Whenever I visit the USA I am transfixed by American television. I find it fascinating that as one programme ends and another one starts there are no adverts in between, you’re more likely to keep watching without such a diversion, although don’t worry they will be coming in great number within seconds of the titles appearing.
I am enthralled by the adverts as well, especially by the seemingly endless selection of mattresses that are on offer to US consumers.
But most of all I am addicted to the atrociousness of American news programmes. On a visit last year to Nevada I watched an entire breakfast news show on a leading network affiliate and literally the only information which was imparted to me was about traffic collisions and upcoming special offers for the Thanksgiving holiday. It was awful in the same way that one passes an accident on the northbound M1 as you head south, you know you shouldn’t look but you can’t draw your eyes away, and so for three hours you sit unthinking and unfulfilled.
Cable news networks such as MSNBC, CNN and notably Fox News are worse. Unlike Britain there is no attempt at impartiality, an unbiased dissemination of the facts, all news has a political angle. It does make you realise what an amazing institution the BBC is.
The most striking thing about US news however is that you could, quite easily, watch it for days on end and never see a mention of a country other than America. There has always been an understanding that Britain is an island and that there is so much more going on out there, in terms of news coverage however it has always seemed to me that it is the US who is isolated from the outside world.
Of course the attitude of the news networks in no small part reflects the views of millions of American citizens for whom the 48 contiguous states, and very occasionally Alaska and Hawaii, are the centre of the world.
I’ve always felt that way until very recently we Brits have taken a more open-minded, adventurous view of our earth. Our history of travelling and trading in Europe and further afield has led us to be a tolerant nation who welcomes change and the opportunity to work with other peoples.
I have to say however I am becoming increasingly concerned.
For the past few months, understandably perhaps, our news agenda has been completely dominated by domestic politics. We had months where our newspapers and television covered little else other than a campaign for a general election and since early May we have had nothing but the fallout from that election result, a new legislative agenda for a Conservative government and new leaders for virtually every other party.
I, and I am sure many more like me, have taken my eye off the ball when it comes to what is happening in the outside world. I’ve taken a very similar attitude to all of those who watch American network news.
Of course, unless you read your newspapers cover to cover or pay particular attention towards the end of our nightly news programmes, there is a very big story emerging in the shape of a new period of Russian aggression.
You will remember that early last year the Russian Federation annexed the internationally recognised Ukrainian territory of Crimea. A popular revolution in Ukraine led to Moscow intervening militarily in the region with a highly questionable, and internationally disputed, referendum following shortly thereafter to give at least a pretence of popular support for Russia’s pre-emptive and highly provocative actions.
As is often the case following the initial reporting of Russia’s military incursion what appears in our media has become less and less, the real worry is the increasing signs of a worsening relationship between President Putin and his international neighbours.
In recent months you may have noticed a number of stories of Russian military assets seemingly taunting Britain. In February RAF jets had to be scrambled after Russian bombers were seen off the coast of Cornwall.
The diplomatic situation between the West and Russia is rapidly deteriorating.
In recent days, if you look in the right places, you will see President Putin courting the Greek government with a view to providing funding for that debt-ridden country, a measure designed to weaken the Greeks already strained relationship with the European Union even further.
This weekend The Times reported that in a further deterioration of diplomatic relations the United States is considering sending missiles to Europe in response to Russia testing a new cruise missile capable of carrying a nuclear payload in breach of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed in 1987 by Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev.
In Bavaria leaders from the G7 nations have met, as is there way, to discuss trade, violent extremism and climate change. Top of the agenda however was the topic of ‘standing up to Russian aggression’, particularly in Ukraine. You will have noticed that the G7 itself used to be called the G8 until Russia itself was excluded as a direct result of its actions in Ukraine.
There is very little doubt that with the catalogue of Russian aggression and, at times, Western retaliation taking place we are on the verge of a new cold war and wise and patient diplomacy has not been needed to the extent that it currently is for a very long time.
I was born in 1973. In fact if you are reading this on Sunday after church I am sure you will be delighted to know it is my birthday today. I’m very lucky that in the 42 years I’ve been alive I have lived in very much a world of comparative peace. Of course in that time Britain has been in conflicts and at war but I, and my generation, do not know what it is like to have battle on my doorstep, literally an hours ferry ride away.
I am acutely aware that peace in Europe has been hard fought and has in no small part been achieved through the partnership and cooperation of the European Union project, by working ever closer together in a spirit of mutual cooperation and benefit there is no doubt in my mind at least we have minimised the prospect of conflict on the continent. By working together we have a much stronger voice when dealing with our more challenging neighbours.
Today’s column seems like a whistle-stop tour of the globe but it reflects that our world is so much smaller than it has ever been before. Britain needs to have a continued voice in that world and although no one would ever described the European Union as perfect our voice is much stronger, much more influential, as an important part of that wider community.
In two years, maybe less, we will all have the choice whether to stay in the EU or to come out once and for all. There will be many discussions about immigration, there will be many discussions about the economy, but when it does finally come down to making my decision I know at the back of my mind will be the peace that we have benefitted from for all of my life. It may just be the case that the EU contributes to maintaining that peace in our discussions with Russia sooner rather than later.