Media survey stirs debate on perception of EU actors

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.

EURACTIV publisher Christophe Leclercq emphasised that there was a need to bring the debates closer to the citizens and make greater use of multipliers, like business associations, and not only NGOs. He underlined that the relationship between interest groups and the media was not a “zero sum game”.

Michael Stabenow, President of the Association de la Presse Internationale (API) said that the Brussels journalism was particularly marked by its wide range of issues and quick pace. Because of this people were increasingly using the internet as a crucial vector. Nevertheless, he said that direct contact and networking are still important.

David Haworth from the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) welcomed the initiative by EURACTIV to conduct the study and said it was the “first survey of its kind”.

Daniel Verbist from the chemical industry federation CEFIC underlined that “media play a crucial role as a source of information” and that therefore his strategy was to achieve “better and clearer communication”. (presentation .ppt 759kb)  

Beate Gminder from DG Communication said “communicating actor’s positions makes democracy more lively”, which is vital to reach the citizens. Martin Westlake, Head of Communications at the European Economic and Social Committee, underlined the importance for EU actors to understand how the media worked and to keep up their visibility.

(Several presentations made at the conference are available below and will be shortly complemented by the commented survey results)

On 1 February 2006, Communication Commissioner Margot Wallström presented her White Paper on a new EU Communication Policy to complement the Action Plan on communication “Plan D” (democracy, dialogue and debate). The paper was a response to the institutional crisis following the failed referenda on the European Constitution and aims at reconnecting with citizens. In this context, EURACTIV and the IFJ have set out a survey analysing EU actors’ visibility in the media and discuss communication strategies among EU actors, journalists and representatives from the institutions.

  • The Commission will organise a stakeholder forum on the media as a follow-up to the White Paper in November or December in Helsinki.
  • EURACTIV considers doing a new media survey with a wider scope, especially outside Brussels in 2007.


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