10 August 2008

Myopias near and far

Thinking Through My Fingers comments that "The Russia/Georgia story has interesting timing to me. It's as if Russia knew that the Olympics would be the primary news story with their invasion being moved off front page in the US."

A group of friends were discussing this, last night, and the fact that US news reporting is so markedly more parochial than almost anywhere else in the world.

If the Russians cared one toss about staying off the European front pages, for instance, they would not expect coincidence with the Olympics to pull the trick. Today's Independent on Sunday, for example, has the explosion of hot war in South Ossetia over its first three pages, the Olympics coming in only on page 4 – with a significant proportion of the central heavyweight comment section given over to the former and none at all to the latter. BBC news this morning went several minutes on the Caucasus before mentioning the Beijing games. Even reactions form Washington are more prominent and more extensive in European media than in US equivalents.


While all true, this isn't the whole story.

Media outside the US cover a wider range of events, and with less trivial emphasis, but that doesn't mean they cover everything, or without triviality. It's easy to pick examples and say "we did this, but you ignored it". More honest, but usually avoided, is to say "what have we ignored?"

Wars go on all the time, all over the world, without getting to occupy the first three pages of The Independent or the first minutes of the BBC's flagship Today programme. Even this particular war has managed to go a decade and a half before this newest hot phase of recent days catapulted it into the headlines. As The Independent leader article has the honesty to say, today: "It is probably fair to say that until a couple of days ago, few people in Britain knew of the existence of South Ossetia."

The truth is, European media prominently report and analyse a Caucasus conflict because the Caucasus is in Europe. The Caucasus is in our back yard, and we share that back yard with another large global player. We have a lot of back yards; the Levant, Arabia, and Africa are also close to us, both geographically and sociopolitically.

The US, by contrast, has many global interests but very few back yards (Cuba, Mexico, Panama, that's about it) and in none of them does it feel the direct breath of a comparably powerful competitor.

We, in other words, pay a lot of attention to the world because we have to; the US pays little heed because it has no pressing need to. We are no different in essence; just differently pressured. In the long run it may be our salvation and their downfall; but human beings, wherever they may be, have never been good at seeing the long run with any clarity.

No comments: