Oh, so it’s the media’s fault noone likes the EU … (UPDATED)

Posted by Mathew Lowry on 15/10/10
Tags: , , , ,  

Next week will see yet another physical meeting in Brussels dedicated to exploring the European public space, an irony which appears permanently lost to the organisers of the neverending stream of conferences, seminars and workshops which can be only attended by Brussels Bubble Insiders, and have neither webstreaming nor any online community (EuropCom, anyone?).

Mediacafé – Europe: no medium, no message? (link via Kosmopolit), however, looks interesting, particularly as  it provides an insight into the Bubble’s tendency to blame everyone else for the EU’s communications problems (my emphases, getting increasingly concerned ):

“To create a European public space however, it appears to be vital that citizens are informed about the political life of the European institutions. The European institutions … must speak with one voice and communicate more directly instead of merely informatively. … But Member States and media share part of the blame as well. The production of qualitative EU coverage should be incorporated in the charters of public broadcasters and it should be supervised as well.

- more

Yep, you read that right. The media are partly to blame for not reporting on the EU, so we must force them.

And we will supervise them to ensure they do their job.

Now I realise I may start to sound like some of the hysterics who thought Blogactiv was some evil plot to take over the blogoshphere, but the fact that this is now a subject of conversation in Brussels chills my blood.

Perhaps it’s because I spent a recent afternoon with Nosemonkey (before his Booze-Fueled Brussels Rampage) and a few ‘real’ journalists, mulling over his acceptance speech for the European Parliament Prize for Internet Journalism.

The idea that it is the media’s fault for not making the EU interesting came up, and led to much angry downing of beer.

The media is the best judge of what interests their audience. A government forcing them to cover something is that government’s admission of failure. This belongs in the pages of East European history, and will have the same result on public trust if tried again.

If you want the media to cover your activities, it’s not that hard. Be relevant. Be timely. Be clear.

State-coerced, force-fed media should not be what Europe is about.

PS The event is also going to look at the EU and social media. Odd that the website doesn’t allow comments …

UPDATE

18/10/2010: The organisers contacted me by email and pointed me to another website with the same content, where interactivity is possible (albeit, so far, unused).

Unfortunately I can’t make it, but I hope to hear from others how it went.

29 Responses to Oh, so it’s the media’s fault noone likes the EU … (UPDATED) »»

  1. Comment by Eurocentric | 2010/10/15 at 12:54:50

    It’s disappointing that the Europarties aren’t trying to do more either. The ELDR Congress that ends today hardly made much of a splash despite its demographic theme. The lack of information on its website, blogs and tweets from its Twitter account mean that it was a pretty secluded event.

  2. Comment by Mathew | 2010/10/15 at 13:18:30

    When I was beginning to explore social media / EU strategies, I always found myself coming back to that question: “Where are the MEPs?” After all, it’s difficult to imagine the proper use of social media by the EU without the elected representatives getting involved.

    Well, apparently many now are on FaceSchmuck and Twitter, but it doesn’t seem to be making any difference. At least, not to me. Like you, I just don’t see the parties appearing on my social media radar. Commissioners, yes. Europarties, no.

    In truth, the Brussels Bubble has already splintered – or should that be splattered? ;-)

    It’s like there are two parallel worlds – like the EuropCom conference and Nosemonkey, both in Brussels on the same day, and unaware of each other’s existence. How can that be?

    Is it just “L’Incompetence Generale”? After all, as you point out, the ELDR conference website is dire, and it appears unconnected to its surrounding universe. And I’ve already posted on the fact that the EuropCom conference organisers can’t practice what they preach.

    But sometimes I feel that maybe there’s something other than simple crapwork at play here. But then i should probably not read so many novels by Thomas Pynchon…

    PS thanks for dropping by.

  3. Comment by Anne | 2010/10/15 at 14:36:25

    Conference organisers come and go. As do people, organisations and politicians. I am not trying to defend the lack of communication and coordination, but in the Brussels chaos it is actually VERY difficult to know what the people next door are doing (even colleagues), so we probably end up with too many events and too many people competing for attention that they forget to look for synergies.

    I don’t have the recipe for making people talk to each other, but it would be great if there was an online calendar-wiki for both institutional and non-institutional EU related events in and outside Brussels. People should be able to update it themselves but at the same time be informed of similar events around the same topic adjacent to theirs.

