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    Monday, 3 December 2007

    Why Can't the British Media Report the EU Accurately?

    In a discussion at the LSE this evening, Anthony Gooch (of the European Commission), Charles Grant, Derek Scott (of Open Europe), and John Kampfner (of the New Statesman) waxed entertainingly on this perennial debate. Of particular note for the purposes of this blog, was a divergence of opinion between two of the protagonists on the question of Press regulation.

    Grant was concerned at the unwillingness of the PCC to insist on corrections of factual misinformation plied on European matters in newspapers. He had earlier highlighted seven lies fabricated by Euro-sceptic newspapers. Its not difficult to understand the Commission's reticence. By adjudicating on complaints over accuracy in politically-charged reporting and commentary (where one man's 'fact' is another's 'interpretation', and yet another's 'kernal of truth' amidst the bunkum), it would be exposing itself to critical retaliation one way or the other.

    That said, of course, an insistence on accuracy comprises Clause 1 of the Editors' Code, and the PCC regularly applauds its own supposed capacity to secure the printing of corrections with 'due prominence' (its an aside, but - somewhat tendentiously - the PCC measures this by reference to the page on which corrections are published rather than column inches devoted). Perhaps fortuitously, the obligation to act is obviated by the absence of any directly affected party. The PCC refuses to respond to 'third party complaints' (108 such complaints were 'not investigated' on this basis between April and September of this year), and the European Commission refuses to act as a putative affected party.

    In keeping with his position, however, Kampfner considered the very idea of greater regulation of the Press to be 'dangerous and counter-productive'. He suggested that the Government would like nothing better than to increase constraints on the media. In support of his point, he cited the restrictiveness of Official Secrets legislation - on which the New Statesman is currenly fighting a case - notwithstanding the very great distance between requiring correction of erroneous material and mandated secrecy.

    On the substance of the debate, Kampfner made the most convincing points. He emphasised his view that the lived experience of everyday people - based on foreign holidays, better food, the rise of Chelsea FC on the back of foreign imports, and Ryanair - would likely contribute much more to any emergent sense of the European demos than newspaper contribution to often contrived 'debate'. He also stated a profound preference for the 'feral beasts' decried by Tony Blair over any connivance to ignore corruption and to fail to challenge those exercising power (using the supposed strawman of US journalistic capitulation to authority) .

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