Tag Archives: BBC

#Polis11

I went to a really interesting conference on Friday, organised by the POLIS research centre at the London School of Economics and entitled “The POLIS Journalism Conference 2011: Media and Power “.

It started with a keynote by Helen Boaden, head of news at the BBC, in which she talked a lot about impartiality, and the BBC complaints procedure. I then followed a fascinating session on “Political journalism – is it working?” with Carolyn Quinn of the BBC PM programme and those involved in the Number 10 media set-up in the past, Lance Price and Simon Lewis. I then attended the least impressive session of the day on “An Informed Society?”, finishing with “Has the press lost its power?” which got us right back on track.

I’m not going to report on all the sessions – if you want to see what I thought at the time, I was tweeting a lot, and there are many other interesting tweets to be found on the #polis11 hashtag. But I thought it might be helpful to set out the main insights I got from the conference.

Lance Price, former Director of Communications for the Labour Party, was very frank about the relationship between political editors at major British papers and the Labour Party communication machine – to the extent that Alastair Campbell “wrote” headlines and opening paragraphs. Price spoke of the “complicity” between the spokespeople and the journalists. Simon Lewis, former Director of Communications at Number 10, under Gordon Brown, spoke very forcefully in favour of opening up the parliamentary press lobby system, perhaps through televising the briefings. The experience related by both men contrasts so sharply with my experience working for the Commission, in the two different milieux: Brussels and London. Even in Brussels there is never that level of intertwining. Working out why that is could be my master’s thesis, I reckon, but one possible explanation that could be worth digging into is that power is so much more diffuse through the EU machinery. Talking to the Commission gives just one aspect – there’s also MEPs and Member States to consider, whereas in the UK, with a whipped House of Commons, the Government of the day has much more control over the agenda and much more individual power.

The other very enjoyable and thought-provoking session was on “Has the press lost its power?”. Well chaired by Paul Waugh of politicshome, it started out with the provocative assertion that the appointment of Craig Oliver – ex-BBC – to the Director of Communications job for Cameron showed that the newspapers had lost their grip. I think maybe what the debate lacked was clarity about whoever this power was being wielded over. In simple terms, I think the dailies are less influential on the general public than they were even a generation ago, but they still hold sway over what you could call the Westminster Village, the City and the Brussels Bubble. In terms of general impact, a policy referenced on EastEnders or the Archers is going to be bigger than something on the front page of the FT, but that’s not always the way it’s seen.

Anyway, many thanks to the POLIS team and all their speakers for what was an informative and enjoyable day.

Coming week – 7 to 13 February

It’s a busy one, with several Commissioners in town

Monday 7 February

Commissioner Neelie Kroes (Digital Agenda) is in London at the Business for New Europe seminar “Building a Digitial Single Market”

Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn (Research, Innovation and Science) is in London, meeting the UK Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts, Government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir John Beddington and making a speech at the Royal Society

Foreign and Commonwealth Office launches a new website highlighting the opportunities for careers in the EU

Tuesday 8 February

Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski (Financial Programming and Budget) visit London and addresses the House of Lords European Select Committee

Commissioner John Dalli (Health and Consumer Policy) meets President of Diageo Europe Andrew Morgan in Brussels

Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn (Research, Innovation and Science) meets Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning Michael Russell in Brussels

Commissioner Maria Damanaki (Maritime Affairs and Fisheries) and Commissioner Connie Hedegaard (Climate Action) meet the Scottish Minister for Environment and Climate Change Rosetta Cunningham in Brussels.

Wednesday 9 February

HRH the Prince of Wales attends the International Sustainability Roundtable in Brussels, hosted by Commission Presidency José-Manuel Barroso

BBC Director General Mark Thompson meets Commissioner Androulla Vassilliou (Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth) in Brussels. Also meets Commissioner Michel Barnier (Internal Market and Services) on 10 February

Opening of Mimicry, an exhibition of 3D fashion photographs from Slovenia at Europe House, Smith Square

Thursday 10 February

Commissioner Gunther Oettinger (Energy) visits London, where he meets the Minister for Europe David Lidington, Minister for Energy and Climate Change Charles Hendy and makes a speech at the European Centre for Energy and Resource Security of King’s College London

Friday 11 February

Commissioner László Andor (Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion) is in London, speaking at the conference “What future for Europe? What role should the UK play?”

