A new survey presented by EURACTIV and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) raise a debate on the relationship of EU actors and the media. The poll and subsequent discussions show that there is still room for improvement.
The survey on “Media perception about interest groups in EU affairs” was presented at a EURACTIV conference on 24 October 2006.
The survey’s key findings are:
- NGOs are seen as more effective communicators, compared to industry federations
- Most associations lack brand recognition in media circles
- Journalists working in EU affairs consider online information as crucial to save time (especially access to background summaries)
- Quick release of positions before EU events and better websites are also preferred to traditional channels (access to association leaders, press conferences and pro-active calling of journalists)
- Journalists demand improvements regarding better conditions for depth reporting, investigative journalism and protection of sources. Transparency and ethical guidelines are regarded as essential for reporting on interest groups
Key speakers Jérôme Vignon (Director at DG Employment) and Aidan White (Secretary General of the IFJ) put the paper in a broader perspective.
In a candid speech, Mr. Vignon sketched the history of EU communication policy and did not shy away from critical comments on his own institution. After the Delors era, which had seen a positive relationship between the Commission and the media, this relationship turned into a nightmare during the Santer Commission, said Mr. Vignon. The Prodi Commission later did not really bring the communication strategy forward as the President himself was not a “good communicator” and his Commission over-emphasised “ethical integrity” leading to fraud regulations, which stifled efficiency.
Jérôme Vignon also openly admitted that the Barroso Commission was divided on the Vice-President Wallström’s communication strategy. The division, in his personal view, is between those who “had a cynical view” and want to negotiate good messages with the media and those who think that the citizens are better informed and need a mix of every day added value and a long-term vision for the Commission
IFJ Secretary General Aidan White promoted the code of conduct for media and journalists in Brussels. He said that one of the most important things was to build professional respect and openness between EU actors and the media. He pointed out that journalists could not demand transparency without being transparent themselves and called for more openness on sources of revenue. Mr. White also underlined that an interesting news story needs three things: events (issue of right timing of the press release), emotion (it has to appeal to people) and controversy (if there is no drama, there is no story).
Willy De Backer, editor-in-chief of EURACTIV added that this controversy is notably absent in the Commission’s “good news” communications. Although Margot Wallström herself in an interview with EURACTIV last year, saw the need for the institution to be more open about its internal debates.
In the second session, Tony Long from WWF and Hubert Linssen for the International Road Transport Union presented case studies of how their organisations use communication. Bruno Alves and Alfons Westgeest of Kellen Europe showed how they are helping their clients to use better communication and what the differences are between lobbying in the US and the EU.