Saturday, May 29, 2004

Managing the media

Following on from the previous post on the commission’s report on "Building a political Europe" click here for details, this second blog on the subject deals with the role of the media in the brave new (European) world set out for us.

Inevitably, any project so ambitious and so grand as turning the disparate nations of Europe into a single nation must have control over the flow of information and the "round table" authors of the report have offered their ideas on the avenues that can be explored.

They set out by complaining, with some justice, that "not enough information on Europe is given to Europeans". As an aside, there are references throughout to "Europeans" – not the citizens of member states, but always "Europeans" – indicative of the mindset and the aspirations of the authors.

As to the lack of information, they cite the negotiations on enlargement, where they complain that that few "have had enough facts at their disposal to reach an informed judgment". Poor media coverage of the negotiations and the importance given to the concluding summit, they assert, have given "Europeans" the impression that this change in the scale of Union has been brought about by secretive diplomats conducting behind-the-scenes negotiations.

The national media, they assert, devote scant attention to European political debates because they feel they are of little interest to their readers, listeners or viewers. The national governments’ reading of European affairs reflects national preoccupations first and foremost. Even the European Parliament has often been no more than a sounding-box for national interests.

Taken in isolation, these seem reasonable complaints. This Blog has made the same observations. However, one must read between the lines to absorb the real concerns behind the these authors’ concerns. By "facts", of course, the authors mean that Community "line". In their limited view of the world, only the guardians of the faith utter "facts". The rest is ill-informed speculation and "myths".

Nevertheless, not all is lost, according to the authors. “The situation is undeniably improving”, they write. All the main national media now have correspondents in Brussels to follow European affairs, and high-quality information is provided by the press agency Agence Europe.

Here, the identification of the Brussels-based Agence Europe is highly significant. This is a highly partisan, Europhile agency, known for its staunch support of the commission. Not surprisingly, the information is regarded as "high quality".

But then you get to the real concerns: A "pan-European media do not yet exist. The overwhelming majority of European media are national or local." That is the real beef of the complaint. The authors want a "pan-European media", detached from any national base – or readership.

"Those with an audience in Europe", they observe, "as a whole are primarily international media. This goes both for the press (Financial Times, The Economist, International Herald Tribune, Wall Street Journal) and television and radio (BBC World, Radio France International, Deutsche Welle). Genuinely European media are rare.

Despite observing that there is not yet a market for such organs, the authors argue that "the media are of key importance for the future of European democracy" – i.e., integration. They continue: "The Round Table therefore considers that the Union is justified in promoting the creation of the first pan-European media, on the model of the BBC, as the French and German governments have done with the TV channel Arte."

How significant that the authors chose the BBC as a model. A supposedly independent broadcaster, its pro-European Union bias is so evident as to be laughable – but it earns its reward in the portals of the commission. No doubt if any British government is so rash as to remove the license fee, the EU will step in and offer it a handsome stipend, transforming it into the EBC – the European Broadcasting Corporation.

If you wish to download the full report, click here.

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