Category Archives: Media
Back in 2007, our Creative Director & CSO Asad Yawar foresaw the rise of Turkey – something not even on the global international relations agenda at the peak of the Euro-American credit bubble – as having ‘far-reaching implications…for Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East’.
Since that time, Turkey has been the only major European economy aside from Germany and oil-rich Russia to come close to transcending the global economic crisis. But its longstanding trajectory of joining the European Union – a goal which was confirmed with Turkey’s official bid to join the European Economic Community almost exactly twenty-six years ago – does not look nearly as attractive as it might have done even five years ago. A condition of Turkey’s EU accession is the eventual replacement of the Turkish lira with the much-maligned euro; given the experiences of present eurozone periphery countries, where even sacrosanct pillars of private property such as bank deposits and gold have become collateral damage in a financial armageddon, it is doubtful whether a country which could in theory gain many of the benefits of European Union membership without actually joining would choose to take the obvious risk constituted by signing up to the EU.
With an ever-growing international reach – Turkey’s foreign aid budget nearly doubled from 2011 (US$1.3bn) to 2012 (US$2.5bn) – the state that contains the former imperial capital of the Ottoman Empire clearly has options regarding its future alliances. But what, if any are the alternatives to the EU? After some contemplation, we at Mediolana came up with the following:
1. Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. This international bloc – ironically headquartered in Beijing – is fundamentally a Eurasian security alliance. While the current Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has openly stated his keenness on joining the SCO, these sentiments do not appear to be shared even by other senior figures in his own AK Party, and it is easy to see why. Totally dominated by Russia and China and offering little in terms of environmental or human rights standards, Turkey would have little leverage within this grouping and would have no additional incentives at all to improve two of its (presently) weaker areas.
2. Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. Historically one of the great sleeping giants of international relations, the OIC should in theory be an arena where Turkey, which is already a member state, can further its goals. And from 2005 to date, a period when Professor Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu has been Secretary-General of the OIC, Turkish influence within the organisation has been palpable. However, Turkey has not traditionally enjoyed a prominent position within a largely ineffectual organisation that has been characterised by the power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The forthcoming supplanting of the present Secretary-General by Saudi former journalist Iyad bin Amin Madani means that the OIC is unlikely to adopt a Turkish agenda in the medium term.
3. Turkish-Islamic Union. This is an international bloc which presently does not formally exist but which is being heavily promoted on A9, a Turkish television station established in 2011. This fact alone would not normally qualify it for serious consideration, but judging from the calibre of people from the worlds of academia, journalism, business and politics that have already been interviewed by this channel and who have expressed a desire to see Turkey take on this type of leadership role within the Islamic world, A9 seems to have an influence disproportionately large compared to its modest audience share. The main advantage of this grouping for Turkey is that it would get to design the institutional architecture from the TIU’s inception, which in theory could make it much more functional than, say, the OIC or EU; while the provisional name of the organisation is unlikely to inspire Arabs or Persians, the essential concept deserves consideration.
As regular readers of this blog will doubtless be aware, Mediolana’s CSO is one busy bunny these days and rarely has time to watch any television unless it is truly essential viewing (the progress of the Democratic Republic of Congo at the 2013 African Nations Cup just about falls into this category). However, between the end of his evening shift and the commencement of a session of late-night staring at the World in 2013 earlier this week, he found that someone on another floor had left on the latest edition of Question Time (BBC 1, 24th January 2013). A few minutes of watching this programme left him wondering what any outside observers – including but not limited to the Communist Party of China, United Russia and Partai Demokrat - must think of the United Kingdom.
The key moment revolved around the issue of the ‘austerity’ policies currently being pursued by the Conservative Party-Liberal Democrats coalition. This set of policies has seen the implementation of some cuts to various elements of the UK’s budget in an attempt to reduce the country’s stupefying debt, which was estimated by US investment banking behemoth Morgan Stanley at just under 1,000% of GDP towards the end of 2011 – the highest debt load proportionate to output of any country in the G10. However, this approach has not been enough to stop the growth in borrowing, with the budget deficit reported as being £15.4bn in December 2012 – £0.6bn higher than at the same point in 2011.
