Thursday, February 02, 2006

12'Oclock Grumbles at EU

We arrive at a press conference at the European Commission where officials are trying to explain what they really mean by proposed changes to the European Commission's News Agency, Europe By Satellite. Some UK and Italian journalists were clearly upset that this move could lead to setting up a taxpayer-funded propaganda news agency. The head of the International Press Association representing Brussels-based journalists wrote to Commission Vice-President Margot Wallstrom to voice alarm at the idea included in a consultation paper on EU communications policy. At the moment, EbS supplies gavel-gavel coverage of the EU at work - giving this free of charge to accredited journalists. In an effort to improve the up-take of material, EbS wants to start adding extra footage to illustrate issues - as well as doing more highlights.

Commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger (who from this distance looks remarkably like Herr Flick in the BBC series "'Allo 'Allo" -he can't help it, he just does) insisted the Commission had no such intention. "The journalistic work will continue to be yours," he said in response to a barrage of accusations that public money was being used for EU government propaganda.

The EU consultation paper proposed ways to reconnect the EU with citizens following last year's twin referendum defeats for the bloc's draft constitution in France and the Netherlands and opinion polls showing support for the EU dwindling everywhere. Among the remedies Wallstrom recommended to "give Europe a human face" and get Brussels' message across better to national, regional and local audiences were to "supply the media with high-quality news and current affairs material".

My submission will recommend that they keep Europe By Satellite as a relevant feed for journalists and those with an interest in EU affairs (rather like the BBC parliament channel) rather than trying to dumb it down in the hope of a wider audience.

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