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Foreign Press Struggles to Understand American Conventions

August 14, 1996

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ Yuko Fuse’s heels sank into the bright red carpet as she gushed into the camera and waved exuberantly at the convention hall ceiling above.

So what’s hot convention news in Japan?

Balloons. Thousands of them. Red, white and blue and bundled together in giant overhead canopies awaiting their release at the GOP’s grand finale on Thursday night.

Outside the convention hall, the French foreign editor was chuckling as he clambered aboard a studio trailer after taping a story on the official protest site _ a small park where protesters of all stripes are given 55 minutes per cause to vent their spleen. Green and red lights signal when to start and stop.

``They loved that in Paris,″ said Bruno le Dref of France 2, a state-sponsored television station with about 20 million viewers.

``And the hats,″ he exclaimed, nodding at a delegate in mile-high headgear that faintly resembled the American flag. ``You see nothing like this at home.″

Likewise with the balloon segment, which will be broadcast on Nippon TV along with more serious segments on Bob Dole and the U.S. economy.

Le Dref and Fuse are among the roughly 1,000 foreign journalists who have flocked to San Diego to join the 14,000 U.S. media folk covering the Republican National Convention.

They’re here to cover American political theater at its most extravagant, to describe and interpret a system alien to countries where elections last a few weeks and conventions are decision-making forums, not lavish weeklong lovefests.

They’re here because, as Peter Cave, a reporter with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation said, ``When America sneezes, we all get a cold.″

``When America elects a leader we all want to be there,″ Cave said. ``We want to know where our troops will be going in the next war.″

So what are they all reporting? For the most part, the same types of stories that the American press is pursuing, but with a little local spin.

A reporter on ORT television in Russia, for example, described how the Republican bash reminded him of the old Communist conventions, with its carefully scripted speeches and decisions made well in advance.

``There is no news value here, no cliffhangers,″ said Jeff Cox, a news producer with the British Broadcasting Corporation. ``This is largely a very impressive TV show.″

However, the BBC found a local angle in the earlier platform dispute about abortion. Britain has been in an uproar over recent news reports about a mother who aborted one of her twin fetuses, saying she couldn’t afford two babies.

For the most part, though, the BBC is scrounging for stories like everyone else.

``Our party conferences last one day and have much more raw-blooded democracy in action,″ Cox said. ``People actually argue with each other in front of the cameras, and debate and make policy.″

``It’s a circus,″ said Hella Liefting, foreign editor for NOVA, a current-affairs program on the Dutch television station NOS.

``It’s such a non-European thing. I think the Dutch watch with amazement, wonderment and even amusement to see how the most influential country in the world is arranging its political business.″

From his sky box on the convention floor, Argentinean reporter Carlos Esteban Montero argues forcefully about the importance of covering such conventions. His 24-hour Spanish news channel, Canal De Noticias, an NBC affiliate, broadcasts to 21 countries in Latin America.

``Sure it’s show business and a fantastic pageant,″ he said. ``But there are human stories that our viewers are interested in, on welfare, immigration, abortion and economic policies. There is plenty at this convention to report.″

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