Posts Tagged ‘TV news’

Coloring Judgment

July 12, 2009

In a preview of US President Barack Obama’s trip to Ghana, BBC asked children at an Accra elementary school to explain the meaning of his visit.

One boy, perhaps seven years old, said, “Obama proves that black people can do anything that white people can do.” As an American, I’m extraordinarily proud that our country could help teach this lesson. I pray that it sinks in the across the African continent.

As a former resident of Africa, it’s incredible to me that, after 50-plus years of independence, an African child born this century can believe in the inferiority of black people. I won’t speculate about the reasons the boy feels that way, but I’ve witnessed something similar in Asia.

While working on Lonely Planet’s inaugural guide to Borneo, I crossed the border from predominantly poor, poorly educated, underdeveloped and untouristed East Kalimantan in Indonesia to more affluent, educated, developed and cosmopolitan East Sabah in Malaysia and suddenly found race an issue. As I wrote in Asia Times, during six weeks in Kalimantan, I received overwhelmingly warm receptions and helpful responses to inquiries. In Sabah, I was mocked, shunned and insulted. (I understood the taunts since I speak Indonesian, as close to Malaysian as US English is to British.)

I peg the difference to the Malaysian government’s racial policies. Its system of preferences of Malays and restrictions on Chinese and other groups institutionalizes racism. It teaches that all people are not created equal, that there are differences in race, and that Malays are at the bottom of the pile.

That’s no way to raise proud Malaysian children, and, unfortunately, it’s most likely going to be a while before America elects a Malaysian president.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Indonesia is not a ‘Muslim country’

June 16, 2009

Al Jazeera is promoting a special program called “Hearts and Minds: the struggle for Indonesia’s soul” ahead of nation’s presidential election in July.


The show is off to a bad start in its promos, calling Indonesia “the world’s largest Muslim country.” Indonesia is not a “Muslim country” – it is a secular nation with the world’s largest Muslim population. An estimated 85-90 percent of Indonesia’s 240 million people are Muslims. But there are more Christians, Hindus and other non-Muslims in Indonesia than there are people in Australia, Sri Lanka, Scandinavia, or Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories combined.


Recognizing that significant minority, Indonesia’s founders made a conscious decision not to declare their nation a Muslim state, and voters have affirmed that decision in every election the country has held. Indonesia’s motto remains Unity in Diversity, not Allah Akbar.


Beginning with its misinformed “Muslim country” premise – whether due to poor preparation or ideological predisposition – Al Jazeerah’s special seems unlikely to shed useful light. Instead it will help Indonesia remain the greatest story never told.


Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie. 

Holocaust Museum Gunman vs Miss California

June 11, 2009

As a former CNN producer, I pay attention to what my former colleagues churn out. Wednesday night’s edition of Anderson Cooper 360 showcased some of the best and worst that the medium can offer.

AC360 coverage of Holocaust Museum gunman James von Brunn began with predictable, unfortunate recitation of von Brunn’s ridiculous views. Sunlight may be the best disinfectant, but it’s equally true that there’s no such thing as bad publicity: every mention of his wacky beliefs or tease of his website gives comfort and opportunities to recruit similarly disturbed extremists.

The program took a far better turn when it interviewed an official of the Southern Poverty Law Center that actually tracks and fights hate groups. The best guests are doers, not writers. The guest, SPLC Intelligence Report director Mark Potok,  was able to put the museum attack in context, both in terms of von Brunn’s history and recent hate group activities. Potok made the connection between this incident and the shooting of abortion doctor George Tiller. A black president in the White House may drive some violent extremists to desperate acts, enabled by easily available firearms.

The other related guests – an FBI agent who once infiltrated the hate groups and von Brunn’s former housemate – offered the irresistible TV lure of having actually met the shooter, but neither had much to say. Tracking them down, particularly the housemate, who seemed to have been landed mid-show, wins big bragging rights for the show and for the assistant producer or booker who uncovered them. It’s a much bigger coup for the show and its personnel than for viewers.

From the heights of the SPLC guest, AC360 tumbled to the depths with its story of Miss California Carrie Prejean being stripped of her crown. Pointlessly reporting this non-story is one thing, but this iteration insulted viewers at several levels. From a strictly journalism point of view, it’s inexcusable that the story failed to show the new Miss California, Tami Farrell, opting for that familiar video of Prejean’s pageant bikini strut. Believe me, as a red-blooded male, I like that bikini strut as much as the next guy. But apparently Anderson Cooper doesn’t, since he complained about running story. That’s the real insult.

On one hand we’re supposed to believe that Anderson Cooper is a hands-on newsman and AC360 is his take on the news of the day. But when it comes to Miss California stories, then AC portrays himself as a typical empty suit anchorman who doesn’t know what’s in the show until he reads it in the teleprompter. The reality is likely between those extremes, but that doesn’t mean AC can have it both ways. If Cooper really didn’t want the Miss California story on his show, it wouldn’t be there and it certainly wouldn’t have been teased throughout the hour. So, AC, please save the crocodile journalism ethics and stand behind your whole show or none of it.

Former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen told America’s story to the world as a US diplomat and is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance and cheap lingerie.

Muhammad Cohen on media and more

May 31, 2009

I’ll be posting here about the media – a key theme of my novel Hong Kong On Air, set during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie – and other stuff that interests me, and I hope will interest you. Stay tuned.


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