Anna Soubry – a Conservative MP and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health – was challenged on this point by the Ben Bradshaw, a Labour MP and former cabinet minister who ascended to public office at the start of Tony Blair first administration. But instead of berating Soubry for not reducing the deficit, Bradshaw advocated that Britain follow Barack Obama’s lead by imitating the United States’ ‘growth-oriented’ path – by borrowing yet more money. A few minutes later, the MP for Exeter – to general approval – argued against cuts to the armed services, despite the fact that the United Kingdom has the world’s fourth largest military expenditure budget yet is placed only 22nd internationally in terms of population; is surrounded by neighbours with which it has no territorial disputes; and, as underlined by the Barack Obama-Hamid Karzai meeting of 13th January 2013, has an ever-diminishing role in Afghanistan.
The choice the British public are being presented with – and will be presented with for the foreseeable future – is that between (a) reduced government spending which fails to stop the escalation in indebtedness and (b) increased government spending which ratchets up the escalation in indebtedness; in other words, two varieties of hitting the wall. The comedy value of British politics has rarely been so apparent; the joke is unlikely to be lost in translation.
Despite a chronic lack of time, football is something that our CSO has an increasing passion for – maybe absence really does make the heart grow fonder – and 16th December 2012 saw him, pyjamas barely addressed, in front of a television like the good old days, managing to catch no less than 45 minutes (plus summaries) of the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup final between Sport Club Corinthians Paulista and Chelsea Football Club. But away from the slow-burning classic that played itself out on the pitch – the counter-attacking, solid Brazilians winning out over the samba football proffered by the international Londoners in a thoroughly postmodern Yokohama encounter – our CSO was increasingly perturbed by the BBC’s match analysis.
In particular, the assembled punditry’s treatment of the Chelsea striker Fernando Torres bordered on the surreal. Always lively, the forward nearly scored one of the great goals of this century in the first half with a sublime first touch and volley; a Chelsea equaliser surely would have been his in the second half but for the excellent goalkeeping of Cássio Ramos, later awarded the Golden Ball for his outstanding performances throughout the tournament. Yet Torres was, according to the BBC caption, having a ‘torrid’ time; every move of his was scrutinised as part of a ‘Torreswatch’, as denominated by the otherwise unusually good anchor Manish Bhasin.
This pattern continued the following Wednesday (19th December 2012) when the BBC – which chose to eschew telecasting much of the FIFA Club World Cup, despite it being one of the very few tournaments they hold the broadcasting rights to – showed late-night highlights of Chelsea’s 5-1 quarter-final away defeat of Leeds United. Torres – who worked tirelessly throughout – remained ‘unconvincing’. The fact that he cleverly netted Chelsea’s fifth goal was spun as being barely attributable to him.
Yet a simple online check reveals that Torres is actually his club’s top scorer this season, with 12 goals in 25 games giving him a ratio of a little under one goal every two games in a side that places a heavy emphasis on goalscoring contributions from the attacking midfield trio floating just behind Chelsea’s number nine: Torres’ compatriot Juan Mata, Belgian Eden Hazard and the Kakáesque Oscar dos Santos Emboaba Júnio.
So why the non-stop deprecation of Fernando Torres by an embittered national broadcaster?
1. Paranoia. Does the Torres-baiting reflect our own paranoia? That, in an era where unsubstantiated anti-immigrant sentiment has become normal across much of Europe, our enthusiasm to place every action of a prominent foreigner under the microscope of modern camera technology betrays our own inability to produce anything resembling the quality of a player who is a current European and world champion with his country?
2. Straight Lines. Torres has been the subject of countless back pages – tabloid and semi-tabloid – since around the middle of 2010 as a perceived loss of injury-catalysed form and fitness lead to some admittedly dry spells in front of goal. But in the careers of most professional footballers (and indeed those of professionals as a whole), patches of inconsistency do happen, particularly when obvious injuries are complicating the picture. Is Torres’ lavishly-decorated career – in spite of what any compromised hack might opine – jarring? Do some of us actively want him to fail? And if so, why?
As we have noted before on this blog, the Financial Times appears to have comprehensively displaced The Times as the United Kingdom’s newspaper of record, with its unrivalled quality of precise reporting and stimulating comment proving that there is still space in today’s market for news in paper format. Yet a recent editorial – Morsi’s Mistake, from November 24th-25th’s FT Weekend – illustrated the broader problem of cultural presumptions that even the very best struggle to transcend. The editorial – correctly and rather uncontroversially – noted the disproportionate nature of the measures taken by the current President of Egypt, a bespectacled former assistant professor at California State University, to exempt his actions from judicial review via a decree issued on 22nd November 2012, a roundly-condemned legal stratagem that appears to have backfired spectacularly.
