The British press is obsessed with the American elections!

Media as a Biden Rally in Reno, NV – Source: Photo by Manny Becerra on Unsplash

The US election 2020 took place on Tuesday 3 November. Even by Tuesday 10 November the British press continues to cover of the election exclusion of so many important issues at home and worldwide.

As a journalist who has worked on foreign affairs since 2005, it seems obvious that this focus has only intensified. And I think it’s terribly harmful. The problem with our journalistic coverage of America is that it focuses on the powerful, and therefore on the white upper class in power and erases most of the space for the rest of the world. Having been based in Florida in 2008 before being hired by the BBC World Service in 2009, I can see this obsession of the British and European media with the USA.

Seeing the world between New York, Washington DC and London makes no one more able to understand the world we live in. And in the middle of a pandemic, which means a GLOBAL epidemic, it’s more than ever outrageous. It is because our news should not be driven only by the most powerful economically and diplomatically. The American model, which claimed to be a democratic inspiration for the world after WWII, has become toxic and highly polluting.  

How to explain?

From our community of journalists, I see why this still dominates. Mainly it’s due to laziness! British media read the American press every day; French ones translate wires from the US. They just follow the trend. 

  • It would indeed require much more effort, and more investment to send reporters in Karabakh / Artsakh in Azerbaijan to cover the war with Armenia, currently jeopardising the peace in the whole region, up to Iran, Russia and Turkey. 
  • It’s much harder to cover 54 states in Africa, or to understand the causes of the multi-faceted crisis in Lebanon
  • It’s much more challenging to try to explain the roots of islamophobia in France, in its dark colonial past, and to decry the way Macron’s government is instrumentalising the death of innocent people in terrible attacks to compete with the far right in xenophobic and stereotyping discourses that help neither the educators nor the health workers. 
  • And it’s become near to impossible to hold the British government to account for its irresponsible handling of the Brexit negotiations, which will lead us all in a disastrous departure from the European Union without any deal with Britain’s stronger commercial and political partner, while we’re facing the worst ever health economic crises.  

But this journalistic choice has stark implications 

One example is that only The Times of India reported that, on US election day, Israel razed most of a Palestinian Bedouin village in the West Bank, quoting the press agency Reuters as the source. Other publications in the Western world just ignored this fact.  

Meanwhile, urgent talks about the climate emergency have been side-tracked, and the headlines about the environment get the small share. The UN conference on climate, the COP 26, should have taken place this November 2020 in Glasgow, Scotland, for instance, it’s been postponed for a year because of the Covid-19 crisis, what are the consequences for the environmental emergency? 

Same interrogations about decisions on nuclear disarmament, while the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is due to become international law.  

With the current pandemic, we urgently need financial support for workers. Many cities and councillors are calling for a basic income, but there is no space in the news to discuss issues impacting millions of people, because we focus on only one, the leader of the “greatest power.”

How about the future of journalism?

Since September 2019 I’ve also been teaching journalism here in England, on top of practicing it. And many of my students are foreign ones from China, India, Malaysia, Oman, Egypt, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, the Netherland, etc. I don’t want to contribute to reproducing this cycle. I’ve been encouraging them to think globally. 

Though the consequences of this US election affect the whole world, we urgently need to rethink our foreign affairs in the news

The “greatest power” today could actually be seen as Russia, a country that has managed to influence deeply both the 2016 US election and the Brexit referendum, as the Cambridge Analytic scandal revealed. The most populous economy in the world and the richest is now China; the most populous democracy is India, facing immense dangers as well, as much as Brazil and Nigeria, where people have been protesting against police brutality for more than two weeks now. 

The domination of American politics over the rest of the world, especially in Europe, is man-made, by white, male, business-oriented men. We give power to what we focus on. And during the 2016 American campaign, most media gave all their attention to the candidate Donald Trump. Even now the media gives too much attention to male bullies who took too much power, against the law. 

It’s time for a radical shift

It’s time to focus on the “others”, whether women, unelected people, so-called ‘minorities’, oppressed and unfairly treated people. Let’s not forget that those who are called ‘minorities’ here in UK or in the USA, are the vast majority in the whole world… Asians and Africans.

 As a journalist who has spent most of her 15-year career in public broadcasting, working with the values of public service in mind, I see how much the world has changed, and the domination of the few over the many cannot live on. Even in the media, and mostly not in the media. 

The world is vast, and includes more than 200 countries. If the western way of thinking has defined the way we see and describe the planet for decades, if not centuries, the “rest of the world” is definitely ready for a change. 

If we claim diversity is important inside our country, how could it not be just as important worldwide?

 Ed: This article is based on the author’s blog from 8 November 2020.


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