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Issues & Ale recap: International Perspective on American Politics

Crissy Zamarron / Michigan Radio

The Issues & Ale series was glad to provide a special presentation on March 7th featuring a visit from our colleagues from the BBC Newhour staff from London.

Michigan Radio and BBC fans flocked to The Rust Belt Market in Ferndale to join in a thought-provoking conversation about international and U.S. politics with our panel. Our own Lester Graham hosted the discussion while our visiting guest speakers included...

  • Tim Franks - BBC Newshour host/presenter  
  • Jo Floto -  BBC Newshour, editor

The BBC Newshour is a leading international current affairs program, its staff have been all over the world learning and reporting. On this night, our Michigan Radio audience was able to dig into the wealth of knowledge and international experience that they could offer, giving us some perspective on how the rest of the world sees the U.S. in this moment.
Our host Lester jumped right in, asking the key question of the night: “How does the world see American politics today?”

Panelist Tim Franks answered simply, “The world is intensely interested in what’s going on here, because you matter. I mean the U.S. is still the most powerful country in the world. It is also founded on an idea which has enormous importance and significance and purchase through a lot of the world.”

Franks went on to note that what makes this such an interesting time for the U.S. in particular is how Donald Trump’s presidency has seemed to the rest of the world like he came in to tear up conventions and norms that were once held by that office. The perceived shakeup in the White House has also been felt significantly throughout the international community via many issues like the border wall, international trade, and much more.

As foreign visitors, the audience enjoyed prodding our guests about their thoughts on our current administration and the similarities they have seen in their respective journeys reporting from around the world. When asked about the stories getting attention around the world, without a doubt they declared that anything about Donald Trump is sure to get attention.

Longtime BBC contributor and News Hour editor Jo Floto insisted there is no one way to look at the political climate in the U.S. , saying,“[There’s] not a universal or global view of America or its president.”

Citing opinion polls in nations across the world, Floto reminded the room that the U.S. president garners mixed reactions across the international community, including in countries like the Philippines and South Africa where he’s been received quite positively.

Credit Crissy Zamarron / Michigan Radio
Issues & Ale audience, The Rust Belt Market.

Opinions about the U.S. weren’t the only perspectives our BBC guests gave that night. The discussion also focused on the current standards of journalism and role of the media in politics across the globe. Audience members eagerly questioned the panel on their thoughts about the relationship between this administration and Fox News, the most popular stories coming out of the U.S., whether media has been holding Trump to a different standard as past presidents, and more.

A self-described pessimist, Floto commented, “I do think that journalism has a problem…America and Europe have very divided societies and that division is exacerbated by new media and people are flocking toward the warm embrace of like-minded views.” Later adding, “at the BBC we’re trying to hold our line because we’re telling stories, we’re not trying to make you feel good about what you think.”

Of course, the crowd was also interested to learn more about Brexit from actual citizens of the U.K. Franks told Graham, “I think Brexit was not so much due to trade and much more due to identity, ‘what are we as a country and what is our place in the world?’”

He later added to the conversation that the widespread hesitation to accept refugees may have both been a symptom and a cause of the country’s decision to leave the E.U. saying, “There is a surge in populism and nationalism around the world, certainly in Briton, one of the things that fueled Brexit was the sentiment that immigration had run out of control.”

Credit Crissy Zamarron / Michigan Radio
BBC anchor Tim Franks greets Issues & Ale audience members

Floto offered his own explanation against giving into negative views of Brexiters reminding us, “something [about the campaign to leave] resonated with those people” and that’s important to note, something has been missing for them. He also pointed to the connection of this issue to his own field. Floto said, “There is a sense that people don’t trust the voice of the media as much as they once did, that we have to earn that trust back, and that politicians have to earn that back from the electorate.”

For the full Issues & Ale conversation, listen to the audio above.

During their visit to Detroit, Franks, Floto, and their staff broadcasted the BBC News Hour live from Motown Museum to help mark the 60th Anniversary of the legendary record label. They were able to speak with Robin Terry, grand-niece of Motown creator Barry Gordy, about the history and longevity of both the record label and the music it brought to the world. Terry explained how Gordy was able to take the spirit of the auto industry he saw in Detroit to take “something raw and transform[ed] it into something new and shiny” to become this world-wide phenomena in music.

The BBC team also heard from Abdul "Duke" Fakir of the legendary group, the Four Tops. Fakir shared his memories of recording in historic “studio A” and his successes and struggles getting to be a Motown star.

Listen to that BBC broadcast here.

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