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Western Press Review: From Czechs To Balances

  • Joel Blocker
  • Dora Slaba

Prague, 6 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary roams the globe today, touching on subjects as diverse as the Czech Republic, Kosovo, child soldiers and journalistic ethics.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Perhaps Klaus...has another goal in mind

Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung comments on recent efforts to form a new government in the Czech Republic. In an editorial, the paper writes: "Because the Christian Democrats and the Conservative Freedom Union Party have proved too cautious, the two chief parties (the Civil Demarcates and the Social Democrats) are now reaching a rapprochement. In the poker game to form a government in Prague, (former premier) Vaclav Klaus is playing into the hands of those... against whom he warned the electorate only three weeks ago. The man who demanded resistance to the Social Democrats from his party's adherents is now making it possible for Social Democrat leader Milos Zeman to take power." The editorial continues: "It is of course not yet clear whether the announcement of an informal coalition (between Klaus and Zeman's parties) is not guided by motives other than the apparent concern for the stability of the country. Perhaps Klaus...has another goal in mind: With the help of the Social Democrats, he could introduce a majority election system (to replace the current proportional representation system) and, should the Social Democrats fail in solving the country's economic problems, he might pull off an overwhelming victory in the next elections."

TIMES: The English have not been tried as the Czechs have....

Roger Scruton, a British philosopher who ran a network that helped Czech anti-communist dissidents before the 1989 Velvet Revolution, compares England's heroes to those of the Czech Republic -- and finds the English wanting. In a commentary in Britain's daily Times today, he notes that in a recent poll Czechs designated as their greatest 20th century figures statesman Thomas Masaryk (number one), writer Karel Capek (number two) and composer Leos Janacek (number six) --all, he notes, figures of great intellectual stature. In England, Scruton writes, cultural achievements do not "matter to the ordinary citizen, and none of (them) feeds into our collective idea of what we are. The English," he continues, "have loss all sense of their distinctiveness. They have no sense of national achievement other than the goals scored in a (soccer) match, or the casualties inflicted on rival fans." He argues that could be because "the English have not been tried as the Czechs have....But suppose they...fell under an oppressive foreign power, determined to set them one against the other...and to create the kind of atomized society that lends itself to totalitarian control? What would remind the English then ... of the national identity without which their trial could not be survived? Football? The Spice Girls?"

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: The diplomats will be faced with a confusing picture

Under the title "Chaos in Kosovo," the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes: "The International Observation Group is beginning its mission in Kosovo today. The diplomats will be faced with a confusing picture: Albanian refugees, anxious Serbs, areas controlled by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), Serb police and civilians armed to the teeth, destroyed villages. How," the paper asks in an editorial, "can this undeclared war be brought to an end, how can negotiations be set in motion and above all a solution found?" To add to the problems, the editorial goes on, "there is a conflict over political leadership among the Kosovo-Albanians between the elected 'President' (Ibrahim) Rugova and the strengthened but apparently disorganized KLA. Taking all these complications into consideration, the West is asking that the special (Serbian) police force, responsible for the massacres in the civilian population, be withdrawn from the province." It concludes: "As for (Yugoslav President Slobodan) Milosevic, everything is going his way: His militia is on the advance, the West is making a crab-like retreat, the Albanians are quarreling. Nobody is asking any more what is the cause of such chaos? It is the suppression by Belgrade for over 10 years of the Albanians who make up 90 percent of Kosovo's two-million-strong population. Yet day by day there are less of them."

NEW YORK TIMES: The new spotlight on the horrors of turning children into warriors is a good start

In an editorial, the New York Times argues that the world should say "No to Child Soldiers." The paper writes: "Researchers now estimate (that there are) 300,000 child soldiers in militaries and guerrilla armies around the world. Most are close to 18, but tens of thousands of them are not yet teenagers. The United Nations and a new coalition of private groups are trying to focus attention on the issue of child soldiers and reduce their numbers. Success will depend on shaming the governments and expatriate communities that raise money and buy weapons for guerrilla movements." The editorial continues: "Young people have been used as soldiers throughout history, but recent years have seen a large increase, due to the changing nature of war. Since the end of the Cold War, conflicts between countries fought by armies have been rare. Wars today are nationalist, ethnic and religious, fought by warlords who...may view even infants as enemies."

The paper concludes: "The world needs a clear international statement that child soldiers are unacceptable. A proposed protocol to the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child would raise the minimum acceptable age to 18, from 15.... Delegates in Rome negotiating rules for an international criminal court should classify the recruitment of children under 15 as a war crime....More money must go to programs that provide psychological and physical treatment for former child soldiers. The new spotlight on the horrors of turning children into warriors is a good start."

ECONOMIST: A new category of news is supplanting political issues

Recent developments in Western media evoke a lead editorial in the current issue (dated July 4) of the British weekly Economist. The magazine writes: " a modern paradox: that in this age of globalization, news is much more parochial than in the days when communication from abroad ticked slowly across the world by telegraph. And here is another: that in this information age, the newspapers which used to be full of politics and economics are thick with stars and sport." The editorial goes on: "To many this seems unambiguously a change for the worse -- a dumbing down that panders to inanity, prurience and prejudice. If so, it would not be enough merely to retort that readers and (TV) viewers like it that way. The news is not a product like any other. People learn about how they are governed from what they read in the newspapers and what they see on television news." The Economist adds: "A new category of news is supplanting political issues: what Americans call 'news you can use' -- stories telling people about how to get hold of new cancer drugs, or how to determine whether their child's school is performing well. The focus may be narrow, but the effect is not trivial: telling people how to influence their local school or hospital is useful and gives them real political power."

TURKISH DAILY NEWS: We have to put our media house in order

The Turkish Daily News today runs a commentary by Ilnur Cevik discussing recent incidents in the U.S. media of fabricated stories and quotes (The New Republic and The Boston Globe) and false reports (CNN-Time). He writes: "The fact that all these (violations of ethical criteria) happened in a country where journalistic standards are held in high esteem...has forced the Americans to look into the issue seriously and (draw some) lessons. Many American media experts are saying that commercial considerations like ratings and sales are (overruling) journalistic considerations." The commentary continues: " However, we feel the American medial officials have nothing to worry (about). They at least acknowledge there is something wrong in their system and...want to correct it. In (the Turkish) case our media executives seem rather (indifferent about) committing ethical mistakes and never adhere to proper journalistic standards"

Cevik adds: "(Turkish) media have now proclaimed (themselves) the country's king-maker, feeling (they) should topple governments and officials who fail to serve (their) commercial interests...The media has emerged as the partner of (political) power centers in Turkey...We have to put our media house in order," he concludes, If we fail to do so, the media will remain a force obstructing democracy rather than enhancing it, and (Turkey) will never be able to establish a sound and effective parliamentary system."