Thinking about the Anglosphere

Among your weekend reading, don’t miss the Friday essay at the Conversation by Dennis Altman, “Australia’s dangerous obsession with the Anglosphere.”

As usual with Altman, it’s a good read. And I think his basic message – that Australia should pay more attention to what goes on in the non-English-speaking world – is absolutely correct. It’s one of the principles that animates this blog.

Nonetheless, it seems to me Altman is running together (at least) two quite separate things.

One is the sentimental attachment of the Australian right to the memory of the British empire. As far as any practical purpose goes, their invocation of the Anglosphere is mostly bogus: as Altman points out, it doesn’t stop them ignoring Canadian and New Zealand examples. It’s much more a rhetorical way of expressing their disdain for the European Union and the non-white races.

The second thing is the way that our media organisations, through the pressure of technological change and managerial incompetence, have come to depend more and more on borrowings from British and American sources. Our overseas news has a disproportionate focus on those two countries, and very little material makes its way from languages other than English.

As Altman says, “SBS Radio broadcasts in 74 languages, yet despite the language of diversity, it is rare for speakers from most of the countries represented to be asked onto mainstream platforms.”

I think that these two things, while both unfortunate, are mostly unrelated, although at times they may overlap in the interior of News Corp.

The ABC and Fairfax don’t default to Britain for their material because of some nostalgia for empire; they do it because it’s cheap and easy, and it’s the way things have always been done. Bureaucratic inertia always tends to outweigh ideology.

There are some other things going on as well. For example, I don’t think the amount of reporting that we get of American politics is excessive; like it or not, the United States is the hegemonic power, and its rule by an authoritarian demagogue is a matter of concern to the rest of the world.

But read the whole thing and judge for yourself.

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