What the world's media make of Trump going on trial

Pictures of Donald Trump sitting in a New York courtroom have accompanied countless front-page stories about the first-ever criminal trial of a serving or former US president.

That coverage has not been limited to the US. The world’s media have carried the story – remarking on the man who wants to return to the White House and the case against him.

Mr Trump denies 34 counts of falsifying business records in relation to a $130,000 payment made by his lawyer to buy the silence of an adult film star just before the 2016 election. She alleges they had an affair; he denies the story.

So how is the historic trial being covered, from Beijing to Rome? We asked our colleagues at BBC Monitoring, which tracks and analyses media around the world.

‘SleepyDon’ trial presents US with unprecedented problems – China

By Tom Lam, BBC Monitoring China specialist

Chinese media have covered Mr Trump’s trial but it hasn’t featured as prominently on the news agenda as one might expect. Still, it offered the media another opportunity to show what’s seen as the chaos and polarisation of US politics.

English-language reporting focused on facts of the case. State news agency Xinhua’s English-language edition highlighted that Donald Trump was the first former president to stand a criminal trial. It also quoted the accused as describing the trial as “political persecution” and saying the country was “failing”. China Daily, the state-run English-language newspaper, focused on jury selection, during which more than 50 of the 96 first potential jurors were excused after saying that they could not be fair.

Domestic-facing state-affiliated outlet The Paper provided infographics and timelines of the trial, and cited US surveys as showing polarised views on it among US voters. It also zoomed in on conflicting reports about the possible impact on the general election in November.

State-owned China News Service (CNS) talked about “unprecedented problems” facing the US judicial system if Mr Trump were to win in November but also be convicted.

Nationalist daily Global Times cited high interest rates, inflation and the crisis in the Middle East as showcasing Mr Trump’s notion that the world had spun out of control under the Biden administration.

But the state-run tabloid did not spare the Republican either. It provided a colourful report on 16 April focusing on reports that he had fallen asleep in court, posting a meme ridiculing him as “#SleepyDon”.

‘Mesmerised and alarmed’ – Latin America

By Pascal Fletcher, BBC Monitoring Latin America specialist, Miami

From Mexico and Cuba to Argentina, media coverage reflected the keen interest with which political events in the US are followed south of the border. Multiple stories on the Trump trial emphasised its “historical” nature.

Most of the reports made a point of publishing striking photos of a stern-looking Trump seated in what outlets highlighted was the “accused’s bench” – this was likely to be viewed as righteous justice by many of his critics in Latin America.

The mere possibility of another Trump presidency is both mesmerising and potentially alarming for many Latin American leaders, governments and societies that vividly recall his scathing anti-migrant comments and what they saw as barely-concealed scorn for struggling developing countries during his previous term in the White House.

Trump in court

Donald Trump in court this week [Getty Images]

Argentina-based Latin American news website Infobae published an extensive story on the “Colombian judge that will have the last word in the trial against Donald Trump”, noting that Judge Juan Merchan had “not flinched in decreeing a gag order against Trump”.

Some of the Latin American reports did slip into commentary, such as Mexican left-wing daily La Jornada which said that Mr Trump was “accused not of being a saviour and defender of his country as he says, but of trying to cover up payments to a porn star which sought to silence an illicit sexual encounter”.

Top Brazilian daily Folha de S. Paulo adopted a clearly anti-Trump position in a 16 April editorial entitled “Trump and the unthinkable” which posed questions about a scenario in which he was jailed and then pardoned himself as president. It urged American voters to avert that scenario at the ballot box.

‘Fabricated case’ – Russia

By Andrey Vladov, BBC Monitoring Russia specialist, London

A pro-Trump bias was in evidence in much of the coverage. On state TV Rossiya 1’s main evening news, the presenter used the Russian slang word “bespredel”, which roughly translates to utter lawlessness and abuse of power, in reference to the trial and other criminal charges faced by Trump.

Court proceedings were consistently linked to the race for the White House by several outlets. Olga Skabeyeva, host of Rossiya 1’s 60 Minut (60 Minutes) political talk show, said the only chance Trump’s enemies had to defeat him in the election was to imprison him. “In this regard, a case was fabricated about a bribe for the silence of porn actress Stormy Daniels,” Skabeyeva concluded.

In the government-owned daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Igor Dunayevsky wrote: “Democratic politicians do not hide their hopes that the hunt for Donald Trump will prevent him from participating in the 2024 elections.”

Russian state media have consistently mocked the current US president as “senile” and a person not really in control of events. Donald Trump on the other hand has had a much easier ride on pro-Kremlin outlets.

‘Far-fetched indictment’ – Europe

Laura Gozzi, Europe digital reporter, London

An editorial in Le Temps in Switzerland described the indictment as far-fetched, questioning whether the revelation of an alleged affair with Stormy Daniels would really have influenced voters in the 2016 election given what they already knew about Mr Trump.

As he once again solicits the vote of Americans, it would be distressing if Donald Trump responded only for the falsification of accounting documents in New York and not for the attack on the Capitol and against American democracy,” it said.

The New York reporter for Italy’s left-wing Il Manifesto newspaper described the spectacle outside the courthouse and concluded with a pointed remark that it all added up to a “hypnotic reiteration of the normalisation, or reduction to a freak, of the Trump threat”.

Opinion writer Jędrzej Bielecki took a wider view in the Polish daily newspaper Rzeczpospolita. He said the trial would be a “spectacular example of the strength of the rule of law in America, to which, at least theoretically, everyone, both the powerful and the weakest, must answer”.

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