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Kelvin MacKenzie Is Wrong About International News

Contrary to his belief, people do seem to give a shit about what's happening in the world.
January 16, 2014, 12:45pm

Last night, parochial news troll Kelvin MacKenzie appeared on Newsnight to claim that foreign reporting "is killing TV news". He was being entertained by Paxman and the rest thanks to new research, which suggests that TV viewers are often indifferent to foreign news stories. Which is weird, because that has not been our experience at all.

MacKenzie – once the editor of the Sun – maintained that the media should be putting more effort into making more shows like Benefits Street than into relaying news from countries that most people "couldn't find in a light fog". In that case I believe he was referring to the Central African Republic (a country that is pretty easy to find, actually, you just point at the middle of that big continent marked Africa and voila, but whatever).

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Well, at VICE, as you might have noticed, we spend a lot of time and money flying round the world, setting up offices and bringing back stories from places that we think are important and believe you will be interested to learn about – whether it's stories about child labour in Bolivia, drug abuse in Greece, outright civil war in South Sudan, or life as a young gay person in Russia. And we don't do it purely from a sense of duty (we're VICE, not the BBC); we do it because people seem to care. Four million people subscribe to our YouTube channel, which means that whenever we put an international documentary on that, we're reaching a similar number of people to many flagship terrestrial news shows.

But Kelvin believes that British people don't care about what lies beyond their borders. And, even more bizarrely, he doesn't think there is any justification for them to do so. He seems to live on a planet where nothing that occurs beyond the Queen's jurisdiction affects him. Someone should tell him about the stock market. Or Spanish flu.

This morning, I attended the launch of the 2014 World Economic Forum. You might have read about it this morning in the Independent, though it was overshadowed by the shocking revelation that Rebekah Brooks' husband still consumes porn in magazine format. Their slightly terrifying motto is: "Committed To Improving The State Of The World". (Some smart PR person presumably suggested cutting "Or Else" from the end.) At Bloomberg HQ in Finsbury Square, they delivered their Global Risks 2014 report in the run-up to this year's Davos conference. If you don't know what Davos is, it's one of those things that features highly on any conspiracy theorist's watch list, because it's an annual pow-wow between the business and political elites held somewhere in the snow in Switzerland. This year, between dithering about Syria and talking about tax reform or something, they will be discussing this Global Risks 2014 report.

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Anyway, I don't think Kelvin MacKenzie was there this morning, so he missed five educated international people who probably own skyscrapers talking about this diagram:

Click image to expand

If Kelvin had been there, it may have dawned on him that rather than being the arch popularist he styles himself as, he is actually in the minority of people who believe that local events have no global significance or vice versa. According to the WEF diagram above (and general common sense), political and social instability – as is currently being seen in South Sudan, a country Kelvin doesn't think the British public deserve to hear about – is strongly linked to the growth of terrorism, which is linked to corruption, which is linked to organised crime, which is linked to fiscal crises, which are very linked to unemployment and underemployment – the kind of which has been so loudly covered by the show Kelvin chose to champion last night: Benefits Street.

2014 seems like a silly time to still be making this point, but while the Kelvins of the media are locking themselves indoors and ignoring the rest of us, it has to be made: We’re living in an international world with international interests and the assertion that no one should care about what happens elsewhere is irresponsible at best, and dangerous at worst. No one event is an island.

In the 1950s, a man called Sayyid Qutb was tortured in an Egyptian prison; half a century later, two trains and a bus exploded in London. In 2010, a man set himself on fire in Tunisia; in 2014 The Muslim Brotherhood set up an office in Cricklewood. When my mate’s mum got a sub-prime mortgage in the States a few years ago, I don’t think anyone thought she was helping sink the global economy. As an upcoming VICE film will reveal, if the UK bans the marginal natural high, khat, it could lead to a growth of support for the al Shabaab terrorist group within certain districts of Kenya. The same al Shabaab who, it has been reported, may have had connections with one of the men convicted of beheading Lee Rigby in London last year. It's kind of like chaos theory, but more predictable.

Mr MacKenzie: it's not possible to live alone on this planet, with its environment, its economy, its huge bombs, its diseases, its internet and its religions – all of which mean we have to engage with one another. And our news should reflect this.

At VICE, we have been providing news from around the planet for more than half a decade and, with the launch of VICE News this year, we will be increasing our coverage, both in free-to-view video and online editorial. The simple fact is, the more we've reported from across the planet, the more of you have decided to watch it.

Maybe it’s generational; maybe we’re lucky enough to attract an engaged international audience who are interested in humanity, not nationality. Or maybe Kelvin MacKenzie is simply an old troll. Or maybe, just maybe, people shouldn’t pay any attention to researchers who put a pencil in people's hands and ask them to watch news reports on Cambodian unrest and tick boxes marked "Interested" or "Bored".

Follow Alex on Twitter: @AlexGAMiller