Commissioner Michel Barnier (Internal Market and Services) meets the Chairman of the UK Financial Services authority Lord Adair Turner in Brussels.

Think

A whole load of bloggers are in Brussels today for the launch of Think about It, a blogging competition linked to this year’s European elections. There are a few Brits at the launch, some of them well-known blogs on EU subjects, such as Jon Worth, others up-and-coming. They’ll all go live on the site on 1 February, apparently. It’s also been launch day of bloggingportal.eu, which is an aggregator for EU-related blogs (and given the overlap between its creators and the Think About It project, I suppose that’s somewhere to look for them befoe 1 Feb). I should be clear that this is a project by individuals, nothing official from the EU, but it’s a great idea, and a first stop for anyone interested in seeing what EU issues are being talked about. There’s also a twitter feed going on from the conference, if you’re keen for a blow-by-blow account.

I’ve just got into Twitter and it is pretty addictive, though I’m not as crazy about it as Stephen Fry, who seems to send a tweet every two minutes!

I, like many others, have been perturbed by the decision of Sky and the BBC not to broadcast the appeal for Gaza. Never mind the rights and wrongs of the situation, people need help and it threatens the neutrality of the humanitarian space to bring the political in, no matter how well intentioned. This is from the EU’s consensus on humanitarian aid, and while not the most wonderfully drafted piece of prose, I think it shows why so many people are concerned:

Humanitarian actors today face a number of major challenges. There has been an increasing tendency for International Law, including International Humanitarian Law, Human Rights Law and Refugee Law, to be ignored or blatantly violated. The ‘humanitarian space’ that is needed to ensure access to vulnerable populations and the safety and security of humanitarian workers must be preserved as essential preconditions for the delivery of humanitarian aid, and for the European Union (EU) and its partners in the humanitarian field to be able to get assistance including protection to crisis-hit people, based on respect for the principles of neutrality, impartiality, humanity and independence of humanitarian action, enshrined in International Law, in particular International Humanitarian Law.

These are crazy crazy crazy crazy nights

Sorry it’s been so long, but the last few days have been a bit mad. On Thursday and Friday I was up in the North-East, representing the European Commission at an event for local authorities, universities and businesses in that region, to highlight possible sources of European funding and where to fgo for assistance and advice on policy areas of interest to them. I also took the opportunity to meet some of the regional press – it’s always good to make human contact with someone, and the regional press tend to have a strong interest in some issues that don’t make it into the national dailies, such as farming or some industrial issues, as well as the obvious regional funding aspects. I was at my friend Clare’s engagement party on Friday night, which was a lovely opportunity to catch up with some people I haven’t seen since my landlords left. On Sunday my friend Kathryn came round for lunch with her little boy Sam, who is a little sweetheart. That evening I containued my advantage-taking of London’s cultural scene by going to the Electric Proms (not the Oasis gig, but rather the Introducing… night featuring new bands. Headliners were the really-rather-good Pete and the Pirates.)

Monday started with a meeting at the London Development Agency, to plan an event in early December with the Regional Policy Commissioner. If Kissinger joked that he didn’t know who to call in Europe, he would enjoy talking to London people… I think three or 4 acronyms were chucked at us during the meeting!

Tuesday was CRAZY! Meglena Kuneva, the Consumer Affairs Commissioner was in London and we had set up visits to the Watchdog and You and Yours stdios. I had to meet her and her team at St. Pancras at 9.38. I left Balham at 8.30 and at 9-ish was sat at London Bridge. For quite a while. Just as I began to panic, the voice came over the intercom “Northern Line suspended, please seek alternative routes”. Oh and by the way the Victoria line was stuffed as well. (This was after taking 90 minutes to get to Camden from Balham on Sunday. I am so over the Northern Line).  So I went haring up the escalators, out onto Borough High Street, and jumped into a cab, which took 10 minutes to get from London Bridge to Bank! By this time I was getting seriously panicky about whether I was going to make the meeting at all. Luckily the cabbie tok pity on a fellow South-Londoner and hot-footed it up to Kings Cross, making it with 3 minutes to spare! then it was into the car and off to the BBC’s media centre. We had a really interesting hour or so with the Watchdog team in their shiny new studio and got a real insight into the work they do and how they organise themselves. then back in the car to Broadcasting House to visit the You and Yours Team. The Commissioner was interviewed for the programme, and then we headed over to the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, where she met the Minister. I then had to shake tail up to Emirates Stadium for a meeting of the Languages steering group, linked to the Double Club, a meeting I was over an hour late for, which I hate so much. we were in a box overlooking the pitch though, which was very cool! After that meeting, I went to meet Kate in their press office to talk about the Brussels visit, which is next week. I then got a call from the office asking if I could do an interview on Radio 5Live’s Richard Bacon programme, which would mean going into their studio at…wait for it…11.45 at night! I said I’d do it, because it was on a campaign that Sainsbury’s are doing to get us to drop rules on fruit and veg marketing standards which we’ve arelady said we’re going to do. So at half ten I headed over to the BBC, sat around for a while and then did the piece which lasted all of about 2 minutes! Then home again to bed. Crazy night, indeed.

