Transatlantic Media Wars – Part 2

Today’s episode of the EU for You podcast is the fourth in a series of six podcasts, featuring unedited recordings of our November 2005 conference on Media and Politics. As we have mentioned, the conference took place in three sessions, each featuring a keynote speech and a panel discussion. Today you are listening to the panel discussion in the second session, Transatlantic Media Wars. Panelists included Sylvie Kauffmann from Le Monde, the syndicated columnist William Pfaff, and Jacek Zakowski from the Polish Polityka Weekly. The discussion was moderated by William Drozdiak, President of the American Council on Germany. Be sure to tune into our previous podcast to hear Michael Naumann’s keynote speech.

William Drozdiak, recalling images from Hurricane Katrina accompanied by the headline “Third World America” in the European press, said that “[w]e have to bear in mind the diversity that corresponds to our countries and particularly in presenting the news.” There is a lot of commentary in the European press about the United States, on issues such as the death penalty, but little criticism of China’s use of the death penalty, for example. Sylvie Kauffmann responded that this is because it is so difficult for Europeans to understand how in a country where the rule of law is so important, people can accept a process [what process?] that is so flawed. She noted that whereas American reporting on events in Europe, even when exaggerated or flawed, will typically generate a response by European journalists, European commentary on America is largely ignored.

William Pfaff insisted that the press is not at war: the conflict, he said, is between governments and ideological groups; the press is merely conveying the debate, not generating it. He said part of the problem is that journalists tend to accept the conventional wisdom, that is, the pictures people have about certain countries. What is essential to the debate, he continued, is “second order agreement,” which he described as the ability to say: “I can tell you what your position is on some controversial matter in a way in which you would say, yes, that is a relatively fair statement, and you can do the same about me.” Polish columnist Jacek Zakowski saw the “transatlantic media wars” on the order of a family quarrel, and suggested that one function of the media is to export internal tensions abroad.

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