Morten Løkkegaard – draft report on journalism and new media – creating a public sphere in Europe

MOTION FOR A EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION

on journalism and new media – creating a public sphere in Europe

(2010/2015(INI))

The European Parliament,

–    having regard to Title II of the Treaty on European Union,

–    having regard to Articles 11, 41 and 42 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union,

–    having regard to the joint declaration of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission entitled ‘Communicating Europe in Partnership’, signed on 22 October 2008[1],

–    having regard to the Commission communication of 2 April 2008 entitled ‘Debate Europe – building on the experience of Plan D for Democracy, Dialogue and Debate’ (COM(2008)0158),

–    having regard to the Commission communication of 24 April 2008 entitled ‘Communicating Europe through audiovisual media’ (SEC(2008)0506),

–    having regard to the Commission communication of 21 December 2007 entitled ‘Communicating about Europe via the Internet – Engaging the citizens’ (SEC(2007)1742),

–    having regard to the Commission working document of 3 October 2007 entitled ‘Proposal for an Inter-Institutional Agreement on Communicating Europe in Partnership’ (COM(2007)0569),

–    having regard to Decision No 1904/2006/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 December 2006 establishing for the period 2007 to 2013 the programme Europe for Citizens to promote active European citizenship[2],

–    having regard to the Commission communication of 1 February 2006 entitled ‘White Paper on a European Communication Policy’ (COM(2006)0035),

–    having regard to its resolution of 16 November 2006 on the White Paper on a European communication policy[3],

–    having regard to the Commission communication of 13 October 2005 entitled ‘The Commission’s contribution to the period of reflection and beyond: Plan-D for Democracy, Dialogue and Debate’ (COM(2005)0494),

–    having regard to its resolution of 12 May 2005 on the implementation of the European Union’s information and communication strategy[4],

–    having regard to Rule 48 of its Rules of Procedure,

–    having regard to the report of the Committee on Culture and Education (A7‑0000/2010),

A.  whereas access to information for citizens and communication between policy-makers and voters are central elements of our representative democratic societies, as democratic governance relies on opportunities for citizens to engage in debate,

B.   whereas the last European election did not reverse the trend of declining voter turnout, highlighting the need to continue efforts to overcome the distance between the EU and European citizens,

C.  whereas the Treaty of Lisbon has given Parliament more power in the context of EU decision-making, making it even more important for citizens to be aware of their elected representatives’ work,

D.  whereas a public sphere can be understood as a sphere in which public authority is monitored through informed and critical discourse by the people and the media,

E.   whereas electronic social media create new forms of public, which are physically dispersed but bound by a shared interest in the same topic, with the potential to create new transnational public spheres,

F.   whereas the use of social media platforms by Parliament in the 2009 European election campaign successfully increased the number of active users, especially among young people,

G.  whereas there is no overarching European public sphere at present, but whereas there are very lively national public spheres,

H.  whereas the creation of a European public sphere is closely related to the existence of pan-European or transnational media structures,

I.    whereas national public broadcasters have a special responsibility to inform citizens about political decision-making and governance, which should extend to European affairs,

J.    whereas there is clear evidence of citizens being under-informed on European issues, as reflected in the results of various Eurobarometer polls,

K.  whereas improving citizens’ knowledge of the EU requires the EU to become a natural subject of study in secondary school curricula,

1.   Welcomes the joint declaration of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission entitled ‘Communicating Europe in Partnership’, and urges the EU institutions to respect and uphold this declaration;

2.   Considers that EU news coverage must be open, critical and independent, which is a central prerequisite for generating pan-European debate and creating a European public sphere;

3.   Notes that the lack of online news and information on the EU and its institutions is not the problem; notes that all the institutions have launched their own news platforms, which fail, however, to captivate the public;

4.   Stresses that the Member States should ensure the independence of public service broadcasters, and at the same time stresses that the latter have a responsibility to cover the EU;

Member States

5.   Asks the Commission to introduce annual scoreboards that list and compare EU news broadcasting by public service networks in the Member States;