So today has been my first proper day in the office for a week. I spent it sorting through e-mails and just getting organised – things really pile up when you’re out for so long. We had our weekly planning meeting today as welll, which is always good for getting our heads straight about what’s coming up. Off this evening to meet this year’s recipients of the One World Media Fellowships – looking forward to talking to the Fijian, in particular, as my parents lived there and I visited several times.

Headless chicken

It’s been a bit of a bonko day today, with me running around like the proverbial headless chicken. Tuesday is planning day, when we have our regular team meeting, so I spent the morning trying to work out what would be happening in the next week or so, which Commissioners are coming to town and what the good stories are, or the ones we need to be ready for if people are negative. I had lunch with a BBC journalist that I had met on Saturday night at the French reception at the V&A. I actually first met her years ago when she did a piece on the Commissioner I was working for at the time, so it was nice to reconnect with her. We just talked about some of the big topics in the European sphere at the moment – the treaty of course, but others like energy, biofuels, GM. Nothing concrete is going to come out of it at this stage, but it’s all part of the job – keeping the fires smouldering so that when something becomes a hot topic, the knowledge is there (if that’s not too mixed a metaphor!). We also had a meeting with the Foreign Office communication team and the British Council about an idea for the future – a mock EU Council. It has been done for a few years in Northern Ireland and we’re looking at doing it more widely. I think it should be fun – takes me back to the horsemeat quota exercise during my civil service induction training, when we all had to take the role of certain Member States trying to finalise the allocation of horsemeat quotas for a particular year! Add to all of this trying to write an article on tomorrow’s proposal for a “Small Business Act” and fierce hayfever, and you can see a) why I have been decapitated poultry and b) quite how varied this job is!

Yesterday was differently fun – during the afternoon we got a request for Commissioner Wallstrom, who was here to attend a Committee at the House, to do the lead interview on Channel 4 news. She had been at a demonstration about the terrible situation in Zimbabwe that morning and so C4 wanted to have her on. Great stuff! It meant liaising with Channel 4 about times, getting the low-down on the latest situation from Brussels, briefing her, taking her to the interview, which had to be done by the tube because of difficulties getting a signal round the office and then getting her back more or less in time for the interview she had agreed to do earlier. Anyway, it all worked out in the end, and it was quite fun. I’ve had quite a bit to do with Mrs Wallstrom over the years – she covered for Anna Diamantopoulou as Employment Commissioner when I was Spoke while Anna was doing the Greek elections – and it’s always a pleasure. And the interview came out pretty well when it was shown later that evening.

Anyway, tonight will be nice, because I’m heading down to South Croydon to have dinner with Alexia and Alan, friends from Brussels from way back. It’s their daughter’s second birthday, so I hope I will get away in time to see the kids before they go to bed. Better try to get a wee pressie as well.

Doing something for consumers

We’ve created a bit of a buzz today with the visit of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Magdalena Kuneva – the FT picked up some of a speech that she’s giving today, where she says she wants to stop on-line retailers being able to limit sales to one country. So if I want to buy an computer on-line, I should be able to buy it from the German site of the maker if that’s cheaper, rather than being automatically directed to the UK site and only allowed to buy from there. There was just a question in the press-room about it, we have a good load of consumer journalists coming to talk about it over lunch and BBC Five Live have just asked for an interview. There are a few really good lessons to draw. Firstly, an interesting speech will have more impact if you let the press have at least some of it before it’s given. Secondly, the EU is doing a lot for consumer rights and has done a lot in the past, such as legislating against unfair commercial practices. Thirdly, the UK press is interested in European stories where they see the impact it will have on people’s lives. My job is to make the most of those opportunities when they come up, and maybe it will help to balance some of the very negative messages that are out there.