“Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug”, the Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler sang in 1991, a perfect illustration of the everyday life of politicians but also journalists. Here is a story about journalists and a politician, which has been unfolding since Thursday.
Manfred Weber, the Spitzenkandidat for the centre-right EPP party, the largest force in Europe, invited journalists for a background meeting last Wednesday (9 January). Two EURACTIV journalists attended: Samuel Stolton and Gerardo Fortuna, who cover EPP.
Our colleague Sarantis Michalopoulos wasn’t invited. But he advised Fortuna to ask Weber about the Macedonia name change deal, given that the EPP position is not clear [the EPP sister parties in Macedonia and Greece both oppose the name change agreement].
So Fortuna asked the question about the efforts to get the deal ratified in Greece and obtained an interesting answer:
Weber: “We are in a process, the proposals are on the table now and everybody knows this has to be solved to give Macedonia a positive economic and European future.”
[Another journalist]: Does New Democracy know that this has to be solved? If their votes will be needed in the Greek plenary will you pick up the phone?
Weber: First of all, they have a government to negotiate the deal… and is responsible…
[Intervention by another journalist]: The deal is finalised…
Weber: But again, the opposition is formally not needed for accepting now the compromise. So, it’s the role of opposition to show an alternative, that is the role of an opposition, and Kyriakos is not opposing to the principle idea to find a compromise.
EURACTIV published three articles from Weber’s talk with the journalists. Stolton focused on what the German politician said about transatlantic relations and Fortuna on post-EU elections coalitions, while Michalopoulos co-authored a story on Macedonia, in which Weber was faithfully quoted.
The bottom line of the article co-written by Michalopoulos is that Weber spoke about the need to find a compromise on the name dispute and said the leader of New Democracy, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, was not opposing this either. This caused a political uproar in Greece.
For once, Weber was reasonably clear on the issue, but he later backtracked.
We can only imagine the number of phone calls Weber’s office received from Greece. In the end, Weber tweeted that such an interview (which by the way we never qualified as an interview) had not taken place.
I fully respect the sensitivity of the Greek people on the name issue with FYROM. There was no interview on this topic. I respect the stance of @kmitsotakis and I strongly believe that he will lead Greece to stability and prosperity by tackling populism.
— Manfred Weber (@ManfredWeber) January 10, 2019
EURACTIV therefore made the decision to publish the voice recording of Weber, although we were advised against doing so as the meeting had been announced as ‘background’. But nobody warned the attending journalists that Weber’s statements were off-the-record, even when our colleagues were holding their voice recorders in front of him.
— Dara Murphy (@DaraMurphyEPP) January 10, 2019
In our view, politicians should be able to take responsibility for what they say and not hide behind the form of their appearances: on-the-record, background, off-the-record, deep background and what have you.
We published what Weber said about Macedonia also because we like his statement. Especially if he wants to become Commission President. He should be proud of what he said, and we are certainly proud to report it.
And we also hope journalists will not be blacklisted. We are curious why our most senior journalists weren’t invited to this meeting.
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