6.   Underlines the importance of involving national MPs in EU policy-making and welcomes initiatives such as live participation by national MPs in committee meetings through webstreaming;

7.   Notes that the best way to create a common European consciousness is through direct participation, for example by means of direct elections;

8.   Underlines the need for the Member States to have a minister for European affairs to act as a point of reference to whom citizens can direct their attention on EU matters;

9.   Suggests examining existing new media solutions with a view to coming up with proposals on how to create inter-parliamentary relationships between national parliaments and the European Parliament;

10. Recognises the enhanced role of national parliaments and thus the importance of Parliament’s information offices in the Member States; points out, however, that in order to become more visible they must adapt their mission statement to include strengthening links with national parliaments;

11. Highlights the importance of hiring media professionals from outside the EU institutions as press officers at the Commission’s representations and Parliament’s information offices in the Member States, who would have the task of playing an active and visible role in national debates on European issues;

12. Suggests increasing the budget lines for Parliament’s information offices;

13. Invites the Member States to consider including the EU as a subject in all secondary education curricula and encourages them to exchange best practice in this area at EU level;

14. Suggests undertaking critical reviews of existing inter-parliamentary forums such as COSAC;

Media

15. Welcomes the Commission’s and Parliament’s training schemes for journalists on EU matters and calls for them to be extended in order to meet the increasing demand;

16. Points out that social media have immense potential for reaching young people and therefore encourages the Commission and Parliament to further strengthen their activities in this area, in particular by involving companies specialising in new media communication in public-private partnerships;

17. Suggests setting up a taskforce of independent journalists who are free of editorial control, hired from outside the EU institutions and based in Brussels, with the task of producing daily EU news coverage to be published on different platforms and channels in accordance with journalistic news criteria; suggests appointing an independent chief editor for this taskforce;

18. Suggests developing EuroparlTV, further integrating it into Parliament’s internet strategy and stepping up the distribution of its content to TV channels and online media;

19. Welcomes the pilot project on research grants for cross-border investigative journalism;

20. Finds the recent decrease in the number of accredited journalists in Brussels extremely worrying;

Public service media

21. Stresses that national and regional public service broadcasters have a particular responsibility to inform citizens about politics and policy-making at European level; underlines in this regard that public broadcasters need to look critically, with full editorial independence, at their own EU coverage and set ambitious targets for improving it;

22. Encourages the Member States to produce clear public service guidelines on coverage of EU affairs and ensure that they are respected, acknowledging EU reporting as a high priority;

23. Encourages public broadcasters to create online forums using webstreaming, where citizens can follow debate in national parliaments and the European Parliament;

EU/local

24. Welcomes the Commission’s work with, and funding of, local radio and TV networks in this regard; points out that broadcasters must have full editorial independence;

25. Calls on the Commission to strengthen its communication policy and put it high on the list of priorities when the renegotiation of the post-2013 multiannual financial framework is due to start;

26. Encourages the Commission and Parliament to strengthen further their commitment to educate and train staff in communication skills, enabling them to communicate with the media and with citizens;

27. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and the Commission.

EXPLANATORY STATEMENT

Politics and communication are two sides of the same coin. Consequently a problem arises if politics fails to be communicated properly. It is in this context that the EU faces its greatest challenge. 

The overall aim of this report is to present – notably to the EU institutions and Member States – ways in which European citizens can become more involved in matters regarding the EU. The report looks at how communication can initiate, encourage and further European debate and the flow of information, whether this is done through increased discussion of European matters in national media or through a European public sphere.[5]

Three elements are central in explaining the shortcomings of earlier attempts to establish a European public sphere:

1.   The EU is a complex entity, which is not easily explained. There is not one simple solution for the creation of a European public sphere. Consequently there is a need for a wide combination of different solutions;

2.   The blame game: Because of the complexity no-one takes direct responsibility and leaders are quick to blame the EU in the case of negative polls or public opinion on EU matters. Consequently, it is essential that the responsible leaders in Member States and EU institutions assume responsibility;

3.   The creation of a European public sphere must start from the bottom, departing from the European populations. Only this way will the public have real ownership.