    And if it already exists, it should definitely be promoted more.

  4. Comment by Mathew | 2010/10/15 at 14:54:37

    Wow, is that a Waltzing Mathilda, commenting on my blog? Welcome aboard! ;-)

    You’re absolutely right about the need for some sort of resource centre to bridge the gaps. The closest thing we have is bloggingportal.eu. It’s not yet there – it could only serve such a function if:
    1) every event had a post on it
    2) that post was picked up and tagged by bloggingportal editors
    3) tags for such events could be easily created (currently, creating a tag is cumbersome)
    4) it could present such ‘event posts’ in a calendar format

    (1) is up to the event organisers, so promoting bloggingportal is essential, as is making it more useful (see 3 & 4).

    (2) is up to the BP editors – volunteer labour. I’m one, but I never have the time. But it seems to be done more or less regularly

    (3 & 4) require site redevelopment. Been discussing this a lot this year. We got stuck on the financing question.

    Of course, a more powerful Bloggingportal could do a lot more than build bridges within the Brussels Bubble – it’s the best base we have to help build a European online public space which extends beyond the Brussels ring road …

  5. Comment by Kosmopolit | 2010/10/15 at 14:56:59

    “The production of qualitative EU coverage should be incorporated in the charters of public broadcasters and it should be supervised as well.”

    I don’t think this is such a big problem because this would only apply to public broadcasters (and not to the rest of the press). If you look in the various public broadcasting charters you will find a lot of stuff on “the public purpose”, “the mission to inform” or “representing the cultural heritage” which are categories that are also impossible to “supervise”.

    In the German case, the public broadcasting charter already includes a reference to inform about “International, European, national and regional events”. I am not an expert on how public broadcasters are supervised but usually it is quite a soft approach and journalists are not forced to produce a certain piece or report a certain event. Usually the supervising panel comes up with some recommendations regarding funding and whether one area is neglected, but anyway most categories (just think of what is “public purpose”) are very difficult to assess. Moreover, there is journalistic freedom so supervision cannot enforce a certain type of reporting. Plus I don’t think the German public broadcasting service is doing better just because this clause is included… But then again I only know the British and German examples where supervision is treated in a rather light fashion.

    Actually many public broadcasters run a decent EU coverage although focused on the big events and not on the day to day policy making. So I think including a EU reference in the public broadcasting charters would not change a lot.

    I would agree that MEPs must be more present – also in regional and local media. Normal newspaper editors should report more about day-to-day EU policy making. There seems to be a lack of knowledge among some journalists and the problem that the EU is regarded as a boring topic does not help either. But at the same time not only the EU is in a crisis, journalism faces a crisis too. Funding is a huge problem, there are huge debates on the future of traditional journalism. Especially the funding of foreign correspondents is a problem.

    Not sure whether I can come up with a conclusion. Generally supervision is a bad idea but in the case of public broadcasting services it is quite common.
    Generally, it is not so much about “communicating the EU” (also known as PR) it is about citizens having a right to know what is happening with their taxes on all levels – and journalists have a responsibility there. But so does the EU, not in the sense of “communicating better” but by “doing things better” and providing possibilities for citizens to have a say.

  6. Comment by Eurogoblin | 2010/10/15 at 15:48:16

    About Bloggingportal promoting events – we could talk about a new editorial policy whereby we bump interesting events to the front page (if we don’t already). I also wouldn’t mind blogging about more events as I come across them (I see a lot of them through the EU agenda I work on).

  7. Comment by Mathew | 2010/10/15 at 15:54:41

    As you can probably imagine, my experience is limited to the BBC and French TV, and – wow – is there a difference in the degree of state control!

    The point here seems to be that it is the EU which should supervise national public broadcasters.

    Naturally, the same standards would be applied everywhere. Which, given how things go, would mean that the French “poodle of the establishment” method would be applied by Brussels, everywhere.

    I don’t know how that will play in Germany, but I can hear the howls from the UK from here…

    Of course I’m over-egging this particular pudding. The main point remains this:

    Each media are the best judge of what interests their audience – even public sector broadcasters must watch their audience figures. Forcing them to cover the EU is an admission of failure and is treating a symptom, not the cause. And that cause is located in Brussels, not in the broadcasters.

