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.