Friday, October 3, 2008

Brussels journalists unhappy with French organisational setup

The French presidency of the European Union last week informed the API/IPA (The International Press Association represents foreign journalists accredited in Brussels to the European Union, NATO and Belgium) of its willingness to reimburse costs incurred by journalists following a change to the Paris of the EU-Ukraine summit in Evian scheduled on, September 9. 

Paris informed via telephone API/IPA President Lorenzo Consoli that the Quai d’ Orsay will reimburse the costs sustained by all journalists who went to Evian for the summit, which was moved at the last minute to Paris. The API/IPA on its website ( requested the affected journalists, “to keep your bills and expense notes,” adding, “Many thanks to all those who have submitted their complaints to us.”

There were quite a few episodes of journalists suffering in more than one case in the hands of organisational skills of Paris. In the words of Dominic Hughes, a BBC journalist at Evian, “The BBC sent Steve Sidebottom (producer) and myself (reporter) to cover the Evian EU/Ukraine summit. We flew to Geneva, hired a car and drove for an hour to the hotel, arriving at around 1900.

As I walked into reception and announced myself the poor manager said, “But Mr Hughes, have you not heard? The summit is cancelled!” I asked when, and he said five minutes ago - so clearly the hotel had only found out right at the last minute as well. The poor man looked really crestfallen as the hotel itself was losing thousands he said.

I phoned London who said the Paris bureau could cover. So I filed a radio and TV piece as a preview and then was left with little option but to have dinner and head back to Brussels the next day - all at a cost of at least 350 Euro, plus hire car, plus return flights for two people to Evian. Not to mention the time wasted getting there and back!” The conditions were worst in Lille where the GMES (Kopernikus) conference was held and to which 30 journalists from all over Europe were present.

According to attending journalists, there was chaos as many journalists were given the wrong badge in spite of a very lengthy registration procedure (over one hour in spite of having already registered by mail several times) and therefore were barred from all press conferences with Gunter Verheugen, European Commissioner for Industry and Enterprise and experts since they had the wrong badge.

The attending journalists alleged that the whole conference was managed from Paris and the organisers in Paris had no idea of what the press room was like! Three tables, no computers, no wi-fi and no room for a quiet interview with the many experts present. According to journalists, there was also alleged intimidation because when the journalists complained, Paris reacted demanding names and phone numbers of the people who had complained. “I have never seen anything so badly organised!,” one journalist quipped.

According to Brussels-based journalists the list of problems is long and repetitive at major events with API/IPA listing some of them as: repeated failures to the system connection to the Internet, lack of space, lack of lines and telephones and ISDN, schedules inadequate facilities Press, logistical problems, interventions of security and local technical staff.” “These are serious obstacles to practicing the profession of journalism,” API/IPA said in a letter to French Presidency.

In a letter sent on September 22 to the French Presidency, the API/IPA regretted that despite promises of improvement made following our various complaints, these problems without precedent have not been solved so far. “From an organisational point of view, the informal ministerial meetings of the French presidency have been substandard until now,”said API/IPA President Consoli.

In addition, the API/IPA decided to request of the Secretariat General Council of the EU to establish, by common agreement, a list of standards as a minimum for all rotating presidencies guaranteeing in future the necessary infrastructure for working journalists at meetings outside Brussels.

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