Despite what we see on TV, Donald Trump isn’t the only news event on Earth
When I enter a room where CNN is on, I ask for the channel to be changed or the television to be switched off. I admit it’s an odd kind of political act, but in Nigeria, where I live, CNN reports only one story: Donald Trump. And it is a story that needs to stop crowding out the rest of the world.
It’s not just CNN – the international news media are global in name and audience reach only. Always tilting more to the US and Europe in terms of coverage, they have become increasingly obsessed with the new president, as have many people around the world. From newspapers and television to social media feeds and the conversations we have, the latest in the Trump saga is never far away.
This critique is not so much directed against those living in the US as it is at the rest of us. Given the scale and scope of the decisions being made and their impact on everything from women’s rights to racial justice to national security, it is understandable why those living there are completely consumed by what is happening in the White House. But for the rest of us this dominance at the expense of a more holistic global picture is profoundly troubling.
President Trump’s executive order keeping out refugees for 120 days and barring people from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia from entering the country for three months triggered outrage and protests across the world, and quite rightly. Untold column inches, tweets, airtime and conversations have been given over to discussing this decision, the protests against it and judicial rulings since. However, similar outrage and actions seem conspicuously missing in other areas.
Exactly a week after the executive order was announced, two United Nations reports documented events happening elsewhere that have all but gone unnoticed. In Afghanistan, the 2016 Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict report recorded the highest number of civilian casualties in a single year since records started in 2009. There has been a 24% increase in the number of children killed and injured compared to 2015.
More human rights violations documented against members of the Rohingya community in Myanmar include the burning of houses and the destruction of property, looting, beatings, sexual violence, forced disappearances and killings. Stories include mothers seeing their children being killed, women being gang-raped by up to eight men, people being rounded up and taken away, and the army deliberately setting fire to houses with families inside.
How many of you reading know this is happening in Afghanistan or Myanmar?
People standing up against Trump’s executive order is a welcome corrective to the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment and activity in much of Europe and the US in the last few years. However, it seems we only care about discrimination when committed by certain governments.
The focus on the US means there are big stories we continue to overlook. A series of protests in South Korea, which started in October 2016, brought down the president. The rallies, with more than a million protesters turning out on some days, led to a motion for impeachment passed by almost 80% of legislators.
On the same day as the US elections, the Indian government decided that all Rs500 and Rs1,000 (£6 and £12) notes would no longer be valid. Millions formed long queues at banks to redeem their cash, with those without access to banking, especially women, left behind. Yet there was hardly any reporting and analysis of what was happening, and its potential regional and global impact.
On the day of Trump’s inauguration, military forces from Senegal, Nigeria and Ghana had crossed the borders into the Gambia. The country had two presidents: Yahya Jammeh, who at first refused to step down, and Adama Barrow, the winner of the 2016 elections, inaugurated at the Gambian embassy in Senegal. That the situation was resolved with only minor clashes is testament to the further entrenchment of democratic practices in west Africa, but these developments went largely unnoticed, even in the region, in favour of the pageantry in Washington DC.
I have had to struggle to keep up with these events, and to find thoughtful analysis of them amid the bombardment of Trump-focused news and commentary. This is not to say that we shouldn’t pay attention to what is happening in the US. In many areas, such as climate change, the position of its government has profound consequences for us all. But the whole world really does not need rolling coverage and analysis, with the minutiae of detail being reported and discussed right now.
I agree it is difficult to tear ourselves away from this strange political soap opera. As much as the horror at decisions and statements being made, the world is captivated by its entertainment value, politics as spectacle. The reach of US culture, its films, television and music, has made many who have never visited invested in what happens, particularly as the news media seem insistent in bringing us a steady diet of Trump.
But, the USA’s influence is decreasing. We are no longer living in the 1950s, in an era of a single global superpower. In the world of 2017, there have been big global shifts in power. China and India will make up 37% of the world’s population by 2030, and have an increasing share of the global economy. Culturally, the influence of Bollywood, Nigerian music and telenovelas reach far beyond their nations and even continents. We are far from equipped to recognise and analyse what all of this means. After all, how many of us can discuss the viewpoints of Trump’s inner circle and what they mean, but fail to even name five influential Chinese politicians? We need to decolonise our news media and our minds, and stop living in the past.