World had a ‘Trump moment’, media was right in the middle

US President-elect Donald Trump meets John Kelly at the clubhouse of Trump National Golf Club on November 20, 2016 in Bedminster, New Jersey. You can draw your own conclusion whether Trumpism will be a factor in our own elections. PHOTO | AFP

What you need to know:

  • The criticisms and comments Smit received were clearly cynical of the way the media had covered the US elections.
  • You can draw your own conclusion whether Trumpism — whatever meaning you attach to it — will be a factor in our own elections.

This week I tracked the experiences of public editors — also known as ombudsmen or readers’ editors — across the world on the reaction of their readers and viewers to the US election.

That reaction, I figured, would give an indication of the likely effect of Trumpism on the local political scene.

The experiences, on the whole, are probably best summarised by Esther Enkin, the ombudsman of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

She states that the reaction “revealed an undercurrent of anger and feelings of alienation”.

She received almost as many letters criticising the CBC coverage of the American election as she did during the Canadian election last year, which was won by the Liberal Party led by Justin Trudeau.

“Someone said ‘this is a start of the ‘whitelash’. Underneath all the rhetoric appears to be anger from people who simply don’t see themselves or their concerns reflected in what we do,” she reports.

Margo Smit, the ombudsman for the Dutch public service broadcaster, NOS, reports that the Dutch media was heavily criticised for missing out on the discontent, anger, and power of “ordinary, white people”.

She equates that reaction to the 2002 Dutch elections when LPF, a right-wing populist party, starting with nothing, won 26 out of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives.

This came in the wake of the assassination of the LPF leader, Pim Fortuyn, only nine days before election day.

Fortuyn had gained popularity in the campaign with his views on Islam, attacks on the government’s immigration policies, and other domestic issues.

Thus LPF rode on the claim that mainstream parties and the media had neglected and cheated the people.

The criticisms and comments Smit received were clearly cynical of the way the media had covered the US elections.

Sample comment: “You leftist NOS couldn’t believe Trump could win, huh?”

ONE COMPLAINT
In Finland, Riitta Pihlajamäki, the ombudsman for the State broadcaster, Yle, reports that the reaction towards the whole media in the country was the same: how could you as experts predict the outcome of the elections so wrong?

She goes on to say that the True Finns, the right wing anti-immigration populist party, has used the reaction in its propaganda, saying that this is once again an example of how the “traditional media” is biased and not telling the whole truth.

In Estonia, the northern Europe country formerly part of the Soviet Union, Tarmu Tammerk, the ombudsman for Estonian Public Broadcasting, reports that there was criticism about what some people saw as strongly anti-Trump coverage in the public broadcasting company and the media in general.

“Some strongly conservative movements and parties are drawing parallels with the local situation, claiming that the media, with the public broadcasting company at the head, continue to ignore the concerns of ordinary people, which may lead to unexpected political victories in this country, too,” he states.

Even in those countries that I surveyed where the public editor did not make a direct reference to a possible “Trump moment” in their own politics, the suggestions were there.

A.S. Panneerselvan, the readers’ editor for The Hindu, the second most circulated English-language newspaper in India, reports that his readers blame the media for “political correctness”.

Alan Sunderland, the editorial director of the State-owned Australian Broadcasting Corporation, says that the media was criticised for being part of the left-wing mainstream media conspiracy that tried to destroy Donald Trump by characterising him as unfit for office, and failing to address the real issues he was raising.

In Kenya, let me say that I received only one complaint that said the NMG ignored all the negative things about Hillary Clinton while emphasising the shortcomings of Donald Trump.

You can draw your own conclusion whether Trumpism — whatever meaning you attach to it — will be a factor in our own elections.

Send your complaints to: [email protected]

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