungary, which remain at odds with the European Commission over immigration, are critical of the whole European Union project. The destabilizing effect of all this, together with Catalonia’s bid for independence and requests for more autonomy by two of Italy’s richest regions, could cause serious damage to the EU which is already being harmed by Britain’s departure from the bloc.
As America’s interest, role, presence and influence in the world all continue to expand, it seems that the public desire to be kept informed about events overseas as well as at home is steadily growing. So the need for accurate dissemination of information becomes more pressing. But it remains to be seen whether the media will react positively and move away from its current insularity and parochialism.