However, the FT then posited a bizarre corollary, namely that Mohamed Morsi’s government constitues ‘the test for whether democratic Islam has a future’. After some serious consideration of this ultimately broad claim, we would postulate the following:
1. The FJP ≠ Democratic Islam. Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party (‘FJP’) is but one of a great many political parties in OIC member states which claim or are claimed to represent a synthesis between Islam and democracy; moreover, it is a very new organisation, having only been legalised since 6th June 2011, and it is unclear how it will be perceived in a year or two’s time. To equate the FJP to the entire experience of democracy in the Islamic world is fundamentally mistaken.
2. Egypt ≠ the Centre of the Universe. With the historic events in Tahrir Square during Q1 2011 still fresh in the memory, it has become fashionable to regard Egypt as a pivotal country in the region and even the world at large. However, despite its large size and population, proximity to geopolitically prominent countries such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, and close ties to the United States, Egypt is not a particularly important country in every context, not least that of Islam and democracy. States such as Indonesia, Turkey and Senegal have had far longer and qualitatively richer experiences in this domain and tell us much more about the interactions, overlaps and tensions between Islamic religious beliefs and democratic institutions than Egypt, although this may change in the future.
3. Democracy ≠ Institutions. Democracy cannot be reduced to formal institutions: the value people attribute to democracy is not always matched by their corresponding legislatures, judiciaries and executives. As we noted in our 1st February 2011 piece Reform in the Middle East: should we be surprised?, the gargantuan Gallup survey Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think found that the desire for democracy amongst lay populations in predominantly Muslim countries is high; within this context, the Arab Spring should not be viewed as a surprise.
As mediolana.com begins to crank up the content volume, a new piece makes itself felt on our corporate portal: Meet the CSO: An Introduction to Asad Yawar, Mediolana’s Cambridge-educated CSO and resident columnist. Check it out for yourself!
As revealed in this blog’s post of 11th October 2012, our CSO recently endured a brief spell under the weather. But before the entire watching Internet leaps to the conclusion that during his downtime Asad Yawar does nothing apart from playing Japan-coded soccer simulations, we would like to point out that he used this period to indulge at least one other fascination of his: Horse Opera. This is not some new-fangled musical form involving our equine friends, but instead a classic contemporary piece telecast on Channel 4 (UK, ‘C4′) around twenty years ago. With its quirky premise – a suburban Nottingham tax functionary (Phillip Guy-Bromley) is transported via a loss of consciousness to the American Old West, becoming mayor of a small town on the site of today’s Las Vegas – and often surreal imagery, Horse Opera is an unforgettable watch.
But as our CSO was partaking once again of this fabulously inventive piece, his mind began to wander – ironically prompted by the exceptional quality of what he was imbibing – onto the subject of how piercingly Horse Opera illustrates that times really have moved on for British, and perhaps (post-)developed world public broadcasting:
1. Budgets. To put Horse Opera in context, it was part of a series of contemporary operas specially created for Channel 4. It was scored by world-famous percussionist and composer Stewart Copeland; starred amongst others Rik Mayall, Silas Carson, Michael Attwell, Edward Tudor-Pole and Gina Bellman; was shot on location in both London, England and Tuscon, Arizona; and featured luscious, richly-detailed American sets. And all this from a broadcaster known within its home market for being impecunious and having to constantly innovate to plug the financial gap between it and its competitors, the ingenious 1992 acquisition of the UK broadcasting rights to Italian football being one such example.
2. Priorities. At a time when even the country’s flagship broadcaster has slashed its arts coverage to a sliver of its former glory and is continuing to wield the axe, it seems quite incredible that what was then the least popular of four British terrestrial channels could be in a position to give such a resoundingly luxuriant commitment to a medium such as opera. Yet despite the sophisticated computer graphics and transition shots studding Horse Opera, this was clearly an altogether different televisual era.
3. Production Values. Given that Channel 4 was later to become synonymous first with sleaze and then with reality television – tone-debaser-in-chief Big Brother made its UK debut on C4 back on 18th July 2000 – it is perhaps unsurprising that one of the casualties of these types of fare has been the quality of production values: audiences have become accustomed to grainy, misshapen footage, muffled sound and minimalist sets assembled with all the imagination of a production assistant flicking through a United Furniture Warehouse catalogue.