A Total Eclipse of the News

A Total Eclipse of the News

A Total Eclipse of the News

What the foreign papers are saying.
Aug. 10 1999 3:30 AM

A Total Eclipse of the News

In the absence of a unifying international story, most of the weekend's papers led on domestic stories, with one notable exception: The European media devoted gallons of ink to the Aug. 11 total eclipse of the sun, which should be visible Wednesday from northern Europe to the Bay of Bengal. The Irish Times observed that "[e]clipses used to be about soothsaying and portents of disaster. Now they are about tourism and commerce." Indeed much of the coverage revolved around anticipated traffic jams, tourist rip-offs, entrepreneurs' complaints that there are fewer eclipse-tourists than they planned for, weather worries, and gloomy predictions of ill-prepared spectators permanently damaging their vision. (For comprehensive eclipse packages, see these Web sites from England's Guardian, France's Le Monde, and Spain's El Mundo. The Irish Times will provide a live Web broadcast of the eclipse from 1 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. PT Wednesday here.)

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In a story of economic eclipse, Saturday's International Herald Tribune fronted a report from Kuala Lumpur about the Malaysian government's forced mergers in the financial sector. The moves will consolidate the nation's current roster of 21 commercial banks, 25 finance companies, and 12 merchant banks into six institutions by the end of next month, with the government forming the new alliances rather than allowing market forces to bring them about. ''If you're suddenly told, 'Here's the person you're going to marry'--and all this irrespective of cultural differences and without knowledge of your partner's business practices--it's a bit of a shock,'' a top official banker told the paper. Although the new structure has not yet been revealed, the IHT reported that "the central bank has already said that four of the banks would be controlled by Malays, who make up slightly more than half of the population, and two by Chinese. Ethnic Chinese make up about a third of the population but control a disproportionately higher percentage of the country's wealth." There is no word yet on how current shareholders will be compensated for their equity.

The saga of former Chilean President Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who has been under house arrest in London since October 1998 when a Spanish judge requested his extradition to face charges there, took still more turns this weekend when the Spanish attorney general called on Britain to release Pinochet because the procedure has taken so long that it is no longer legal. Many Spaniards, including the judge who originally demanded Pinochet's extradition, protested the move. Swiss, French, and Belgian authorities have also asked that Pinochet be extradited to their jurisdictions, so it is possible that if the Spanish request is withdrawn, the proceedings will continue with one of those countries as the petitioner. Also, the conservative Sunday Telegraph of London reported, it is possible that Pinochet could face trial in Britain if Spain withdraws its request. In Spain, El País reported that Chile has tried to persuade the United States to find an "extrajudicial" solution to the Pinochet problem, perhaps referring the matter to adjudication. A surprising editorial Monday in the conservative Spanish daily ABC came out against such a solution. "It isn't a question of political ideology or of bilateral relations with a friendly country. It's a question of what is or isn't right. Spain is a friend of Chile and this matter ... is having a negative effect on bilateral relations. But if our country is a friend of Chile, it is an even better friend of justice," said the paper.

The alarming lead story in Sunday's Observer claimed that Britain's BSE (mad cow disease) epidemic "may have been caused by a scientific experiment that went wrong. The blunder has cost the country £4bn [$6.4 billion], claimed the lives of 43 people, and triggered fears that the death toll could eventually reach several million." According to the story, "Experts believe that hormones, taken from the brains of slaughterhouse carcasses, were injected into cows in a bid to create a new breed of super-cattle. But the experiment ... backfired. The hormones, extracted from pituitary glands, were transmitted in an agent that spread mad cow disease and eventually infected humans as new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease." The report received little attention in the other serious British papers.

Both the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age of Melbourne gave prominent coverage Monday to aboriginal leaders' plans to use the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games to bring global attention to the plight of indigenous Australians. According to the Age's story, "an Aboriginal 'embassy' will be set up in Sydney for the duration of the Olympics to lobby visiting VIPs and media." This comes after suggestions of an indigenous boycott of the games were rejected, in part because several aboriginal athletes, such as track star Cathy Freeman, are medal contenders, and after the Olympic organizing committee "did a back flip" and decided to fly the indigenous flag at official venues. In an editorial, the Herald predicted that some Australians will be angered by the "strategy of shaming ... Australian governments and institutions in the eyes of the world for their mistreatment and neglect of Aborigines" because "[t]hey will see it as calculated to tarnish the national image at a time when all other efforts are directed towards polishing it and showing Australia at its best." But, the paper claimed, "[s]uch anger is not only futile but misdirected." The Herald placed hope in the acknowledgment by some native leaders "that the presentation of Aboriginal people as victims, though useful to win some political arguments, is ultimately disempowering for Aborigines themselves. If international scrutiny shames white Australia into necessary reappraisal of flawed policies, well and good. If it also sharpens Aboriginal leaders' understanding of the need for greater efforts on their part, even better."

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.