Saturday

25th May 2019

Journalists wary of interference in parliament TV

  • Journalists are waiting to see what sort of service Europarl TV turns out to be (Photo: UNMIK)

The European Parliament is beaming itself live to the four corners of the continent and beyond via a new web-based TV channel, in a new initiative aimed at raising the profile of the institution and allowing citizens instant internet "oversight" of their deeds and misdeeds.

Journalists' organisations in the European capital however have given the new media instrument a guarded welcome, saying on the one hand it will be a great new tool for them in their research, but also that they worry about political interference in the content that is being delivered to Europeans over the heads of traditional media outlets.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Europarl TV goes beyond providing live coverage of the parliament's plenary sessions and committee meetings, but will also offer a range of news programming via four themed channels-within-the-channel, targeting the general public, EU legislative stakeholders and school children in particular.

All programmes are to be translated into 22 languages, with some programmes dubbed and others subtitled.

Raymond Frenken, the head of EUX TV, which also delivers online video coverage of the parliament, as well as the other European institutions, was impressed.

"Europarl TV is probably the most ambitious web TV project in the world," he said. "To deliver all this content in 22 languages. It's an enormous technical challenge."

Teething problems

Checking out the programming on its first day live on the web, Mr Frenken gave the language offering a provisional thumbs down, however.

"Not all of it is available in the different languages. Some of the debate programmes aren't offered in Dutch or Swedish.

"Maybe this is just teething problems," he said. "I hope it's not because they're cutting corners to save money and they think, 'Oh, Dutch people and Swedes can understand English anyway'."

One Brussels journalist, who did not wish to be named, said that he was worried that the company responsible for the content, Brussels-based Mostra, was the same company that produces much of the European Commission's multimedia promotional material.

"They have a track record of producing propaganda for the commission where the journalistic ethic is put at a lower level."

Such promotional video material, including "video news releases" - or VNRs - are increasingly being produced by governments, corporations and some NGOs.

VNRs have come under fire from transparency campaigners when they are designed to be indistinguishable from independently-produced news reports and distributed to newsrooms.

TV networks often insert VNRs into their programmes, but rarely make their viewers aware of where the footage comes from.

The journalist was worried that as Mostra had developed such experience with VNRs and other video material that this might bleed into what is now supposed to be objective news coverage.

He did say however that the editor-in-chief, Patrick Delfosse, is a "good journalist" and respected by his peers, and that he hoped that he would put a stop to any attempted political interference and defend editorial independence.

'Pre-cooked'

Official journalist bodies have also been guarded in their reaction to the new service.

Aidan White, the general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists - headquartered in Brussels - remained open-minded but concerned.

"On the one hand, all this is part of the process of 'do-it-yourself' journalism increasingly done by governments all over the world," he said to EUobserver, "including the Bush administration's setting up production companies in all the different departments of government that produce pre-cooked clips that are then sent to news outlets and broadcast as if they were journalism."

"At the same time, if Europarl TV instead heads more towards a European version of CSPAN [the US congressional TV channel], opening up the parliament to public scrutiny, then that's a very good thing, as the private sector is getting out of the business of covering legislatures as it doesn't make enough money."

To ensure that Europarl TV serves "public rather than state propaganda interests," said Mr White, the channel should mirror the oversight structure of other government-funded public television services such as the BBC and institute independent administration of Europarl TV "to stop there from being political interference with news gathering."

Representatives of the foreign press in Brussels are also taking a wait-and-see approach.

Lorenzo Consoli, president of the International Press Association (API, to use its French initials) in Brussels, said: "So long as it works as an institutional service, this will actually be a great help to journalists, permitting much more research and allowing us to go into more depth and be more accurate."

"We'll see how it goes though," he continued. "The concern comes with programming that is presented as journalism, or any pre-packaged press reports. These will look and sound like a normal piece of journalism, but will be produced by someone with an interest."

"For such reports, there must be a health warning across the screen - like on a pack of cigarettes - telling the audience that this has been produced by Europarl TV."

