On Wednesday 3 February 2016, the APE held its first dinner debate.
The purpose of this event format is to allow MEPs to discuss in a relaxed atmosphere about a topic linked to their activity, but approached from a perspective different to the one of the European Parliament. The participation of a prestigious guest speaker and the opportunity to enjoy a delicious dinner make of our dinner debates a unique moment in parliamentary life.
On the suggestion of Rainer Wieland, Vice President of the European Parliament and member of the APE, the topic of our first dinner debate was the impact of European media in the shaping of a European identity.
Herbert Dorfmann, President of the APE, welcomed the participants with a few words on the issue, noticing the fact that, regrettably, there is no media which is specialised in European questions. Then the two keynote speakers – Reinhard Reck, journalist at the “Mittlebadische Presse” and Kai Littmann, editor of Eurojournalist – gave a short presentation and talked about their own experience. They brought the main points of the debate up: on one hand, the gap between media, European Union and public opinion, on the other hand, the different interests of politicians and journalists and a severe lack of accessibility to the information concerning the EU and its institutions. Both journalists stated that the European institutions should help financing the press and in the same time allow it to have a better access to information. All in all, the connection between journalists and politicians should be strengthened.
In response to the presentation, a British MEP spoke first, surprised of such top down approach of European media, which had a taste of propaganda in his view. Concerning the question of independence of the media and on the contrary, propaganda, MEPs highlighted two major problems: First, the lack of freedom of expression. Several MEPs confessed that in their own job at the parliament, statements are changing depending on the person one is talking to. The financing of European media by the European institutions could contribute to the problem that it seems to be impossible to create a truly objective journalism which is somehow integrated in an institution. Littmann and Reck didn’t deny it, and emphasised the growing danger of limited freedom of expression. The second problem which the MEPs detected was the huge power that media has on public opinion and the risks of the creation of propaganda, named as some kind of “European war through media”.
Regarding the media coverage in the European Union, the MEPs agreed a wide media coverage does exist indeed, but remains on a regional or national level. The problem is that this media itself decides which news are important, and they don’t seem to favour news on the European Union. Additionally, there is a lack of communication between European countries: There is not a big interest in the neighbouring countries, or the own political partners on the European level. Finally, Europe is not educated enough. Even the most sophisticated people do not always know a lot about the roles and powers of the European institutions. So how could the public opinion possibly be interested in it?
The participants didn’t only exchange their points of view, they also submitted some specific proposals to improve European journalism. One of these ideas got a particular attention: creating a European journalism training centre, based in the capital of Europe, Strasbourg. We hope that this initiative and others will be pursued and maybe this debate will foster the growth of other cooperation for the development of European media.