23 Haziran 2011 Perşembe

Press corps flee Brussels as EU power diminishes

Eurogroup president Jean-Claude Juncker walks past journalists as he arrives prior to a meeting on June 14 in Brussels. The EU’s passive stance has hit journalism, too.

Eurogroup president Jean-Claude Juncker walks past journalists as he arrives prior to a meeting on June 14 in Brussels. The EU’s passive stance has hit journalism, too.
Brussels, the heart of European diplomacy, is falling from grace in the eyes of the international press, as many publications see no harm in reducing or withdrawing staff there to cut costs.

Journalists at Your Service, or JYS, the main journalism organization based in Belgium’s capital, have observed that the number of foreign journalists in the city has declined by 25 percent in just one year.

Brussels hosts the headquarters of the European Commission and the European Parliament, whose activities attracted hundreds of journalists from around the globe until a few years ago.

Two interrelated reasons underlie the “escape from Brussels” - the diminishing role of the EU in international politics, as reflected in the recent Arab spring, and the debt crisis that continues to ravage the eurozone, forcing many European media companies to cut costs.

Reporters scrolling through the Commission and Parliament sharply decreased from approximately 1,200 to 900 in one year, Maria Laura Franciosi, head of the JYS, told the Hürriyet Daily News in a recent interview in Brussels.

“Most mainstream media organizations do not have foreign correspondents in Brussels anymore,” said Marc Gruger, the director of European Federation of Journalists, or EFJ, an organization representing 250,000 journalists across 30 countries. This new trend was first triggered by the global financial crisis and continued with the eurozone crisis, he told the Daily News in a phone interview. “Media institutions in Germany, France and the Netherlands have already cut the number of reporters in Brussels significantly,” Gruger said.

Keeping permanent reporters in Brussels bears a significant cost for media organizations. “Employers have to pay monthly nearly 4,000 euros per reporter, in addition to renting an apartment in central Brussels,” Gruger said.

A tax system that obliges companies based abroad to pay Belgium for their reporters does not help, either. This tax is around half of the 4,000 euros, Gruger said.

Still, he said he hoped the city would return to its good old days. “Despite mainstream organizations’ neglect of Brussels, I believe there will be more journalists coming from India, China and the Middle East,” he told the Daily News.

“Copy-paste journalism has paved the way” for press corps to leave the city, according to Demir Murat Seyrek, a managing partner of Brussels-based Global Communications. “Many foreign reporters rely on press releases from EU institutions, with not much added value in terms of journalism,” he told the Daily News.
TM News, a major Italian news agency, used to employ four journalists in Brussels. Today, it is only Lorenzo Consoli that represents the organization in Brussels.

According to Consoli, also a former president of the International Press Association, many editors think there is “no use in being in Brussels anymore.”

“The EU seems weak and slow in decision-making most of the time,” he said. Regarding the Libya crisis, Consoli said Brussels was “completely non-existent” except for humanitarian support.

“The journalists have given up [on Brussels] due to fruitless long discussions and meetings. The lack of leadership and hesitations … has resulted in a decline in interest toward the EU - not only among journalists, but for everyone,” Consoli said.

Jean Lemaitre, director of the Brussels-based Institut des Hautes Etudes des Communications Sociales, reminds that many reporters from Eastern Europe came to Brussels to cover what’s going on in the EU after 10 members were admitted in the union in 2004.

“People in those countries were full of hope after accession. Nowadays, after the economic crisis, a kind of disenchantment has replaced euphoria. This disenchantment was clearly visible when many Brussels-based journalists went back home,” the director said on his Social European Journalism Blog.

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