Lessons learned from an EUobserver editor
Before joining Euobserver, I worked in policy and advocacy, in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Being editor-in-chief of EUobserver was, for me, a first opportunity to look at the world from the other side of the media.
Now that I return to advocacy in the Middle East, I would like to share what I have learned in two and a half years of journalism.
I have always enjoyed spending time with journalists. Most of them drink and smoke, or at least have the habit, and none get enough sleep.
As my habits are quite similar, it is not surprising that many of my friends are journalists.
Now I suddenly had journalists as colleagues, and I had to work with them for long days every day.
I learned that journalists cannot be cynical. They are inveterate critics, that’s for sure. Sometimes too critical, as I found when I was still working in politics.
It’s this critical instinct that drives most journalists to go the extra mile to find the truth, or get that story that better explains what’s really going on.
It must be said, one does not become a journalist for the money. You do it because you believe that freedom and democracy are impossible without critical journalism.
Covid is bad for democracy
The Covid pandemic has been tough on almost everyone around the world.
Journalists have in many cases adapted their practices. Despite this, significant gaps in coverage have emerged, which negatively impact democracy.
First of all, parliamentary control has often disappeared, the plenaries and the commissions not having been able to meet.
Second, press conferences have often been suppressed – for example, those which usually take place after EU summits.
When these summits were held online, there were often no in-home comments, fewer leaks, and far fewer opportunities to ask questions at the end of the summit.
This meant that reporters, and therefore the public, were often unaware of the decisions made and unsure whether the leaders actually agreed with each other or had deep differences.
The reputation of the EU as a bloodless bureaucracy has, in some cases, been further reinforced.
The risk is that European politics will begin to look more and more like a series of imperial decrees.
The third way democracy suffered became evident between the shutdowns, when some – but not all – journalists were asked to participate in press briefings.
During the last European summits, some newspapers were invited by the cabinet of the President of the Council of the EU, Charles Michel, to the press room, and others were not.
Without pretending to the bad faith of those who took these decisions, it remains a very difficult situation in which the European Council decides who are the “good” journalists and who are the “bad”.
When dictators come after you
While the pandemic will hopefully only be a temporary problem, there is another trend that threatens journalism even more in my opinion: vexatious litigation.
SLAPPs (or Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) are lawsuits brought by individuals or organizations intended to scare journalists and make their work impossible by distracting them from their daily work.
Journalists and newspapers, certainly the smaller ones, do not have the budgets to pay lawyers or the time and resources to oversee prosecutions.
The powerful and the rich know it. This is why some now systematically threaten to sue journalists from the moment they are mentioned in a less favorable way.
During the two and a half years that I was editor, I had to deal with several of these SLAPPs.
Most notable is undoubtedly a lawsuit from a company that sued us after we reported evidence of its links to the Lukashenko regime.
Fortunately, journalism organizations are supporting us in this matter. But the burden of these cases is increasing.
Without new legislation to stop such prosecutions before they end up eating up the time and money of newspapers and journalists, independent and investigative journalism will face increasing headwinds. strong.
It is a global problem that needs to be tackled urgently.
The danger of paid content
Covid, lack of political transparency and SLAPPs are major challenges in themselves. But the media itself also has important questions to answer.
Too many European media are actually hidden slot machines. They write content on demand and get paid for it.
The result is that part of the news, and sometimes even all the news of certain media, follows the agendas of companies, lobbyists or governments.
I’m not talking about ads, or content clearly labeled as sponsored, although that too is sometimes problematic.
This paid content is, of course, detrimental to trust in the media. It also discredits newspapers that do everything to remain independent and objective.
This is not the place to name names, but the extent of these bad practices is something that has shocked me in recent years.
However, it is also true that these practices often point to a deeper issue: how to ensure independent journalism in the future?
How will European journalism survive?
The news is massively and indefinitely available on the web. Some newspapers can be read for free, while other paywalls are often easily circumvented.
That’s why most people don’t see why they should pay for news.
However, subscriptions are essential to maintaining independent, high-quality journalism.
I would have liked to see the European institutions take their responsibilities and take out collective subscriptions for independent newspapers.
The European Parliament does, but most others don’t seem to care.
For clarity, I’m not talking about sponsorship or advertising. I’m talking about our big institutions that lead by example and just pay for information.
If the institutions took out subscriptions to EU media that take the ethics of journalism seriously, this would give a significant boost to independent reporting.
No farewell to Europe
There are many reasons to criticize and even complain about the European Union. Often he reacts too slowly or too timidly.
But looking at the evolution of the EU over the past 20 years, one cannot help but be impressed by what has been achieved.
In just two decades, the European Union introduced the euro, kept its internal borders open despite many challenges, created a common border control agency, abolished roaming, expanded the bloc to 27 states (but lost some a), etc
We can look at the European Union through what it lacks or through the prism of what it has created.
In my opinion, the European project is the most successful project for peace, prosperity and democracy in the history of mankind.
This project is moving forward not in spite of criticism, but thanks to critical voices calling for more cooperation and more democratic transparency.
This is why European journalism is essential to the European project. This is also why I am proud to have been part of it.