BethMellor’s Weblog

Postgraduate journalism, news and views.

The Brussels Bubble

with 3 comments

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Coverage of the European Union in the British media is, quite frankly, awful. With the exception of Tony Barber’s excellent Brussels Blog for the FT and occasional articles in The Telegraph and The Times, reporting about the European Union is patchy at best and frequently completely negative about EU institutions and legislation.

In comparison, newspapers in other EU countries have dedicated daily pages to cover news from Brussels.

The reasons behind Britain’s haphazard and cynical coverage of the EU were debated at a journalism course I attended in Brussels this week. The first, and perhaps main reason, is that most newspapers do not even have a correspondent in Brussels. This makes it practically impossible for newspapers to understand the full story about developments in Brussels. Under this logistical pressure, it is easier for the journalist who has the task of writing an EU story from their desk in London to focus on the simple and quirky story, such as the recent coverage of the relaxation of EU legislation on the shape of fruit and vegetables.

The Sun campaign for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty

The Sun campaign for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty

Secondly, MEP Richard Corbett told me he believes that media ownership is a factor: the main media moguls in Britain – Rupert Murdoch, Lord Rothermere and the Barclay brothers – are all eurosceptics. In addition, Mr Corbett pointed out that it is easy for eurosceptic political parties to use a one-line soundbite to promote their views, whereas making a reasoned debate about the positive aspects of EU membership is not so media-friendly. The media is often guilty of using the quickest and most sensational line – such as The Sun’s 2007 campaign after Gordon Brown’s signing of the Lisbon Treaty “Never Have So Few Decided So Much For So Many” – without presenting the other side of the debate and, in this case, without explaining what the treaty actually means.

Lastly, media coverage of the EU reflects the ambivalent feelings of the British public about Europe. Gareth Harding, a journalist who runs the European Journalism Centre, told me that he found British euroscepticism to be a complete paradox: culturally, we are the most ‘European’ country in Europe – we are not tied to national traditions in the same way as many other European countries, and Brits have embraced many elements of other European cultures. Yet politically, we fear becoming too involved in Europe, with most Brits preferring to abstain from voting in the European Parliamentary elections, regarding the EU as something we have to be part of, but certainly not something we should be enthusiastic about.

Victoria Courtney, Head of Press at the UK Permanent Representation to the EU, believes that the solution to this is to increase understanding about how the EU affects us on a daily basis, as well as including some stories in the British press about how EU legislation has had a positive impact on, for example, British consumers, farmers and students.

It is certainly not the fault of journalists that they are not given the time to understand the EU better and research more balanced articles, but newspapers need to realise that consistently lambasting Brussels is becoming a dangerous trend. We are in the EU to stay, and people need to know what is going on there – not just be fobbed-off with amusing stories about Brussels bureaucrats and wonky fruit and vegetables.

Written by bethmellor

December 12, 2008 at 2:26 pm

3 Responses

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  1. On the money Ms. Mellor. I can’t remember the last time I came across a newspaper story to do with Brussels.

    That being said, if I were to, would I read it? Erm…

    There’s definitely a difference between the antipathy of the popular papers’ the apathy of the majority of the public. Even the news outlets that supposedly serve the intellectual classes are pretty neglectful and, in fact, the only stories I can recall from recent memory are when Peter Mandelson left to become Trade Commissioner, and then when he came back.

    I don’t necessarily think the Euro-skepticism of the media moguls is to blame for British disinterest in the happenings of the European Parliament; people just find it all a bit dull.

    Nick Christian

    December 15, 2008 at 9:28 pm

  2. You disgrace the left.

    Jonathan

    December 18, 2008 at 4:32 pm

  3. “the left” – lol

    Will Jones

    December 19, 2008 at 11:14 am


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