Better communication of EU affairs by public service broadcasters is key to bridging the gap between the European Union and its citizens, said the European Parliament yesterday (7 September), highlighting in particular the "huge potential" of social media to reach out to young people.
Low turnout in EU elections highlights "the need to continue efforts to overcome the distance between the EU and its citizens,"MEPs said, adopting a resolution drafted by Danish MEP Morten Løkkegaard.
The report calls on the EU to "foster the establishment of transnational media […], while tightening up the rules intended to safeguard pluralism and combat concentration of media ownership," identifying broadcasting Euronews in all EU languages and making the Parliament's EuroparlTV service "more effective" as ways of achieving this.
While acknowledging the "immense potential" of social media like Facebook and Twitter to reach young people, MEPs warned that "their reliability as sources cannot always sufficiently be guaranteed," that they "cannot be considered to be professional media" and may "give rise to serious breaches of journalistic ethics".
"Caution is required when taking up these new tools," the report declares, stressing "the importance of drawing up a code of ethics applicable to new media".
Controversy over broadcasters' independence…
The resolution was only passed after an alternative version, drawn up by the European People's Party (EPP), Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and liberal (ALDE) groups, was presented in place of the original report approved by the European Parliament's culture committee.
That resolution had demanded that public service broadcasters cover EU matters more widely, and urged governments, parties and politicians to do more to explain them to citizens (EURACTIV 25/06/10).
But yesterday's report stressed that while public service broadcasters "have a responsibility to cover the EU" and should set themselves "ambitious targets" in this regard, member states should must always ensure that the broadcasters are independent.
"Public service broadcasters hold the key to informing the European public on EU matters. Of course broadcasters have full independence to carry out the coverage as they see fit: the important thing is that they have EU coverage at all and that they take their responsibility seriously," said rapporteur Løkkegaard following the adoption of the alternative text.
Meanwhile, other controversial proposals adopted at committee level were removed from yesterday's resolution, including plans to introduce a European training programme to produce a "taskforce" of journalists covering EU affairs and a fund to support student media to cover EU matters.
"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," German MEP Petra Kammerevert (Socialists & Democrats) told 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.
Other more controversial proposals survived, however: the Parliament advocated "incorporating the EU more fully into all educational curricula" and teaching in schools "courses in journalism using new media".
…amid Conservative opposition
UK Conservative MEP Emma McClarkin had campaigned vociferously against the committee's text, claiming 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.
McClarkin said on Monday (6 September) that she would vote against the report, arguing that by focusing on ways to boost media coverage of EU affairs, MEPs had "missed an opportunity to look at encouraging democratic engagement through social media in deference to a vanity exercise".
The report "was initially meant to look at ways new media was changing journalism. However, it became a wish list for improving how MEPs and the EU institutions are reported in the media," complained the European Conservatives and Reformists group in a statement.
The adopted report encourages member states to nominate "specialised European affairs officers" responsible for explaining the implications of EU policies on the ground.
New role for Parliament information offices
Meanwhile, "the Parliament's information offices should play an active role in informing the public of its activities and this role should not only be done by EU staff coming from the institutions," Løkkegaard said.
"We have to look at new ways, where we hire experienced media professionals to undertake this role," he added.
Political parties "should give European issues a more prominent position in their programmes and national MPs should become more involved in EU policymaking, the report said.
The falling number of EU-accredited journalists is "extremely worrying," the parliamentarians found, urging the introduction of measures "supporting those currently in Brussels".