Sunday, May 31, 2009
America and the British Live in Their Own News Bubbles
Photo1: Mideast Meets West
Photo2: London Subway Meets Star Trek
I just returned from a week in London and found that each county, the U.S. and U.K., seems to have its own news bubble.
British TV and newspapers are obsessed with the scandal of Ministers of Parliament that could cause half of them to be out in the next few months -- for putting on their public expense accounts repairs to their moat and hiring their spouses and kids for work they may or may not be doing. They were paying off non-existent mortgages with their “second home expense allowances” – and none of it was public knowledge until now.
The big sports news was the Manchester (England) soccer team going to Rome for a soccer match. The AIG T-shirts I saw on the street took me by surprise. I first thought it was for the American insurance company, but then discovered “AIG” is the initials of the Manchester soccer team. It’s really funny how different the meaning of the same words can be in different countries. (Susan Boyle was also big news in the UK, but there the focus was on her “meltdown” before the finale of “Britain’s Got Talent” and yelling “F You” at people at a hotel. (If she had been at my un-air-conditioned hotel when it was nearly 90 degrees I would have understood completely).
During the same week America was in a tizzy over a Hispanic woman being named to the Supreme Court. I might as well have been on Mars. BBC was focused on Sri Lanka and soccer. This seems to be true in Asia, the Middle East and South America as well.
Even my Blackberry “World Edition” phone wasn’t connecting in the UK as it was supposed to. We use different phone systems that make it hard to communicate between continents. Your U.S. phone is a dead paperweight unless it also has GSM capability like mine, which didn’t work. So I tried using a local “sim card” that you can buy for $5, but it turned out my Blackberry was “locked” (by Verizon) so that option wouldn’t work either. Even though T Mobile is in the UK it uses a different Megahertz than the U.S. We need to figure a way to globalize communications. The current system maintains communication barriers between us. We need a true world phone.
Back in the U.S., I heard that someone tried to break into Windsor Castle while I was there. Not a word of THAT was in the British news. British Censorship? (I now need to figure out if I was near the place at the time in question.)
I apologize to my British friends but the local news and four TV channels in London were boring and hard to watch – old Dean Martin westerns and bizarre game shows. I used to think that our American local news left a lot to be desired. Suddenly our local news looked sophisticated compared to the choices in one of the largest European cities. Cable TV was not available in my hotel room so I got a taste of “real” British TV. You learn a lot when you get out of your bubble. They did have an excellent show on the discovery of 47 million year old “Ida” that could be the “missing link” to humans. The UK newspapers had excellent coverage of the Nobel Laureates meeting on climate change, with America’s Steven Chu attending. None of that made it to the UK TV news and I doubt it made the U.S. news either.
It’s fascinating to see how each country lives in its own news bubble. In the U.S. we have gotten only a small mention of the British political scandal that is absolutely huge - the UK newspapers predict nearly half of Parliament’s members will be replaced before elections next year. It’s the first time in 300 years that a British speaker has resigned.
It turns out that the leadership in the UK Parliament turned a blind eye to abuse of expenses by members of both parties. Major reforms are needed to make expenses transparent. If the good times were still rolling it might not matter so much. But property values in London have fallen like everywhere else and people are pinched (a taxi driver said things were “dead”) – so the revelation that members of Parliament were using public money to repair moats and put their entire family on the public payroll has made the British people mad as hell -- as it would here in the U.S. (our members just put their kids on their campaign staff instead. LoL).
When I flew back to the U.S. the news perspective is entirely different, but equally self-focused -- and equally lacking in a global perspective. After hearing about North Korea’s nuclear test, it seems silly to be worried about a Hispanic woman who said the simple truth that being a woman and a minority gives one a clear look at the real world compared to a white guy who never faced the many limitations that all women and minorities face every day. All of this happens the same week that a black police officer was shot and killed by white police officers in New York who assumed he was a bad guy with a gun. We need people of different backgrounds to represent all of us on the highest court to understand a diverse world -- because of our news bubble we understand very little that is happening beyond our own social circles, hometowns and our borders.
If America is to thrive in the years ahead we will have to break out of our bubble. Mismanagement and narrow thinking by auto companies like GM and the financial sector has cost us dearly. The auto companies like Vauxhall in the UK are facing the same problems. The same mentality was rampant in Europe as well -- and led to the same result: everyone partying on increases in real estate values until the crash.
America can’t recover economically if the world doesn’t – the current recession is a global one. Real solutions will require a global strategy, not just a self-absorbed one. To do so, we need to break out of our small news bubbles -- on both sides of the Atlantic. And we need to make seamless global communications easier.