I was going on one of my trips down memory lane this morning.
Once a month or so I engage in an unfettered gluttonous indulgence in the news from some of the countries I’ve lived in over the last few years.
It never ceases to amaze me how cultural norms impact the voice of the media, with the same story being told very differently in New Zealand than it is in England or Malaysia or wherever.
I thought I’d share with our readers my Sunday breakfast reading. These little journeys are extremely important, especially living in a country like the Philippines, where it seems that every individual media outlet is heavily politically influenced, it’s nice to take a break from the polarized domestic press, the political rhetoric and to strike a balance in one’s media diet.
As I usually do, I started in New Zealand. As I’m sure you know, it’s a small, remote and relatively unremarkable country, barely clinging to the crust of the earth, somewhere just to the north of Antartica. Parochial doesn’t even come close to describe it.
I have lived there on and off over the years, both in big cities and small towns (although the biggest city in the country has about one tenth of the official population of Manila, which may explain the small-mindedness). While upsides are few, crime is high and poverty abundant, it is a very pretty place to take a very expensive holiday. Here’s what the country’s newspaper of record was reporting on this Sunday morning.
“Auckland road cop stops ‘unthinkable’ tragedy, pulls car on motorway packed with 13 people“. Yes, that is at the top of the trending list. As those of us who have lived in Asia know only too well, that wasn’t an overloaded car, they could’ve fit at least another 15 in if they’d tried. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen 100cc motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh with more people than that on them!
The others in the top-five most read articles list were all about sport, something which doesn’t really interest me all that much. There was one exception: this piece an insightful and well thought out column about visiting America post-Trump by Paul Little. It is unusual for international news to take centre stage on Kiwi media sites, Paul’s column was a breath of fresh air on the front page of a site that normally reads like the literal definition of a slow news day.
The next stop on my whirlwind world wide web tour? The lucky country. Land of my birth, my last stand in the Antipodes. I am of course talking about the great southern continent, Australia.
The country is such a divided nightmare these days that a few years ago the national broadcaster actually created a series called “Dumb, Drunk and Racist” in reference to the inhabitants of the country. It is a place with an abysmal track-record on human rights, extremely divided and ghettoized communities and home to some rather good pubs.
The media is largely controlled by Murdoch’s News Corporation. This has done the national IQ and comprehension levels all the same favours that it bestowed upon the British and the Americans.
So what better place to begin than news.com.au – the sensationalist Murdoch mouthpiece that has extraordinarily low editorial standards and subscribes to the News Corp mantra of “get it out there and make sure it shocks the socks off them”.
The front page of Australia’s largest news site did not fail to deliver. Leading the national section was a story about tumbledown houses in Sydney selling for millions of dollars. Further down the page some poppycock about Prince Harry’s personal life and even the tantalizing (but un-clicked – at least by me) listicle headlined “15 Oscars facts that will make you sound smart.”
I was about to give up when I came across an update on an extremely sad story that broke while I was in the country and captivated a nation. The story of the murder of Lateesha Nolan by her cousin Malcolm Naden in 2005. Naden remained at large for a full seven years, not being captured until 2012.
Unfortunately the update on the story was a plea from his family for the Nine network (home to an equally deplorable, sensationalist editorial policy) not to run a dramatized version of Naden’s confession in order to spare Lateesha’s children the anguish of having it all dragged up again. Snake pit really doesn’t come close to describing the Australian media machine.
My next stop is Malaysia, easily the best country I have ever lived in. At the top of The Star’s “Just In” section I found old friends. “Duterte’s crackdown foreshadows a repeat of Marcos’ iron-fisted rule, say demonstrators.” A little further down the page “Dictatorship feared with de Lima’s arrest”.
It provided some local insight into a story that M G Martin covered on this site a few weeks ago. The assassination of Kim Jong-nam. The Polis Diraja Malaysia have announced that they have discovered chemicals connected with the assassination at a condominium complex in Ampang Jaya. That story rocked not only Malaysia but the world and it is one of those things that you can only get full perspective on by going to a local media outlet. Another reason I enjoy my Sunday sessions.
I did live in Singapore for a while but I tend not to bother as the media outlets based there engage heavily in self-censorship, this is thanks to the extremely conservative and controlling regime that governs the city-state. I’ve always felt that the best place to get news about Singapore is from sites outside the country. The Malaysian ones cover it quite well. On this particular day, as is true of most days, it seems nothing happened in Singapore.
So I jumped the South China Sea and headed straight to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post. Easily one of the best English-language newspapers in Asia, if not the world.
The Post’s front page was its usual self. A well balanced selection of domestic, regional and international news. The H7N9 outbreak in Mainland China and the WHO’s concerns about it featured. As did Kim Jong-nam and the issues that have been plaguing Hong Kong since the pro-democracy idiots started stirring the pot and throwing rocks around Mong Kok.
Lelia featured strongly in the Post, as did President Duterte. With one headline that did catch my attention combining Kim Dotcom with PRRD. Kim Dotcom is of interest to me, he is domiciled (and was arrested) in New Zealand and his business interests were all Hong Kong based. As I’ve “done time” in both places and share his distrust of the Americans I’ve followed his case quite closely. The article was from their “Asia in 3 minutes” feature and was headlined: Dotcom a winner, Duterte a serial killer.
Leaving Hong Kong behind I jumped to Indochina. Cambodia is a place I’ve lived in on three separate occasions. Desperately poor, corrupt to the core and, even by South East Asian standards, has a serious gun crime problem. It’s also very beautiful and throughout most of the country you can get an ice cold draught beer for less than a buck.
This particular Sunday, the Phnom Penh Post lead was a sponsored post about some sort of women’s centre. This did not fill me with hope. One thing about this paper is it significantly overdoes the advertising. That said it also is pretty much the only English-language authority site in the country. The front page was actually very, very interesting once you waded through the ads and sponosored content.
A little further below the fold was an extremely insightful piece by Martin de Bourmont about Cambodia’s war on drugs and how it is taking a hidden toll on drug users. The enforcement actions of the Kindgom’s government driving addicts underground in fear and causing them to shun health services offered by NGOs and health clinics. Perhaps our own government in the Philippines could learn something from de Bourmont’s piece?
There’s only one stop left on my world tour, it’s 9.30am on a Sunday and I’ve not yet got a beer in my hand so I’d better make it a quick one. When I was younger I had a job that required semi-regular trips between Hong Kong and London. Some of those trips were quite lengthy. So while England is not a country I’ve lived in per se, it is one that I have an interest in. It is also home to The Guardian, a newspaper for which I have immense respect. This respect is well deserved, especially considering the cesspit of rotting journalistic detritus out of which it is forced to rise in that country.
This particular morning the front page was filled with a picture of the 45th president of the United States – the story related to his continued, idiotic and dangerous shunning of the press corps. It then moved on to the fact that Kim Jong-nam’s apparently hapless Indonesian executioner was paid the princely sum of $90 to carry out the job, destroy her life and catapult herself to international infamy.
So it ends, my meandering jaunt through the news sites of some of the places that I’ve lived before. A welcome break from the constant one-sided, politically biased rubbish that seems to be being produced by so many of the news outlets in the Philippines. The situation in the country at the moment reminds me of what Paul Little raised in his Herald column about what is happening with major networks in the States. In all the political jostling that politically charged media outlets engage in, the only victim is the truth.