    Nice comment, & thanks for dropping by, btw.

  8. Comment by Mathew | 2010/10/15 at 15:58:55

    @eurogoblin:

    That’d be a start, as would an ‘event’ tag to provide a dedicated page.

    But for it to be really useful, we’d still need to present these posts in a calendar format (by date_of_event, not date_of_post).

    Another feature for the user requirement document! But why bother, until we get the resources?

    @Kosmopolit, didn’t you say you had alternatives to my suggestions, back before the summer?

  9. Comment by Marlene | 2010/10/15 at 23:01:07

    Ever seen what Europe promised us 10 years ago?

  10. Comment by Europasionaria | 2010/10/15 at 23:06:26

    Great post Mathew!

  11. Comment by JSLefebvre | 2010/10/16 at 10:46:47

    Oh my God! As a journalist based in Brussels, I am wondering what is going on in people mind. They want to supervise journalist work ?

    Ok, this is normal that any public media has to follow some guidelines. But how could you imagine to tell them: “ok, you have to speak about the EU, at least 1hr a day”. This is going against any code of ethics.

    The EU institutions are the worst communicator ever. They see journalists as another part of their communication office. We are NOT. Let us do our job and fight with national newspaper in order to publish our articles.

    And if they really want a lot of articles about the EU in the press, stop telling us that everything is fine, that every one loves each other, that is wonderful. Tell us true stories about EU affairs.

    They want an European media? Don’t do it like CNN (and not like Euronews). Do it like the BBC. Give money to one media, give them a total freedom and let them do what they want.

  12. Comment by Ralf Grahn | 2010/10/16 at 11:30:07

    If the EU institutions have to speak with one voice, it comes awfully close to the multi-party system in the late German Democratic Republic.

    What the 501 million EU citizens need is open debate, authentic political competition between Europarties, and the power to directly elect the governing class.

    We need professional media covering events and developments, not zombies churning out self-congratulatory statements to an alienated public.

    J S Lefebvre’s proposal of a European ‘BBC’ is brilliant, but we need other European spaces of online communication as well.

  13. Comment by Dick | 2010/10/16 at 13:14:43

    I agree with all of you that say that the idea of imposing EU stuff on the press is nonsense (and old style Pravda!).
    Having said that I do want to notice that the (expectedly independent) journos when writing about the EU should try to be more accurate and avoid simplistic language.
    No control at all on what they write but improve the quality here and there!

  14. Comment by mathew | 2010/10/16 at 13:49:12

    Many thanks, everyone, for the thought-provoking and supportive comments, and thanks to so many of you for tweeting this one, particularly Ralf with his post.

    @Marlene, I checked out your blog and like it – have often thought of doing something similar, but you got there first. But what are you referring to, above?

    @JSLefebvre, I’m glad to see someone else getting into a lather over this. I’ve met many ‘communicators’ within the EU Institutions who don’t know what media ethics are, and just can’t grasp that the media can’t be told what to do in a free society.

    Also totally agree with yours and Ralf’s view that ‘the EU with one voice’ is won’t work. It’s phoney, it’s boring, nobody will believe i,t and it will ensure dull. ‘lowest common denominator’, non-event communique material.

    @Ralfgrahn: I don’t think @JSLefebvre was suggesting a European BBC. Like decision-making, media is usually best when it’s close to its audience, which is why the European public space must be a network of independent media, not a single edifice that a EuroBBC would have to be.

    However, as an adoptive Brit, I can’t help agreeing that the BBC provides a pretty good model for a national public broadcaster. They don’t have *total* freedom, but the government is very much kept at ten-arm’s length, and the quality of programming is just superb. Just one of their radio stations devotes an hour to European affairs every day, because it makes sense for them to do so. Noone needs to tell them to do that, and noone needs to supervise them.

  15. Comment by mathew | 2010/10/16 at 13:55:42

    Hey Dick, you posted while I was writing my comment, so I missed you in my thankyous. Cheers for your comment.

    I can totally understand the frustration the EU has when looking at poor quality journalism or – worse – biased journalism, particularly in Murdoch’s UK titles.

