How a successful city succeeded in upsetting people

One of the things I’ve taken a great interest in since moving to Denmark, is the way mainstream media creates and shapes the way a place sees itself.

For a long time, I’ve taken the view that, whereas the UK media largely adopts the “we’re all going to hell in a handcart” view of things, in Denmark, there’s a far more positive national self image.

As a one-time newspaper reporter, I’ve been fascinated by the difference here. In general, the Danish media is less sensational, more willing to embrace the rational, and eager to promote all things Denmark whenever there’s a positive word to say about the place.

Even potentially bad news stories are given the benefit of the doubt, and the spokespeople for government, local authorities and big business tend to know this and behave accordingly.

Just this week, I encountered a great example of this when the Copenhagen Post reported that a much delayed cycle and pedestrian bridge for Copenhagen harbour was to be delayed yet again. “The situation suggests to me that our current contractor takes the project seriously and won’t compromise the quality of the bridge,” said Jens Zøfting-Larsen, the director of construction at the City Council.

Let me run that by you again. The delay is good news because it means the contractor is unwilling to compromise on quality.

Meanwhile, in the UK, any setback or failing is set upon with glee by the nation’s newspapers as evidence of how awful life really is in declining, desperate, disastrous Britain. If it’s not angst about having the world’s worst airport, it’s doom-mongering about how the only reason Britain is sending troops to Sierra Leone is to learn how to forcibly quarantine its own citizens in the event of an ebola outbreak. And this, only four days after the same newspaper praised the US for “taking the lead” by sending 3,000 troops to Liberia.

On reflection, I think that not being exposed to the paranoia of UK media outlets on a daily basis has been a good thing. Maybe it’s age too, but I try to take a more balanced view of events than I would have 10 years ago, when I was under constant exposure to the shouting voices of the Telegraph, the Mail, Sky News and The Guardian et al.

In thinking about all this, I’ve had that quote from Ben Okri floating around in my head: “To poison a nation, poison its stories. A demoralised nation tells demoralised stories to itself,” and I’ve come to wonder about the media climate of the country we are about to move to, Australia.

In the time we’ve lived here, Denmark has been voted the Happiest Place on Earth on more than one occasion, and this is widely embraced by the Danish media as confirmation of what they already knew. Even the thorny issue of raising income tax, which already has a top tier of 63%, is welcomed as a good idea if the only alternative is to cut the services that make Denmark such a great place to live.

Which is why I was so surprised to see the reaction of large sections of the Australian media to news that its capital, Canberra, had topped a recent OECD Regional Well-Being survey of the best cities to live in.

Aussies have a strange relationship with their capital and, while I’m not in a position to tell them they’re wrong to hold their opinions, I am at least going to express my own. I really like Canberra. In fact, when looking for a place to call home after 10 years in the world’s happiest nation, my family and I specifically chose Canberra as our next destination. Having done extensive homework before making our choice, we weren’t surprised at all by the OECD’s decision.

No place is perfect. And even Denmark has its fair share of glum faces, of that I can assure you. But what is absolutely certain is that external awards, endorsements or praise, are pretty much universally welcomed here, I find it odd that a nation would have its capital singled out for praise and then line up to list all the reasons why the praise was undeserved.

For a marvellous response to all of the Canberra-bashing, head over to the excellent In The Taratory blog where the author offers a well argued and much more local defence of Australia’s capital city.

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