Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Media and the European Parliament by Hatto Fischer

How has the relationship between press and parliament changed throughout Europe and in particular what has determined and shaped the media coverage of the European Parliament over the last twenty years? Taking into account the rapid changes in the communication and information business, the media had to respond to this new challenge, but no one really knows what is the impact of different media coverage's upon European Politics?

Negative images


The image of Brussels as being merely bureaucratic is furthered by different forces, among them those who do not wish any further advancement in European integration and matters being controlled from Brussels. Fears of being controlled by an over centralized state or administration combines with increasing global pressures robbing in any case local communities of an adequate political representation. This problem shall intensify with European enlargement and shall confront all political groups currently represented in European Parliament with ever larger problems of legitimate representation. Since power and influence in Europe is determined through various factors, majority and unanimity at European level just one part of that political equation, the problem seems double faulted: to overcome complexity oversimplification reinforces images that distort political perception and the reform debate tends towards having in the European Parliament the ‘elite of the elite’, that is a repetition of misrepresentation at the level of the member states.


In particular, any progress made at EU level in negotiations cannot be easily identified. Most of the things take place within larger time scales of two to five years, something increasing difficulties of any news coverage that works usually on a day by day basis. Over time, every European summit appears to produce the same outcome, namely a delay of the final decisions. Such postponement leaves the bitter taste of those in Brussels merely stalling, or in general, that the European integration process has nothing to offer to citizens faced with daily problems.

Basically two indicators reveal lack of coverage:

Media Coverage: Defining news and creation of Information

Media coverage – to take the question further – has come under huge pressure from various sides: increasing expenses, speed of events at global level, other communication linkages, but above all the form of recognition as to what constitutes ‘news’.

Here CNN has determined new concepts and some of the Hollywood induced films about Turner and Company reinforces certain aspects of this apparently hard working highly competitive business. Clear is the voice carrier and face known to the public, so then the pressure has been a mixture of image guided marketing policies, in order to be known, and taking more risks by favoring sensation over reliable information. Again CNN calls that ‘breaking news’: things that are happening now, but no one knowing fully as of yet the consequences.

Crucial in all of this is that most news networks competing with one another for privileged, that is first news tend to create also information out of complex forms of interactions with both the public and the politicians. Standpoints related to key speaking times, that is when a wider audience can be reached, have become crucial in terms how politicians evaluate media coverage of their own activities, decisions and arguments. How issues are seen and dealt with is, therefore, a media matter, but the creation of information is an entirely new thing given the Internet and the special problems of validation concerning what information is reliable, what not.

Then, there is the question, but what should go public or what should be accessible information to the public? If access to information is vital to democracy, then it becomes even more crucial to have access to the very process when information is being created. How then does the media this technically and organizationally in such a way, that it does not distort the outcome? Does there exist such thing as objective news coverage of activities of Parliament at all levels? Is it desirable to include drafts by the political groups for things that have not as of yet come up for discussion in the Committees, never mind in the plenary sessions. Any political group or individual MEP would like to be seen as being open to all concerns of the citizens, but in fact he can deal only with a selection thereof and this in relation to where he is working for the time being in what Committee of the Parliament.

The general public does not often realize this complex process needed to be gone through, in order to arrive at decisions that differ as outcomes, if a resolution, directive, legislation or communique. The forms by which Parliament can articulate itself varies widely depending on power, interests, state of affairs, competencies, status of subject matter and what is finally a legal binding document. Clarification thereof requires an enormous education of the general public, in order to be able to follow more in details Parliament's work in progress. This is not always an easy matter but if neglected, shall lead to political apathy.

Ongoing discussions within Parliament about its relationship to the press and media in general

Some discussions have taken place around this subject matter. Ralph Negrine cites a conference on ‘Parliaments and the Mass Media’ held in Athens in October 1998, since the relationship between the two institutions shall affect ‘the future of parliamentary democracy, as well as the future of political journalism’.

Some key questions:

How then media coverage of Parliament is organized, that depends upon what is a 'story' compared to 'news' or the just an announcement of results. The pressure upon everyone is enormous in this world of over-flooding information, but also in a world where each politician has but few minutes, hence the need to be precise and to the point. It is not debate but a kind of reflection on how to score points in an overarching and complex system. Parliament is transformed into a communication and information system with various and different criteria to evaluate the effectiveness of a politician.

- For anyone entering this system, there is a need to understand all codes in communication and how political movements head towards clarification or not of certain key issues that shall be decided upon by vote. Therefore, how to unlock Parliament in all of this, in order to provide access to information as part of the linkage between ‘democracy and citizenship’, that depends upon transparency and a democratic process that allows continual questioning of what is going on.