    My point would be that journalists get things wrong everywhere, all the time, so all organisations – public and private – face this problem. They deal with it using PR. If the EU does this badly, the solution is to do it better, not to ‘supervise’ the press. Threatening to do it will not improve relations with – or coverage by – the press!

  16. Comment by Hugh Barton-Smith | 2010/10/16 at 17:14:54

    Another case of intelligent articulation of justified indignation! Got me too fired up for a comment box, so had to pen this: http://hughbs.blogactiv.eu/archives/39

  17. Comment by Alex | 2010/10/17 at 06:27:17

    I’ve thought for a while now that if you’re going to have a European Union of some description, then it should have its own public broadcaster. Not to report on the EU, but to report on European affairs (which obviously includes the EU). We don’t hear much about what goes on in other countries, and with a European Union, it seems like an obvious market failure that the corporate media will be excessively focused around the nation state. I’m not suggesting a “European BBC” as such, it should have as much independence, but only be a few channels. The language barriers would be the biggest difficulty for it.

  18. Comment by Simon Blackley | 2010/10/17 at 09:58:01

    Those of us who sat through the opening plenary session of the EuroPcom event last week witnessed the EU institutions’ awkwardness with communication at first hand. We had the heads of the communication services of Council, Parliament and Commission on one stage. Only Sorensen from the Commission’s DG COMM appeared to grasp the role of pluralistic communication based on openness and good story-telling as a component of healthy democratic life in the EU. The woman from the Council tried to persuade us that the answer was coordination between the institutions, to identify a small number of key messages that could be consistently fed to the media. Sorensen was having none of this. He immediately rejected the idea of coordinating the message, and spoke instead of coordination to build a common platform for European communication (Europa 3?). It was left to a token representative from a city information service to provide the only example of real communication involving actual dialogue with citizens.

  19. Comment by Mathew | 2010/10/17 at 11:06:31

    @Alex, what do you think of EuroNews? More importantly, what does everyone else think – what are its audience ratings, and why? I know more than one independent media who could do without the stats-subsidised competition, but then that’s an anti-BBC argument too, and you have a good point about market failure.

    @Simon, thanks for the comment, although my post dedicated to EuropCom wishes you’d posted it there, as it’s lonely and jealous of this post getting all the attention. Serves it right for being so negative.

    Anyway, I always found Sorensen totally switched on. He understood and agreed with the thematic portal approach, which was supposed to be inter-Institutional from the outset (i.e., “What does the EU do, not what does the EC do? And why – where’s the EU added value?“). So I’m not surprised he is arguing for a common platform today.

    But what was the Parliament’s position in all of this? I never got the chance to bring them into the thematic portal pilot, which is why I’m still asking (e.g, see earlier in this comment stream) “where are the MEPs?”

  20. Comment by Simon Blackley | 2010/10/17 at 14:43:57

    I (and a number of others) found the stance of Juana Lahousse-Juarez strangely defensive. It seemed to amount to ‘Don’t make any demands on me, please. I am doing my best. And besides, this is a Parliament of more than 700 elected members, and it is not possible for the Parliament to speak with a single voice.’ (This is not a direct quote.)

    How about finding a way to speak with more than one voice then? The parties? The committees?

    Vice-President Stavros Lambrinidis, who was there right at the beginning of the session, had a much more positive and open approach. He seemed to acknowledge the need to open up the process of European politics as a way of engaging citizens.

  21. Comment by Mark Grassi | 2010/10/18 at 09:44:30

    Do people like their own governments who run the EU either?

    Even though all executives are bound to try and exercise control over the media’s message, it could be worth comparing the EU’s feeble efforts to what national governments get up to…

  22. Comment by mathew | 2010/10/18 at 10:01:12

    You make a good point. Is there a media freedom watchdog in every Member State, and do they compare notes? If not, why not? It would help provide a healthier climate for media freedom in the EU. Anyone know more?

  23. Comment by Craig Willy | 2011/05/24 at 11:06:58

    So frickin’ true… I think they’re so engaged in their jobs – denying even to themselves how boring they really are – that they can’t recognize anymore the absurdity of *forcing* media to cover things. If it’s interesting (or “relevant, timely and clear” as you say) they will come!


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  4. [...] other news: Mathew Lowry has provoked an interesting discussion on his blog by criticising the idea the media is solely to blame for bad [...]

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