The aim of creating a European public sphere is one that must be achieved on several levels. This task does not belong solely to the media but also to politicians and public institutions. Both the Commission and the Parliament have taken initiatives to further a pan-European debate in the past and there have been some achievements.[6] But much more can be done.

The institutional and technological setting has never been better. The Lisbon Treaty is an important step in the democratisation of the EU and new media present new possibilities. The potential for involving citizens is higher than ever before.

However, the situation has not improved accordingly when it comes to putting EU issues on the agenda in Member States. The key instrument to overcoming this gap is communication.

The problem is not the lack of information; several players – media as well as institutions – are involved in the dissemination of information on European issues but this alone is not sufficient.

When dealing with EU questions, the relevant actors need to distinguish between informing and communicating with citizens. Informing is a one-way process, whereas communication is a two-way process involving dialogue. Informing by merely making content available is no guarantee of creating interest among citizens in Member States. It is therefore imperative that the ‘sender’ follow the principles of communication in order to create dialogue with citizens.

1. The Political Setting

Two parameters play an important role when trying to involve citizens politically in EU matters:

1.   Direct participation such as elections. Today this is limited to EP elections every five years while important posts, such as the High Representative, the President of the Commission and President of the European Council, are appointed without the involvement of citizens;[7]

2.   European political culture at national level is vital. If citizens in Member States are to take a genuine interest in European matters, it is essential that national MPs deal with EU politics and raise awareness on European legislation in their national spheres.

At national level, a minister for European affairs is a step in the right direction and should be seen as a strong political signal to put the EU high on the agenda. More importantly, a minster for European affairs represents a point of reference to which citizens can direct questions and demand answers, thus furthering the creation of a European public sphere.

The challenge will be to establish a real culture of cooperation between all European institutions in terms of communicating the EU, as laid out in the 2008 joint declaration ‘Communicating Europe in Partnership’. This should include cooperation between the EU and national governments and parliaments.

Lisbon treaty

Two elements established by the Lisbon Treaty represent concrete steps to further engage citizens in European matters:

1.   The Lisbon Treaty introduces a higher degree of involvement of national parliaments. The rapporteur welcomes this step as it raises the level of information and communication;

2.   The European Citizens’ Initiative introduces the possibility for citizens to engage actively in EU issues by committing the Commission to take action. It contains great potential for communication as the collection of one million signatures in itself is a good story and something that is likely to cause interest in the media. Moreover, the initiative is a cross-border activity that will contribute to creating a European public sphere.

2. The Media

The lack of EU coverage in the media in Member States is a well-kown fact. In order to establish a European public sphere, citizens should be in much closer contact with the political life of the EU institutions.

The overall picture of the media’s EU news coverage is that of a written press reporting regularly on EU issues, whereas TV news broadcasting (with a few clear exceptions) has substantial room for improvement.

Public service broadcasting

The rapporteur recognises the essential role of public service broadcasting and its need for further strengthening and political support. History has shown that the market is not able to deliver substantial EU coverage, so it is crucial that Member States ensure that public service charters are respected in order to guarantee that EU coverage is delivered to the public.

EU initiatives

The EU has launched and supported several initiatives in an attempt to create pan-European media, most notably Euronews and EuroparlTV.

Euronews has not managed to address a wide and collective public in the EU, partly due to the issues of language differences in the perception of journalism and news gathering. EuroparlTV is a technological innovation that does, however, suffer from lack of journalistic weight.

The rapporteur therefore believes that there is a need for substantial alternatives.

EU correspondents

The number of journalists accredited to EU institutions has diminished over the last years. This decrease has not resulted in a decrease in output, not least due to online media, which has lead to the assumption that it is unnecessary for journalists to be physically present in Brussels.