Media shortcomings

Negrine refers to following 'Media shortcomings':


Parliament – changes and shortcomings

Other information sources about Parliament

Parliament Press service
Internet Communication
Political Groups

In the case of the GREENS a further going evaluation is needed and cannot be handled by this study. Nevertheless it appears that after having entered rather naively and inconsequently not only institutions meant to control power, but governance itself, the GREENS have not only lost their original identity, but due to their communication incompetence they have become in the process of adaptation to the needs of the institutions a faceless group of political technocrats. They no longer steer nor never contemplated the need to shape the cultural adaptation process to the Information Society. As a result the neglect of a conscious media orientation undermines their political work of substance at the basis. This has lead to the loss of many linkages by which reality could be known in different, that is not conform ways to how otherwise everyone assumes they must act in order to stay in power.

By reducing the media to the quest of staying in the limelight, the media reflection has become the only indicator and as such a negative one, robbing thereby many valid points made by the GREENS of any political substance.

Besides disinformation replacing proper information, such political adaptation reproduces itself in attitudes trying to split the moral attitude off from the substantial question as if that is possible. Nevertheless it is attempted in order to manage the identity crisis. However, by trying to just keep face while not realizing that politics is not about moralizing, the GREENS appear as if searching frantically only for the opportunity to punish all those who are against their opinion.

Many political groups and therefore not only the GREENS have yet to realize that politics is about entering a self-critical dialog, in order to find out how can reality be dealt with in human terms. When SPD candidate Schroeder campaigned in Germany, he made the significant statement that he has learned that not always the concept, but reality is in the right. This reverses the philosophical premise of Hegel who stated if reality does not correspond or give in to the concept, ‘too bad for reality’. It means politics is still about stepping in-between power and the persons or groups about to be victimized by the abuse of categories in terms of citizenship, hence belonging and thereby having the right to speak. If it becomes a system of perpetuating prejudices, as it appears to be the case quite often by the GREENS, they will but shut out the critical elements and reduce themselves to an internal network without any means of legitimizing their work in terms of those who had voted for them in order to increase, not reduce and limit the political participation of everyone.

In other words, politics requires a critical process of hearing different opinions while seeking supportive measures, so that things can be judged practically not on the basis of merely ‘fast food’ like information flows, but by means of substantial arguments. How to bring about these important contributions to a political process, that requires in turn an understanding what is silenced when adapting to the institutional pressure to perform by means of very traditional methods of mediation, including checks and balances all determined finally by simply making it easy for everyone to know what is possible.

In cases of doubt, the GREENS pursue an organizational strategy of oversimplification, for it is always the elected representatives of have the right over everybody else. In the end, it leaves the MEPs being alone with their audience being created by willing followers because hired to be their slaves as assistants while the advisors who supposed to mediate between the structure of the institution and the political direction of the group as a whole do not dare to speak out. That makes the orientation towards reality weaker and weaker while desperations of all kinds are manifested in all sorts of wild statements of which the media hardly takes notice unless needed to enliven sometimes their own reporting about the parliamentary deliberation process.

The loss of political orientation towards reality means nothing but disaster for any political group. To get out of this dilemma, there is required a re-alignment with a movement that can remind constantly politicians of their place in these institutions, namely as representatives of authentic voices in need of being listened to.


There are many NGO’s attempting to cover develops in Parliament, in particular in debates that lead up to a redefinition of governance in Europe. This concept is linked to both Prodi’s intention to have for the basic rights of a potential European constitution first of all a debate with the NGO’s prior to taking up this matter at a higher and more formal level within a convenant. Whether or not NGO’s are really a valid alternative source of information, that remains to be seen. As long as they struggle for financial support, then they depend too much upon the very political authorities they wish to criticize. As such they can become a network within a network no longer sure how well all members are being informed. This is because the logic of networking, once reduced to feeding a WEB-page, cannot ascertain the validity of the network existing in the name of its members. The latter tend to become voiceless or remove themselves from the process of deliberation due to failing to see that their contributions, actions and ideas would make any significant difference.

Coverage by various departments within the entire set-up of Council, Commission and Parliament

Various organizations exist that try to provide special services, most of which are paid for by the European Commission and in the final end very doubtful as to what kind of content they can deliver.

VIVENDI is perhaps the best service but very expensive and limited to special topics selected on the basis of their specific clients, namely large companies with specific interests in what parliament is doing on issues of their interest.

This information source remains limited to a specific audience because it does not contain any comments or additional frameworks by which it would be easier to interpret the relevance of the documentary kind of information provided.

