US elections through the eyes of global media
In 2005 the annual World Press Freedom Day International Conference produced a declaration stressing that “independent and pluralistic media are essential for ensuring transparency, accountability and participation.” Furthermore, the declaration urges member states to “respect the function of the news media as an essential factor in good governance.”
Republican candidate Donald Trump has condemned the media’s coverage of the US presidential election. Speaking at a rally in Miami, Florida, Mr. Trump said: “There has never been dishonesty like we’ve seen in this election, media dishonesty.”
It has been said that the media acts as a crucial watchdog during democratic elections, giving information about parties, policies, candidates and the electoral process which allows voters to make informed choices. But has the coverage of the 2016 US presidential election been fair? We spoke to some journalists and political analysts to find out.
Losif Kovras, senior lecturer in comparative politics at City, University of London, thinks that international media are reflecting the growing polarisation of US politics: “In my opinion there are three distinctive features in this year’s election: first, the growing reliance on social media to cover the campaigns. This is something new and partly related to the provocative leadership style of Donald Trump. Second, as the election comes after a number of landmark political developments in 2016, such as Brexit, the election is framed in ‘messianic’ terms. I can see some differences in the coverage, by the British and Greek press for example. Finally, it seems that international media reflect the growing polarisation of US politics.”
With headlines like “Russian media’s love affair with Trump” or “Russia: Trump, Trump, Trump,” it seems that they have a favourable view of the Republican candidate.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a Russian politician, said if Clinton becomes president it could spark World War Three and lead to a nuclear war between the two nations.
Several Russian newspapers have praised Trump and torn Clinton to shreds. Russian MP Vitaly Milonov recently said in the popular tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda: “I officially declare that Clinton is a cursed witch. That’s why even a funny guy like Trump looks more reasonable in comparison.”
Sections of the Russian press have portrayed Clinton as a raving Russophobe. The Izvestia newspaper wrote: “Russia is already fighting on two fronts, in Syria and The Donbas. If the war-like Russia-hating Hillary Clinton wins the US election, a third front could open up in the Caucasus and money will pour in to support terrorists, just like it did during the two Chechen wars.”
The Russian media has generally been kinder to Trump. Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper said: “If he’s able to put into effect 30 per cent of his plans regarding Russia and Putin that will be good.”
The government paper Rossiskaya Gazeta wrote: “Trump’s speeches are unpretentious without the kind of hypocritical political correctness of the conservative establishment. He feels out the pressure points of the deepening structural crisis in America.”
Russian president Vladimir Putin dismissed all claims that his country’s media favoured Trump.
According to AlterNet news service, Chinese journalists received instructions to write stories making American politics look bad. Chinese media has often pointed out the arrogance of American politicians especially those who say that the US democratic system is superior to those of other nations. News reports say that Chinese media tend to avoid making outright editorial arguments and tend to choose quotes made by international figures and analysts to advance a particular point of view.
“Chinese media have consistently focused on both candidates’ weaknesses, Clinton’s email controversy and Trump’s sexual harassment issues. But they’ve particularly paid close attention to the two candidates’ positions on trade,” wrote AlterNet.
According to some Chinese media Trump would be likely to start a trade war with China, which would cost the United States five million jobs. Global Times, a Chinese newspaper, ran an editorial noting that, although most Chinese preferred Clinton, some did favour Trump because of Clinton’s “viciousness” towards China, primarily concerning human rights.
Chinese coverage stressed the unpredictability and “recklessness” of Trump whilst citing the views of international political analysts expressing cautious optimism that Clinton will win. News reports said: “Despite the optimism, China’s main news agency Xinhua concluded that the U.S. election is playing out ‘like a soap opera and causing widespread concern.”
Some political analysts think the coverage has been fair. Madura Rasaratnam, a lecturer in international politics at City, University of London, feels that whatever the media writes about Trump or Clinton is a reflection of their speeches and campaigns: “US presidential election coverage has been quite informative. I don’t think media has been biased, coverage has been quite thoughtful. It’s easy to ridicule Trump and you cannot blame the media for it. They are showing what they see. The US has a huge influence on international politics and on the economy. The world is keenly observing this election.”
The Middle Eastern media is no exception. Many Arab media outlets such as the Saudi-funded Al-Arabiya TV channel, Qatari-funded Al-Jazeera TV and Egyptian state-run Radio and Television Union (ERTU), prepared for the final election day with plans for live 24/7 coverage. However, due to the rising of complications in the region, the general tone of Arab media has been more pessimistic about the upcoming moves of the new US administration in the Middle East.
Lebanese newspaper Al-Safir published an article entitled “The bitter American choice” in which the writer says that Americans wish their choice wasn’t between “the bad and the worse” due to the political polarisation of the election and the lack of other strong candidates.
On the blog’s section of Al-Jazeera website, Saudi writer Khalid bin-Mounir expresses concern about the future of Arab migrants under the Trump administration. He refers to the recent murder of a Saudi student in the American state of Wisconsin, which was reported as a hate crime, saying that the student “would not be the last victim of Trump’s racism.” He said that Trump would “provide a legitimate channel for racist practices if he becomes president.”
The anticipated changes to the world’s economy following the naming of the new US president has been extensively discussed by Saudi Al-Arabiya TV. The channel reported that “world markets would be shaken if Trump wins” and that “if Clinton becomes president one-third of the world’s economy would be dominated by women.” It also said that Trump could be a “unique” president with a lot of experience in the business and finance areas. However, his candidacy shows “how money gets a shortcut to the White House”.
Egyptian daily Al-Ahram criticized Trump, saying that his “hatred for Islam is a shame”. A general tone of pessimism about the future of the region was expressed in an another article on Al-Ahram website, which said that initial poll results show that Clinton is most likely to win the race. However, she “will not be by any means a better president than her predecessors” in terms of supporting the Arab region because the status of the region has been more complicated than it ever was.