Journalists discuss Obama

A panel of foreign journalists said President Barack Obama’s “honeymoon” will not last forever at an event Tuesday night at the Elliott School.

The panel, which included journalists from the BBC, Al Jazeera Arabic, as well as Japanese, Nigerian and Latin American publications, discussed Obama’s progress during his first 100 days in office.

There was general agreement among the panel that while 100 days was too short of a time period to make serious assessments of Obama’s presidency, the difference from the previous administration was already striking to the rest of the world.

“On day one, or even day zero, he brought change in the eyes of many Europeans because he wasn’t George Bush,” said Simon Wilson of the BBC, adding that Obama has not done a lot yet, “but ‘100 days’ sells a lot of copy.”

Nobuyoshi Sakajiri, a former correspondent for Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper, said Obama seemed to be successful with diplomacy – a departure from what he called President Bush’s ‘with us or against us’ mentality.

“[Obama] is saying, ‘I’m going to listen to you,’ ” Sakajiri said.

Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic said people in the Muslim world are watching Obama with a great deal of interest.

“[Obama’s] approach to Iran is critical,” Foukara said. “It will take a while for the U.S. to understand the significance of that step.”

Foukara also called the recent decision to release the Central Intelligence Agency torture memos “stunning.”

French journalist Pierre-Yves Dugua said that he was “struck by a great deal of continuity” in Obama’s policies, including his appointment of Tim Geithner to the Treasury Department.

“It was a deliberate attempt by Obama to keep in place some of the principles that had been in place since the beginning of the [economic] crisis,” he said.

Constance Ikokwu of the Nigerian newspaper This Day said while Obama is taking the steps that he promised on the campaign trail, he does not seem to have a clear policy for Africa, which she said is not surprising.

“Africa has never been at the forefront of American foreign policy,” said Ikokwu, adding “Obama is still very much liked because he has roots to the continent.”

Obama’s popularity around the world is unprecedented, especially in Japan, said Sakajiri, who added, “My parents know the name of the Obama puppy, but not the British prime minister.”

Dugua added that as French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s popularity goes down in France, Obama’s goes up.

“Sarkozy cannot outdo Obama. He’s shorter, he doesn’t play basketball as well and his wife is not black,” Dugua joked.

The panelists also discussed reporting differences to their readers overseas.

“We call ‘torture’ ‘torture,’ not ‘interrogation techniques,’ ” said Roselena Ramirez from the Latin American television channel Telesur.

Elliott School graduate student Cyril Blet moderated the discussion. He said afterward that he was pleased with the wide range of international perspectives and had been interested to hear Ramirez’s take on torture, calling it “a blunt statement.”

Blet said, “The way you see [torture] in mainstream American media is very different from how it is viewed abroad.”

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