Friday, October 3, 2008

EuroparlTV for the citizens, but Not by the citizens

The European Parliament launched its own media outlet EuroparlTV last week with much fanfare on its premises with its Editorial Charter promising, “The channel shall ensure that the plurality of opinion in the European Parliament is reflected, with due respect to the relative strengths of the political groups, in accordance with a neutral, nonpartisan editorial policy.” 

Brussels-based journalists who know the propaganda tuned talents of European politicians were not convinced as was evident in the Council meeting of the API (International Press Association, representing Brussels based journalists) the very next day, commenting on the Editorial Charter, the unanimous decision was to “wait and see.”

Even the local journalists were unconvinced about the unbiased productivity as Rob Heirbaut, EU-correspondent for VRT (Vlaamse Radio- en Televisieomroep - Belgian TV) said: “I have my doubts about the editorial charter. How will they decide if every group has had its speaking time on Europarltv? Will they use chronometers? And will Eurosceptics or far right independent MEP’s also be given a platform? And if not, why?” 

Journalists at the launch were sceptical of the “speech” by an unknown identity, a so called, “Irish Journalist,” a young woman, never seen earlier in Brussels, by any of the colleagues I asked to identify her. There was also optimism as Deanne Lehman (editor of of the Flemish Radio and Television station VRT), at the launch, commented: “A European Parliament web TV channel - in over 20 languages.

This embodies the very essence of the pParliament. Bringing the institution closer to the people who actually live in this laboratory is a lofty ideal, but I think it’s quintessentially European really. It’s an exciting, and challenging project!” But a day later, the Belgian journalist Heirbaut already had his doubts saying, “The Europarltv looks very attractive, I still have a lot to discover. I am a bit disappointed by the content though. I would have suspected a daily update of what’s happening in parliament, but they are still showing the story about the collapse of the roof in Strasbourg.”

Launching the project, European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pottering, declared: “As we approach the European elections of June 2009, EuroparlTV should be an excellent Internet tool for citizens, especially young people, to keep themselves informed about the activities and decisions of the directly-elected European Parliament - decisions which have an impact on the everyday lives of almost 500 million European Union citizens.” 

Echoing the sentiments but doubting the citizens’ participation, José-María Siles, Director of (a) news, The Correspondent Agency said, “Europarl TV is a great chance for MEPs to connect with the citizens. Are the Europeans going to poke their representatives? Hard to say,” adding, “I actively participated in the preparation of the Europarl TV last year, making four months of pilot productions.” 

On the content, VRT journalist Heirbaut said, “For journalists, I don’t think it is a useful tool, at the moment. But maybe next week or next year I will have to change my view. For schools on the other hand, it is very useful: it ‘ll make teaching about the EU and parliament a lot easier and more attractive. But will the broad public find its way to the website? I doubt it.”

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