International Papers

More Than Monica

On New Year’s Eve, the Guardian of London published a survey of last year’s media agendas from countries around the world. Headlined “1998: More than just Monica,” it highlighted the news priorities that prevailed in different countries during the period. In China, for example, the big story had been the Chinese government’s self-proclaimed diplomatic triumphs, such as President Clinton’s visit to Beijing and Chinese President Jiang Zemin’s visits to Moscow and Tokyo; in Russia it had been the collapse of the post-Soviet financial system and the humiliation of market reformers; in Israel the disintegration of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government amid bitter divisions over the Middle East peace process; in South Africa the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on apartheid-era crimes; in Germany the September election that ousted Chancellor Helmut Kohl and brought the Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder to power; in Italy the country’s success in qualifying to join the new euro currency; and in France its soccer team’s 3-0 victory over Brazil in the final of the World Cup.

But if 1998 involved “more than just Monica,” it was also certainly Monica’s year. Hers was a story, which, more than any other, united all the papers of the world in a common obsession. However, there was widespread reluctance around the world this week to report the allegations in the American tabloids that President Clinton may be the father of the teen-age son of an Arkansas prostitute. Only in Britain did the story play prominently. The Times even led its Monday front page with it, under the headline “Clinton faces DNA test on prostitute’s son, 13.” In Germany, the press showed more responsible news priorities, with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung leading Monday with Clinton announcing the biggest increase in defense spending since the end of the Cold War.

But the biggest story around the world as the week began was the launch by 11 countries of the new single European currency, the euro. The reporting of this event in Europe was imbued with euro-euphoria except in Britain, where euro-skepticism continues to predominate. All Rupert Murdoch’s British papers–the Times, the Sunday Times, the Sun, and the News of the World–are campaigning vigorously against Britain joining the euro, as are Conrad Black’s papers the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph. But even the British press had to agree with the rest of the world that the launch of the euro, after 40 years of planning, was an historic achievement.

It was especially welcomed outside Europe in countries yearning for an alternative to dependence on the U.S. dollar. For example, in Havana the weekly Juventud Rebelde announced that Cuba would be the first country in the region to substitute the euro for the dollar in its foreign commercial transactions. From January 2000, it said, Cuban companies would be obliged to use the euro for their trade with China, Vietnam, and North Korea. Granma, the Cuban Communist Party daily, described the euro as a force for “tranquility and stability” and “a challenge to the economic and financial hegemony of the United States.”

In India, the Hindu devoted its main editorial Monday to the euro under the headline “An epochal experiment.” It said that the euro could benefit developing countries by mounting an effective challenge to the dollar. “The global preference for the dollar as a reserve currency has not only meant that the U.S. has had access to inexpensive funds but also that the rest of the world effectively finances its chronic account deficit,” the Hindu concluded. In Singapore, the Straits Times led its front page Monday with a story anticipating that the euro would boost the value of Asian currencies against the dollar.

Among various hyperbolic editorials in the European press, Le Monde of Paris appealed Tuesday to a reluctant Britain to overcome its fears about loss of sovereignty and to join the single currency. “Englishmen,” the editorial began, “it’s now your turn to play! The euro awaits you, Europe and its infant currency need you.” It continued, “Your country’s participation in the euro is also, for us Frenchmen, a necessity. … The euro needs Europe’s diversity–to be neither a clone of the deutsche mark nor a Siamese twin of the Italian lira. The support of your culture–of your pragmatism and your distrust of bureaucracy, etc.–is indispensable to the stability and solidity of the euro. With you present, the euro is more likely to become one of the great international currencies. As an ancient superpower, you know the advantages we can all draw from that.”