Wednesday 20 March 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 20/3/2024

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Media / Christopher Cermak

Lowering the tone

One question that often comes up in US political campaigns is: which candidate would you rather have a beer with? In other words, which is more like the average American? The same thing is also asked about TV news presenters, some of whom seek to become media sensations in their own right – celebrities who we might watch not so much for their grasp of current affairs as for their shiny personality.

European public broadcasters such as Germany’s ARD are among the last bastions against this trend. Germans are familiar with the names of their news announcers but these journalists are mostly known for their professionalism and interviewing skills. But now it appears that ARD might be tinkering with its model. Marcus Bornheim, head of the broadcaster’s flagship news programme, Tagesschau, recently said that he wants his presenters to use simpler language. As he explained during an interview with online outlet DWDL, he wants them to sound as though they were “explaining the news to one’s neighbour across the garden fence or to one’s family at dinner”. He claimed that surveys had shown that viewers felt that ARD was “preaching from the pulpit”.

Image: Felix Brüggemann
Image: Felix Brüggemann

I don’t doubt that viewers occasionally find ARD preachy but I am struggling to see why that’s a problem. Do we no longer want our media personalities to be experts? Are they not supposed to be something of an authority?

There is a middle ground, though. On Monocle Radio, we offer friendliness and familiarity, while still valuing respect and expertise. I pride myself on being accessible as a presenter, explaining complex issues with the guiding hand of our guests, who are specialists in their subjects. I can do that without adjusting my language – though I’d gladly go for a beer with any of our listeners.

Christopher Cermak is Monocle Radio’s senior news editor. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

The Briefings

Politics / Vietnam

Down and oust?

Vietnam’s parliament will meet on Thursday to discuss “personnel issues” amid speculation about the possible resignation of Vo Van Thuong, the country’s president. Thuong was expected to welcome King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima of the Netherlands in Hanoi this week but the royal visit was abruptly postponed as a result of “domestic circumstances”. Several business leaders and three members of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party have resigned over the past year as a result of an ongoing anti-corruption campaign. Thuong became president of the one-party state when Nguyen Xuan Phuc was ousted in 2023. Though the presidency is a largely ceremonial role, questions over Thuong’s political future have come as a shock. The rising star was considered a potential successor to Vietnam’s general secretary, Nguyen Phu Trong, whose ill health is widely known. Whatever the outcome of Thursday’s special session, Hanoi’s political turmoil should give pause for thought to any foreign investor with an eye on Vietnam.

New wave: Dries Van Noten steps down

Image: Alamy

Fashion / Belgium

Sew long, farewell

Belgian fashion designer Dries Van Noten announced this week that he will step down from his namesake label in June, after 38 years in the industry. In 2018 he sold a majority stake in the label to Barcelona-based luxury conglomerate Puig, whose portfolio includes big-name brands such as Byredo, Nina Ricci and Jean Paul Gaultier. Following the sale, Van Noten continued to be a minority stakeholder in the label, serving as its chief creative officer and chair of the board.

Van Noten rose to fame as part of the Antwerp Six, a collective of fashion designers who trained at Belgium’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts in the 1980s and gave the port city a strong fashion identity. Today he is known for his vibrant colour palette, clashing patterns and distinctive artistic approach. Though his successor has yet to be named, the next generation of designers to take the helm will surely keep Van Noten’s legacy alive.

Spice of life: Umaimah (on right) and Paro Sharwani

Image: Paro

Food / USA

In the bag

When Pakistani-American entrepreneur Umaimah Sharwani was at university, her mother, Paro, would send her Ziploc bags of spices, lentils and rice so that she could make her favourite South Asian comfort foods. By adding water, a hearty meal would be ready in 20 minutes. After working in product development and distribution for companies such as Google and Glossier, Sharwani is now applying her knack for building direct-to-consumer products to South Asian pantry staples. The result is Paro, a US-based food brand that currently consists of a trio of larder essentials: a red daal, kitchari (a porridge-like dish) and tarka seasoning oil.

“If a barrier to entry to South Asian dishes is time or access to ingredients, I want to remove that for consumers,” says Sharwani. She launched Paro in February 2023 and the business has been growing steadily ever since. Her advice for those who want to start their own consumer-products business is simple. “Look at who you can bring on the journey with you,” she says. “And have a good understanding of where you want to go because it will help you prioritise.”

For more unlikely finds, insights and business ideas from our global network of reporters, buy a copy of our March issue, which is out now.

Beyond the Headlines

The List / Exhibitions to visit

Creative direction

Dust off winter’s cobwebs this week with Monocle’s pick of the three art and photography exhibitions to visit this spring.

‘Brancusi: Carving the Essence’, Artizon Museum, Tokyo. A contemporary of Pablo Picasso, Romania’s Constantin Brancusi was equally important when it came to introducing non-Western influences to 20th-century European art. The clean lines of his carvings reflect his serene approach to his craft and his search for his subjects’ essence. Drawings, photos and frescoes add further context to this first Japanese retrospective.
Runs from 30 March to 7 July

‘Käthe Kollwitz’, Moma, New York. German artist Käthe Kollwitz, who died shortly before the end of the Second World War, did more than almost any of her peers to document one of the most tumultuous periods in her country’s history. This look at her long career takes us from her early engagement with the darker side of the Industrial Revolution to her explorations of the human cost of war, via peasant portraits and prints that double as pacifist propaganda.
Runs from 31 March to 20 July

‘Boris Mikhailov’, Fotomuseum Den Haag, The Hague. A timely survey of the work of the Ukrainian photographer and artist who has long explored the effects of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Hand-painted found photographs of Soviet soldiers are given layers of irony by Mikhailov’s lurid colours, while the rough edges and sepia tones of his 1982 Crimean Snobbism series add a conceptual edge to Black Sea holiday snaps.
Runs from 30 March to 18 August

Image: John Pomp

Monocle Radio / Monocle on Design

Top of the glass

Glassblower John Pomp and luxury bag designer Marina Raphael join us in the studio. Plus: we meet Maxime d’Angeac, the architect reinterpreting the historic Orient Express train.


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