Editorial charter

Michael Shackleton, the head of the Europarl TV unit within the parliament said journalists have nothing to worry about, pointing to the new channel's 'Editorial Charter,' which lays out the principles by which the service is organised.

"The charter demands that we be neutral and non-partisan. If we don't respect our own charter, we would naturally expose ourselves to criticism," he said.

The editorial charter reads that the channel will be governed by principles of "public service" for "informational and educational purposes."

Europarl TV must also "ensure ... the plurality of opinion" in the parliament "with due respect to the relative strengths of the political groups," meaning more conservative opinion would be featured on the channel if more conservatives are elected, but "in accordance with a neutral, non-partisan editorial policy."

He also joked that journalists themselves can be "a bit self-congratulatory about their own objectivity."

"I know in the morning before I even open any given British paper, for example, what angle they will put on a particular EU story."

However, he disagreed with the IFJ chair's demand that an arms-length governing body is needed to oversee the channel to ensure its independence, saying that instead an "advisory panel" made up of MEPs would ensure the charter's principles are adhered to.

The advisory panel is composed of one member per political group and is to assist the Bureau of the European Parliament (itself made up of the parliament's president, Hans-Gert Poettering, the vice-presidents and quaestors - individuals elected to look after the financial and administrative interests of MEPs) in ensuring the principles of the charter are respected.

"It not the same as the BBC or TF1," he said, adding that the advisory panel will not operate in the same way as the BBC's independent Board of Governors, now called the BBC Trust.

"Europarl TV is a part of the parliamentary institution and is more akin to parliamentary television channels that already exist elsewhere in Europe."

Mr Shackleton added that Europarl TV is "just another example of the way the media is going".

"NATO's generals have also decided to set up their own web TV," he continued.

"These days, it's not unusual for public or private entities to set up their own media services to get their message out."

The annual budget foreseen for the channel is € 9 million.

EUobserved

Don't tell the Dutch - but Timmermans 'won'

The victory of the Dutch EU commissioner is news across the EU, yet the Netherlands is not allowed to publish the official result until Sunday evening.

EU says goodbye to May with 'respect'

EU leaders praised Theresa May's commitment to deliver an orderly Brexit - while they now brace themselves for an even more eurosceptic British prime minister.

Strache scandal: how big a hit will Austrian far-right take?

This is a political crisis unprecedented in Austria since the war: the resignation of the vice-chancellor, firing of the interior minister, the mass resignation of FPO ministers, a snap election, and a no-confidence vote in the Austrian parliament on Monday.

Feature

Italy train row exposes competing views of EU

A planned high-speed railway connection through the Alps between Italy and France has been highly controversial for decades and is pitting governing Italian coalition parties against each other. But the European Commission insists it must go ahead.

News in Brief

  1. UK's May announces June 7 resignation date
  2. Ireland votes for EU election and divorce referendum
  3. Report: May to announce resignation plan on Friday
  4. Leading politicians: time for EU to have female leaders
  5. Poll: Finland's Green party to surge in EU elections
  6. High demand for postal voting in Denmark
  7. Some EU citizens turned away at UK polling stations
  8. Switzerland unlikely to sign draft EU deal

Magazine

All about the European Parliament elections 2019

EUobserver's new magazine is meant to help readers prepare for the European Parliament elections, no matter their level of knowledge. You can download and read the entire magazine now.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Latest News

  1. Irish greens take Dublin in second EU exit poll
  2. EU election results to trigger top jobs scramble This WEEK
  3. Don't tell the Dutch - but Timmermans 'won'
  4. EU says goodbye to May with 'respect'
  5. Strache scandal: how big a hit will Austrian far-right take?
  6. Italy train row exposes competing views of EU
  7. Dutch socialists on top in first EP election exit poll
  8. No usage data kept for EU parliament's 'Citizens' App'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  3. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  8. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  9. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  10. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  11. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  2. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us