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July 27, 2004

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The View From Abroad

By Ellen Hume and the Media Nation Staff
Tuesday, July 27, 2004

BOSTON -- Leave it to Australia, the country that gave us Rupert Murdoch, to provide entertaining coverage of the Democratic National Convention.

In Monday's Sydney Morning Herald, Caroline Overington wrote: “We live in superficial times, so here’s a superficial question: Is John Kerry too unattractive to be the President of the United States?” Her answer came from the U.S. press: “The former editor of The New York Times, Howell Raines, says Kerry has ‘an Addams family face,’ ” she wrote, “and Matt Labash of The Weekly Standard says he looks like a ‘long-faced Easter Island statue’ or like one of those tall, talking trees in 'The Lord of the Rings.' ”

Washington bureau chief of NHK, prepares to broadcast yesterday evening from the Japanese network's skybox overlooking the convention floor.
Media Nation Photo by Sarah M. J. Welch

How is the convention being viewed from abroad? The level of interest in some foreign capitals may be even higher than in parts of the United States.

Kelly Lin of New Tang Dynasty Television in China said she paid her own way to come to Boston to cover the convention and is staying with friends to save money “because we need to know what’s going to happen in the elections. We are interested in the foreign policy for Asia.”

Mexican journalists also are expecting audiences to be paying attention back home. “In our latest internal survey, we found that U.S. foreign policy with Mexico is one of the top issues our readers are interested in,” said Geraldo Jimenez, international editor of El Universal. The paper, one of Mexico’s most influential, sent its Washington correspondent to cover the convention.

Reforma, another major Mexican paper, has a link on its Web site that would please the Democratic National Committee: “Kerry Looks After Mexicans,” it said Monday as the lead-in to its convention report. Reforma wants to know about immigration policy but is also wondering “how real is the influence of Mexicans in the campaign,” said international editor Ricardo Perez

Why did RTL News from the Netherlands bring three people here to cover the convention? “Your country is electing the leader of the free world,” said U.S. Bureau Chief Max Westerman. “We’re asked to chip in [with the Iraq war and anti-terrorism campaign] so it’s very important to know who leads America.”

Some journalists who come from countries without a tradition of free speech and protest were fascinated by the demonstrations starting to materialize outside the media pavilion. The Afghan Daily took up the plight of the protesters, who, they said, are objecting to the “pen” and “barricades” that have been built just for them.

The foreign journalist is in media Siberia here: the last to be invited to the parties and often working in a perch that is farthest from the action. Many of the estimated 1,700 foreign press are scattered around the least desirable areas of the media hall, including the distant exile of 98 N. Washington St.

Even though the DNC’s press-information centers have enlisted foreign-language speakers to help answer questions, international journalists have reason to feel slighted. The U.S. government decided at the last minute not to fund a convention press area for them for the first time in more than 20 years, leaving them to work in cramped pooled space on a first-come, first-serve basis. The U.S. congressional news media galleries, which handle distribution of convention press credentials, found private funding to put up a $15,000 to $20,000 foreign media center at the Republican convention in New York next month but nothing could be done in time for this week's event.

The largest foreign-press group is from the U.K. "He's reaching out, but will Kerry connect with America?” asked The Independent, a major London-based British newspaper, in its Monday editions. The BBC took the same tack as many American media, predicting that the convention would be “political theater” but very important, nonetheless. A BBC report said further that “conventions have turned into coronations” and are held for three reasons: “to energize party supporters, educate the public about the nominee and because there is government funding to hold them.”

The next-largest delegation is the Japanese, who are watching closely what the Democratic Party platform says about trade issues. “It is important to the Japanese people because, you know, Prime Minister Koizumi’s government agreed to participate in the Iraq war and said it would be evaluated positively in the future. That was the only explanation. That’s why the Japanese people are concerned, and they are very interested in who will be president,” said a reporter for NHK who declined to give his name.

Kazuyasu Akashi, the JiJi Press bureau chief from Washington, D.C., said his Japanese news agency has three people here. One of their assignments? Find out the difference between Bush and Kerry on the war against terrorism.



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