Friday. 19/3/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Tyler Brûlé

Good morning Britain

What’s your immediate reaction when you read these terms: “sweeping changes”, “radical shift” and “fast-moving world”? Do you think, “Uh-oh, here comes a dire set of quarterly results”? Or, “A bit of M&A activity that’s not going to end well for anyone involved”? Or, “Yet another round of restructuring at the BBC that’s bound to be painful, wasteful and difficult to execute”? Yesterday the Beeb’s director-general, Tim Davie, announced an exhaustive list of changes that will result in the corporation becoming more regional by shifting some production and decision-making out of London. Or at least that’s the ambition.

If you’re reading this in Australia and Canada, not to mention the UK, you might be thinking, “Haven’t we been here before?” It seems that networks from the Commonwealth nations that crowd the front end of the alphabet (ABC, BBC, CBC) love promising a bit of regionalisation whenever times are tough or they feel as though they’re losing viewers and listeners. I recall CBC’s grand vision to create news hubs across Canada, to follow the sun and “tell the Canadian story” back in the 1980s, with an experiment called Newsworld. While running expensive broadcasts from Halifax, Winnipeg and Calgary made perfect sense in terms of spreading the love and funds, it failed to disguise the fact that all its big shows still came from the broadcasting centre in Toronto. Australia has also made similar attempts to move around talent and productions but it’s rather difficult to elbow Sydney out of the picture.

Although Tim Davie can already be credited with taking a more critical view of what many have seen as an overly “right on” editorial line, he should have approached the organisation with a bit more backbone. Rather than just upgrading facilities in Belfast, wouldn’t it make more sense to invest in building a bridge with Europe and creating a new service that could sell advertising and raise much-needed revenue? Also, the network’s morning TV “news” programme has demonstrated that very few people want to cosy up on the sofa with the presenters (this predates coronavirus) because the show is broadcast from Manchester and they have trouble getting good guests in the studio. Monocle is all for a strong BBC but a public service broadcaster can’t just tick boxes by devolving production to second-tier cities when the top talent is somewhere else. The BBC also needs to function as a business and compete accordingly, and that means focusing efforts rather than scattering them. Cue New York and Los Angeles when it comes to news and entertainment.

Image: ALAMY

Diplomacy / Russia & USA

Falling out

Russia’s ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Antonov (pictured, on right), has been summoned to Moscow in a bid to prevent what the country’s foreign ministry describes as an “irreversible degradation” in relations. It came as president Joe Biden warned that his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, would “pay the price” for attempting to meddle in the 2020 US presidential election. Biden also said “I do” when asked if he believed the Russian president was a killer. But is it all that serious? Or is the brinkmanship between these two longtime rivals merely reaching new heights? “The rhetoric coming out of Washington is very tough but it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s theatre,” Mark Galeotti, author of We Need to Talk About Putin, tells The Monocle Minute. “Relations between Washington and Moscow are clearly pretty frosty at the moment,” he adds. “Putin, despite being annoyed at the personal criticism, will be wary of responding in a way that makes him seem weak.” Or petty.

Image: Kenneth Tsang

Media / Hong Kong

Paper chain

China is reportedly pushing Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group to sell its media assets, including Hong Kong-based newspaper the South China Morning Post. The 117-year-old paper is Hong Kong’s main English-language daily and a go-to source of news for many of the city’s residents. Internal communications have reassured employees that there are no takeover plans but the news is still concerning.

Forcing Alibaba to sell its media holdings could represent another major blow to Hong Kong’s press freedom, which has been under pressure since Beijing imposed a national security law last year. Alibaba’s purchase of the paper raised concerns in 2016 but the group has been an unexpected protector of the Post’s independence. The newspaper has consistently covered the pro-democracy protests that started in June 2019 and editor in chief Tammy Tam has told Monocle that all editorial decisions are left to her. It’s unlikely that a different state-backed owner would be as lenient.

Read more on how the ‘South China Morning Post’ covered a changing city and its relationship with Beijing in Monocle’s April issue, out next week.

Image: Ministère Français de la Culture

Culture / France

Vive la différence

France has always been quite particular when it comes to its language. For more than 300 years, the Académie Française in Paris has dictated which words are allowed and has produced state-approved dictionaries. But the launch of a new online dictionary this week for what’s being described as “world French” shows that even tradition-oriented France is reluctantly trying to keep up with the times. The Dictionnaire des Francophones lists terms and expressions that are used in different French-speaking countries around the world. Backed by president Emmanuel Macron, it features more than 600,000 entries so far and users across the world have been invited to submit their suggestions, which will then be vetted by a team of linguists. Languages are constantly evolving and there are actually more French speakers outside France (particularly in Africa). This new effort is a long-overdue recognition of the diversity of modern French.

Image: Christopher Espinosa Fernandez

Leisure / UK

Sweet dreams

How did you sleep last night? Today is World Sleep Day, a moment to recognise how a year of home-working and social distancing has upset sleeping patterns. One in four UK citizens reported insomnia in 2020 and an even higher ratio has been reported in countries such as Greece and Italy. Scientific research indicates that sleep deprivation results in concentration difficulties and slower reactions, and has a negative impact on metabolism. But all is not lost. “The secret to a good night’s sleep is finding a routine that relaxes you,” Winder Ton, head nutritionist and sleep expert at London health-supplement shop Anatome, tells The Monocle Minute. Ton’s employer sells special oils to help establish a routine through scent (we like the frankincense). Taking the time to read or write in a journal can also help to release you from daily stresses. “The most important thing is setting up a series of things that you associate with sleep,” Ton says. “Your body will do the rest.”

Image: Oskar Omne

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Asket

Jakob Dworsky and August Bard Bringéus are the co-founders of Swedish menswear label Asket. Launched in 2015, the brand’s aim is to create well-made wardrobe staples to inspire customers to buy less. More recently, Asket created an impact receipt for its staple pieces and overhauled its packaging. It’s an incredible example of a brand fighting back against greenwashing and pushing the boundaries of the fashion industry at the same time.

Monocle films / Global

The Monocle Book of Japan

Jump aboard the Monocle Shinkansen and join our team as we go on a hunt for untold stories. Our book delivers a unique insight into the people, places and products that define Japan, whether you want design inspiration or business nous. Order your copy at the Monocle Shop.

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