MEPs want wider media coverage of EU


Public service broadcasters should cover EU matters more widely, while governments, parties and politicians need to do more to explain them to citizens, said the European Parliament's culture committee in a resolution adopted this week (23 June), triggering criticism that the EU is funding "blatant propaganda". 

Better communication of EU issues by politicians and broadcasters alike is crucial for European democracy, the MEPs said in their report.  

But UK Conservative MEP Emma McClarkin claimed that rather than being a report that looked at how new media was changing journalism around the EU and the challenges and opportunities it provides, as was the intention, it had become a report which is all about how the EU institutions can better sell themselves to the public.

"This report has been hijacked by some MEPs who want to change the rules on how the European Parliament is reported by forcing broadcasters to include more EU content, by funding training courses for journalists in EU affairs and by funding student radio and broadcasters to cover EU matters," McClarkin said.

'Dishonest', 'manipulative' and 'authoritarian'

"It is completely unacceptable to use more taxpayers’ money to promote the European Union. You can’t buy newspaper or broadcast coverage. To do so is dishonest, manipulative and frankly something you would expect from an authoritarian regime," McClarkin said.

The MEPs, meanwhile, said citizens "see Europe as still being too distant and having too little influence in solving their real problems," identifying the creation of a "European public sphere" by communicating more effectively as the best means by which to reverse declining voter turnout in EU elections.

Their resolution, drafted by Danish liberal MEP Morten Løkkegaard, encourages member states "to include EU coverage when determining the remit of public service broadcasters" and urges broadcasters themselves to "look critically […] at their own EU coverage and set ambitious targets".

The draft report draws attention to the "immense potential" of new media to reach out to young people and encourages the EU institutions to do more in this regard.

However, it also warns that "caution is required" when taking up new media tools given the "dangerous" way in which they handle data, which often gives rise to "serious breaches of journalistic ethics". 

Tackling national EU affairs vacuum

The MEPs also stressed the importance of establishing specialised EU affairs offices in EU member states and urged political parties to "give European issues a more prominent position in their programmes".

Meanwhile, EU studies should play a more extensive role in school curricula, parliamentarians said, with lessons focusing on "the historical background, purpose and workings of the EU".

The report calls for action to be taken to support journalists covering EU affairs in Brussels, describing falling numbers of EU-accredited journalists as "extremely worrying".

Possible measures include training schemes on EU matters for journalists run by the European Commission and the European Parliament, and the establishment of a task force among the Brussels press corps to improve coverage of EU news.

The full European Parliament will decide whether to adopt the committee's report at its July plenary session in Strasbourg. 

Presenting his report, Danish liberal MEP Morten Løkkegaard (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) said "there is a wealth of information in the EU but no communication. We need to approach this on the citizen's level, a bottom-up approach, not from the top down."

He stressed that "new social media on the Internet is where the conversation takes place among young people who are used not only to having access to the media but to responding to it, sharing and using information. It is an ideal platform for telling the new European story".

"The institutional and technological setting has never been better [...] there is no overarching European public sphere at present, but there are very lively national public spheres," Løkkegaard said.

"To solve this problem we need to start from the bottom, and governments and European leaders need to take responsibility," he added.

German socialist MEP Petra Kammerevert (Socialists & Democrats) was critical of the idea of creating a task force of journalists writing on EU affairs. "It would serve nobody's future interests buying up editors and newspapers. There is a spirit in your report that seems to blur the divisions between us and the independence of the media," she told the report’s draftsman, Danish member Morten Løkkegaard.

"There is nothing wrong with appealing to broadcasters to cover more EU affairs but member state guidelines are the start of a slippery slope," Kammerevert warned.

French centre-right MEP Jean-Marie Cavada (European People’s Party) regretted the "arrogance of EU institutions [that] do not explain things clearly". Instead, he stressed, "social forms of media are very horizontal and a good idea".

Italian socialist MEP Silva Costa (S&D) agreed that there should be "a mention of the EU in public service contracts. That would make a substantial contribution".

In recent years, the European Commission has launched several initiatives to tackle citizens' growing lack of trust and interest in the EU project. 

Following 2005's 'Plan D' response to the institutional crisis prompted by the 'no' votes against the EU's draft constitution in France and the Netherlands, a White Paper on a European communication policy was launched in 2006. 

Another initiative, 'Debate Europe', was launched in spring 2008 as part of the EU executive's new Internet and audiovisual strategies, which were unveiled ahead of the European Parliament elections in 2009. It is an online discussion forum on which all input is translated into all the EU's official languages. 

The Commission also opened its own channel on YouTube and revamped its central web portal Europa in an attempt to make it more user-friendly (EURACTIV 14/07/09EURACTIV 21/09/09). 

Former European Commission Vice-President Margot Wallström, responsible for communication, emphasised that the EU executive must use "all the means at its disposal" to communicate with European citizens.

At the same time, however, she acknowledged that "it is only when the European debate is anchored nationally, regionally and locally" that citizens will engage in and seek to be informed about EU politics and the decisions affecting them. 

  • July: Full Parliament to vote on report at Strasbourg plenary. 

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