This tendency worries the rapporteur. Reporting of EU matters demands the presence of reporters in Brussels. Only by meeting people face-to-face and being present in and around the EU institutions can reporters carry out in-depth investigative everyday reporting from Brussels. Boosting EU coverage by increasing the presence of public service broadcasters personnel in Brussels could, furthermore, be an incentive for market driven media to increase their presence. 

3. Technology – New Media

 Dialogue is an effective means of engaging citizens. In this regard new online social media play an important role. Social media in this context include platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, where an increasing number of politicians and institutions engage in dialogue with citizens.

There are a number of reasons why social media are particularly adequate for communication:

1.   Social media can reach new audiences who have no interest in conventional media channels. These audiences expect not only to have access to media but to respond to it, share and use information;

2.   To reach these audiences one must be where the conversation takes place i.e. Facebook, Twitter and other online social networks;

3.   Social media allow for dialogue with citizens on the purpose of the EU;

4.   Online communication through social media signals openness to engage actively in online debate and discussion. The Parliament has been the frontrunner in this since last year when it took an active part in social media during the European election period;

5.   Finally, social media has tremendous potential to communicate with young people, an age group that the EU has traditionally found particularly hard to reach.

  4. EU and Member States

 The European Parliament has made significant progress in terms of transparency, moving from a relatively closed institution to one of open, web-streamed meetings. This openness must be improved further with ambitious goals.

 Moreover there is a need for a change in communication policies inside the EU institutions. The guideline for EU personnel should emphasise that it is easier to be forgiven than to get permission. This means that in a hierarchical system officials at all levels should be allowed to act promptly when required, both in terms of giving answers to citizens and the press.

 If national spheres are to open up debate on EU matters, it is essential that the EU institutions maintain an ambitious communication policy. European and national leaders and institutions bear the responsibility of disseminating information, not only through traditional channels but through media formats where citizens play an active role. For this it is essential that personnel receive relevant training to develop their communication skills.

Furthermore, links between the EU and Member States must be strengthened. Parliamentary and Commission representations in Member States must play a more active role in national debates.

5. Go local

When communicating EU issues it is essential to think locally. For journalists this means that stories such as roaming, the CAP or new regulation on labelling must be reported in relation to their national impact. This implies a bottom-up approach combining the big picture with the local picture in Member States.

Regional EU broadcasting by TV and radio networks is a solution that the rapporteur endorses and a strong complement to national media broadcasting. In this regard EU funding can be supportive on the expectation that regional broadcasters deliver independent and critical EU news coverage. The rapporteur welcomes the Commission initiative on regional radio and TV networks’ pan-European broadcasting.

The rapporteur points to private-public partnerships as a solution when dealing with the issue of communicating EU issues. This means inviting skilled media professionals to deal with communicative tasks for the EU as has been done in the past.

 6. The new European story

 It is not enough to go local. Even though EU officials must be able to tell concrete stories that citizens can relate to, the potential of a European public sphere also lies in a sense of identification that goes beyond nationality. In this regard it is important to tell a common European story that goes beyond national and political biases. In short, the story over the first 50 years has been based on peace between nations, economic welfare and a common market. Now it is imperative to define the central elements of the new story of Europe as new generations grow up with the EU as the norm.

 The challenge lies in defining the core values of the EU. The contribution, engagement and ownership of European citizens is vital in this regard and EU leaders must contribute to this task.


[1] OJ C 13, 20.1.2009, p. 3.

[2] OJ L 378, 27.12.2006, p. 32.

[3] OJ C 314 E, 21.12.2006, p. 369.

[4] OJ C 92 E, 20.4.2006, p. 403.

[5] Europeanisation of the national public spheres refers to an increase of European issues in national spheres. The European public sphere refers to debate that transcends national borders and addresses a European public.

[6] The Parliament carried out an effective campaign on Facebook during the European election, which resulted in 60,000 fans. The Commission used online communication effectively when working on EU Tube and has taken important steps with the European public spaces campaign.

[7] In this regard the rapporteur welcomes the citizens’ initiative as an example of direct participation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s