Commentary

How can the news be so different?

In the past three months, I've had the privilege of watching the news in 22 different countries. Right now, for example, I just got back to my hotel room in Vienna and turned on BBC World. In every country, from Egypt to the U.A.E. to Malaysia to Cambodia to Russia, I've been able to flip on the TV and watch either BBC or CNN. I've noticed that news coverage worldwide is distinctly different than news coverage in the States, but I've been struggling to pin down what exactly that difference is. I've talked it over with other students and we can't seem to express the discrepancy in any other way except to say that news coverage in the U.S. seems limited and oftentimes biased. To many of us it seems that in other parts of the world, news stations cover stories on a more global scale, a scale that is rarely seen back home.

I think that Americans in general have a lack of knowledge about other parts of the world, partly because we are geographically cut off, but also because our media cuts us off by not covering global news adequately. Just in the past hour on BBC, I have seen stories on England, South Africa, Egypt, India, and Iran. When was the last time you saw a story about people in South Africa or India on FOX News? I just don't think the same amount of diversity exists on our news channels back home.

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The most striking difference is the coverage of the war in Iraq. First, I am surprised how much it is in the news. Practically every time I watch the news, there is a story about Iraq. I guess I thought we heard about it so much at home because we are directly involved in the war. It seems to me that the global attitude is anti-war in Iraq, but not necessarily anti-American. Everyone seems to know it is a tough situation, but no one knows what to do about it. What stands out as the difference as far as the news coverage is concerned is that people around the world seem to be trying to understand the plight of the Iraqi people much more than we are. Have you ever seen a story on the news in the States about the lives of the Iraqi people? I haven't in the States (I could be watching at the wrong times or just missing something), but I have in most of the places we've traveled. I think a shift in the amount of global coverage by American news channels could have a positive impact on how Americans are viewed worldwide.

8 comments about "How can the news be so different?".
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  1. Mike Sayre, April 7, 2007 at 5:33 p.m.

    Naomi,
    As fellow blogger who's studied abroad, I couldn't agree more. I posted a lot of similar sentiments quite recently, if you want to give it a read http://blogs.mediapost.com/digital_frontier/?cat=2

    Mike

  2. Andr� Pina, April 9, 2007 at 10:04 a.m.

    Namoi,

    I spent a year studying in London back when Ronald Regan was President and I saw the same discrepancy you are seeing now. And, I felt the same way. All I can say is thank God for the BBC on my satellite radio!! And please, somebody tell congress to IMPEACH BUSH!!!

  3. Maria Pousa, April 9, 2007 at 10:34 a.m.

    Definitely agree with you. As a foreigner living in NYC, I think I can pinpoint a few discrepancies between American media and international outlets:

    - American media is subjective. You should have noticed on your trip that even British media, although deeply involved in the Iraqi conflict, always report from a third person point of view. They never say "we are loosing, we are winning, we were attacked". You will hear "UK troops were attacked, UK troops are winning" and so and so forth.

    - Corporate news. American media widely reports on products, coporations and organizations. You will see news segments devoted to the latest technology for hair dryers (FOX 5), road safety tips (CW 11), a new service intro or a celebrity studded event. As you probably noticed, other countries do not report on products on their newscasts as it is considered advertising.

  4. Steven Weiner from Readmore Communications, April 9, 2007 at 10:36 a.m.

    There are a number of reasons why you see this. First of all, there is only one public television network in the U.S., and it does tend to be more international in its focus. The commercial networks have cut back on their international capabilities, for one thing, and have found a relative disinterest in international news from a ratings point of view. Your awareness of it is distinctly atypical.

    What's more, if you look at local TV news reports, they have devolved into alarmist police reports - short, tiny snippets of film, "oh my God" kinds of stuff designed to maintain interest among people who have very narrow ranges of interest and attention spans. I'm sure you've noticed that literacy rates are not climbing, newspaper circulations have trended down for decades, and libraries are finding it harder to recruit younger patrons. All symptoms of our increasingly multitasked lives.

    Finally, as a nation that has traditionally focused more on itself than the rest of the world - not unnatural given the global influence of our economy - we tend to care less about troubles elsewhere. Small countries, of necessity, have to think about more than just themselves. We do, too, but less so.

  5. jason sparks, April 9, 2007 at 11:31 a.m.

    I agree. I've been traveling back and forth from US and abroad for years and have witnessed this many times over. I witnessed the invasion of Iraq being portrayed entirely differently in different USA than Canada & the Middle East. In the USA, the invasion was sooo suger-coated that it seemed great. In Canada, I watched foreign news from middle east where they showed the carnage, the devastation of infrastructure and people saying that things were better before the invasion.

    There seems to be a patriotism in news. Some unspoken link between politics and those who control the media in all countries. So the real issue is that journalism is not unbiased.

    The other point I'd like to make on the US media is why are we being fed so many stories of a girl being kidnapped or one person being murdered in a small town when thousands of people die all of the time in other parts of the world?

  6. jillian tate, April 9, 2007 at 11:49 a.m.

    Correction, Jason, we're only shown the footage of a kidnapping or murder when the victim is white and middle class. Forget it if they're poor or non-Caucasian. And really - the reason we see that so much is so that the news can capture our attention through fear.

    I recommend watching CBC Newsworld or BBC International if it's available. CNN is only useful for mocking. Although, with more young Americans getting their news through the Daily Show/Colbert Report, who cares what's wrong with the other news channels?

  7. Joseph Buhler, April 9, 2007 at 12:14 p.m.

    Your observation is one I share wholeheartedly. I've lived in Asia, Europe and North America for the past thirty odd years and nowhere have I seen more limited news coverage in general as in the U.S. This not only is limited to TV news but the majority of newspapers too. The only exception is the New York Times. On the whole it is disappointing how the world is brought, or rather is not brought, into the living rooms of Americans. The results are becoming more obvious all the time and more dire when we see how politicians act or react. Most members of congress are elected by people with limited world views and this is reflected in those politicians viewpoints and actions. There are a lot of critical voices about bloggers playing amateur journalist but on the whole it is a positive development to at least get a wider variety of viewpoints from around the globe brought to the attention of people here.

  8. Jerry Gibbons from Gibbons Advice, April 9, 2007 at 12:41 p.m.

    In the mid-1980's I traveled around the world and, upon returning home, made the same observation. It saddens me that things have not gotten better in the last 20 years. In fact they have probably gotten worse.

    Biased news, or incomplete news, makes it impossible for people to reach informed, thoughtful conclusions and made reasonable decisions.

    Helping people understand that they are poorly served in this area is probably the only way to affect any change. We have to create a demand for more objective, complete coverage of news that has an impact on our life and our world. We are doing that in a few areas (global warming) but not nearly enough.

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