Tuesday, 10 April 2012 13:03

The State of European Journalism: a report from Polis

Written by Laura Onita

"What do I know about the euro crisis?", "What does the media tell me?", "Do I get the same view of the crisis if I read a German newspaper, listen to Rai Uno in Italy or just live in Greece?". At the Polis International Journalism Conference, a panel of four journalists tried to tackle these issues.

Early in 2010, the euro crisis began to make the headlines of all the major media outlets. A German weekly magazine had Aphrodite holding up her middle finger on the front cover. The title said, "Betrüger in der Euro-Familie" (Fraud in the euro family) and this is how reporting about the crisis started to take shape in Germany. The eurosceptical tone was continued "in a campaign of the biggest tabloid and newspaper, Bild Zeitung, which with over 10 milion readers has a huge impact on German politics," said Peter Heilbrunner, a former Brussels reporter and now a Business editor in Stuttgart.

Heilbrunner also spoke of a general state of confusion because Germans didn't really understand why there should be at least a bit of solidarity with the southern countries. "They said: our economy is working well; we pay our taxes so what is the problem in the rest of Europe? It was hard for Angela Merkel, for the whole government to explain it."

An anti-bail-out mood developed in the country and an aversion towards the southern countries was generated primarily by the media "because it transported these clichés: they spend a lot of money they don't have, they are not competitive, and they are more or less lazy,"he added.

Antonio Preziozi, currently the director of Rai Radio News and Rai Radio Uno in Italy, talked about an ideal type of media that they try to promote, "credible and reliable," with "in-depth coverage about the euro crisis." He also mentioned the importance of explaining the technicalities when it comes to reporting about the crisis, as their main goal is to inform the audience but not to influence it.

The former Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, often accused international media - publications such as The Financial Times or The Economist - of exaggerating facts about Italy's economic and social status. Preziozi explained that it is a recurring habit for political leaders to complain about the media as he witnessed this as a political correspondent who followed a number of other Italian prime ministers.

"This leads me to conclude that both the politicians and the media have done their job and that is fundamental for the correct functioning of democracy in our country," he said.

Reporting about the euro crisis "is the economic and political equivalent of war reporting," because it has been "a very difficult and fast-moving story to explain," said Iain Martin, political columnist for The Sunday Telegraph.

In Britain, as the reporting started, people returned to the idea of "the nation," wondering how the crisis will affect their own lives. "The eurozone crisis was seen through the prism of our struggling economic recovery," he said. With the meltdown of banks and the deep recession in Britain, the fear was that "our neighbour's house is on fire so we're about to be burnt as well, so will Europe kill our recovery?" Martin added.

Nevertheless, the dominant theme of coverage moved on "to be much more [about] big points of principle" and not about "the loss of democracy." "A lot of mainstream journalism, and even tabloid journalism, started to get very interested in the costs that were being imposed on ordinary fellow Europeans, and what was being imposed in terms of austerity became a live political issue debated and discussed not just in the broadsheets but in newspapers like The Daily Mail or Sun."

The genuine interest of British journalists about "what was happening to the Greece workers, what was happening to their health-care system," "was a positive development" for the media.

Martin also said that the international media didn't drive the crisis. Moreover, he wondered if the international media or powerful outlets in national countries should have asked more questions when the euro was formed to avoid any distorted coverage of the euro crisis now.

Lucian Sarb, Director of News and Programs at Euronews, admitted that the euro crisis was a good opportunity for the broadcast news channel to "increase its audience."

In terms of coverage he spoke about a bi-dimensional Europe: one, very boring for the media, is "the institutional Europe, Brussels" and another Europe "which for the media and the audience is very interesting and very dynamic, is Europe country by country where you have riots, you have demonstrations, where you have all the tragedies on the streets."

"What we have to do and what is our huge challenge is to put this two Europes together on the screen, on our editorial agenda, to find out the link between decisions in Brussels and effects on the streets or the events on the streets and the effects in Brussels."

The audience was left buzzing after a one hour talk about how the euro crisis is projected on different media backgrounds and how it is perceived. Many hands were raised at the end but one question in particular stood out.

"Are we ready to face the fact that the politicians had their kind of higher agenda and the media were always ready to follow that? Are the politicians ready to listen to people and what they really want without being populists? And are media ready to be sincere enough and to be more independent from the establishment, deconstructing what they want?"

Last modified on Tuesday, 10 April 2012 13:21

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