Besides specific agencies, there are European Networks that inform partially about what is going on in Parliament (example: NEWSLETTER of REINVENT about reports being discussed by the Committee on Culture, Education, Youth, Media and Sport with regards to education and culture being transformed into an affirmation of the technological component in the Knowledge Economy and hence subsequent educational measures needed to make Europe become competitive).

Press services by the Political Groups:

There are ongoing reflections on how to improve these services but basically political statements that catch the interest of the press in general are linked to key issues and what position the groups are taking on these political matters. Usually the language these statements are clothed in are completely beyond any practical and political understanding. Instead of transparency the opposite effect is being created, namely that the information demonstrates irrelevance of public opinion and of seeking any real debate on these issues.

Press people try to instruct the political groups in terms of what they need to cover events taking place in the European Parliament, but under a major restriction, namely that many journalists hardly consult the WEB site of the Political groups nor are they doing their work in dependency upon Internet. Usually these communication tools are only then used if background information is needed, that is reference material. That reflects itself that most news coverages are on spot revelations in response to what editors think the public shall respond to if issues of irritation are touched upon, e.g. corruption of the bureaucrats in Brussels.

Less information is more information?

The crux of the problem: how to see the relevance of debates and which positions politicians take up when deciding on agendas that determine the work of Committees. Here a lot depends upon many forms of interactions, informations and pending decisions. Politicians interact with not only Committees to which they are assigned, but also with advisors and their own political groups. In a society trained to be interested only in concrete outcomes – e.g. “what matters only is the amount of money made available” – there is little interest in the process, including learning out of different debates to bring something forward.

Therefore, a media coverage attempting to show how decisions have been arrived, that appears to many both confusing and irrelevant. Since most active persons are pressed by time and face many other problems, the moment they do not know the concrete outcome, they think everything else is of no relevance to them.

There is a lower cutting edge called impatience for the democratic process. It leaves little space to explore alternative options, never mind other opinions that may wish to uphold another kind of life. Usually these other models had been identified with ideological tendencies supporting only an overthrow of Capitalism.

For example, there was Nader’s campaign in the USA presidential election 2000 against Corporate Capitalism. Closer analysis of the implications involved here can show that an opposition articulates as a grass root movement the wish to overcome the overall dominance of the leading model. Its consensus is participation, the political method a ‘bottom up approach’ to be finally successful despite all the other big players. Somehow the rhetorical question can turn serious by posing ‘but what chances do I have in this system?’

So the press coverage is really like a monitoring system, in order to know if the people can still have confidence in the system to resolve major questions of their lives? Do politicians instill confidence? What are the failures and success stories here when combined with media coverage?

Information policy and decision making processes: a possible questionnaire and imagined answers

- how objective are decisions made within Parliament?

  1. voting pattern of MEPs is often individualistic in an odd sense
  2. alignment with their political orientations open to many interpretations and
  3. not easy to convey why the MEPs voted in one and not in another way


Generally, the European Parliament prefers to be an avant garde in moral terms while quite traditional in keeping European affairs separate from local, regional and national issues. All that and much more makes it important to review again the structure of the European Parliament allowing MEPs like LePen be in the same space as Daniel Cohn-Bendit with both emerging as public figures of some controversy, but unsure in their authorities to speak for anyone else but themselves even though the former is linked to the extreme French Right while the latter is linked to the French Greens, a subgroup at European level and not necessarily in agreement with the other Greens from the other Member States due to a different concept of state and political culture influencing their argumentations and voting pattern.


nostalgia – things are no longer ‘what it used to be’, and here one has to include the imagination of politicians who grew up in society with the wish to become truly great men and then found themselves nearly at the periphery of importance once they entered true decision making processes

Negrine points out that there is also the other version, namely that “parliaments have significantly declined in importance as key locations, and sources, of political news and events”. This is precisely the case because the system does not give recognition to what others have to say. To state it a bit differently, the true voices are not heard, but only those that can make themselves be heard. Hence media coverage underlines again the logic of the system, but who survives in it and can manifest some opinion as being more dominant than others. (see: "Parliaments and the Media - A changing relationship?" by Ralph Negrine (email: rxn@le.ac.uk) in European Journal of Communication, London 1999, Vol. 14(3): 325 – 352)

There is a need for a new design for delivering information about ongoing processes in the European Parliament to the European citizens. At the same time, without real participation many people will not be able to comprehend the complex issues involved when it comes to relate to the work done by the Parliamentary Committees. The tendency towards neutralized, sheer technical reports does not help to generate much public interest.

Hatto Fischer

Brussels 2000

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