This Information, Disinformation, No Information

Now, it is more important than ever that journalists are able to do their job freely and precisely, so as to counter disinformation and to ensure that our citizens have access to crucial information.”

Ursula 6aAnother worthy proclamation from EU Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen (31st March 2020) .

This is hypocrisy because the EU itself is adept at broadcasting disinformation, deceits and propaganda, as well as denying journalists, and hence its citizens, access to real information. EU leaders do not, in their practice, adhere to their boast (and expectation) that journalists should be “able to do their job freely and precisely”. As for “crucial information”, the EU decides what is crucial for its citizens and declines to publish much that others might consider crucial information [1].

The EUObserver article notes that during the corona-virus crisis: “The EU Commission has stuck to its midday press conferences, and arranged for questions to be asked remotely, but there are no possibilities for follow-up questions. The same goes for questioning top EU officials publicly”. This illustrates the gap between what she says and what she does.

And there’s more: “The International Press Association (API), representing journalists covering European institutions, has been pushing for more access and direct questioning of commission officials, but has so far been rejected.” This has made it more difficult for journalists to question officials and easier for bureaucrats and politicians to avoid the discomfort that pointed questions would give them. And it highlights the hypocrisy of the EU Commission and its president [2].

Several international press freedom organisations jointly wrote a letter…to the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe, a rights watchdog to help protect the free flow of information….They highlighted, pointing to Hungary, that governments’ swift moves to criminalise ‘promoting false information’ risks being used against journalists who are actually helping public understanding of the crisis and ensuring accountability.”

JailedRegardless of the concerns expressed by senior figures in the EU over the jailing of journalists and closing of news outlets, Fidesz, the governing party of Hungary, remains a member of the EPP, the largest political group in the European Parliament, although its so-called ‘democratic’ power-grab has attracted widespread criticism [3].

In a recent post we picked up a related issue—lobbying [4]. As early as 1965 Dutch newspapers reported how commercial pressure groups had lobbied in Brussels to influence officials working for the European Economic Community (EEC), the predecessor to the European Union. Journalists highlighted the variety of corporate interests represented by such groups: for example, the plumbing materials industry, the dry-cleaning sector, manufacturers of sewing machines and sparkling beverage producers; they also reported that corporate interests and agriculture lobby groups had easier access to EEC officials than less commercial organisations. Not much has changed since then.

All this points up that what the Commission President claims, falsely, is a value of the EU should indeed correspond to their practices. But it also shows how inconvenient such practices would be to an ideologically committed, and fixated, project.

Bending rulesIn another EUObserver article we have more examples of bending and breaking rules in the face of the pandemic. “Some lobbyists are “burning the phones” to EU officials in Brussels, as industry reacts to the pandemic shutdown….Activity is less intense than in national capitals, where the big bailout money is up for grabs.” [5]

EU institutions are overturning laws and policies as the crisis develops, creating opportunities for industry to lobby for favourable treatment. The EU has agreed €37bn in aid from its budget, but member states will decide on the beneficiaries, which is why lobbying is intense at all levels within the EU.

EU institutions are bending its own rules that govern the single market, in reaction to the crisis; relaxing them on state aid and fiscal discipline, for instance. It is also taking a fresh look at policies on medical standards, bank stress tests, 5G data networks, and CO2 emissions, among others. It appears that industries are trying to delay new medical standards, loosen CO2 emission standards, and speed up construction of controversial 5G networks during the pandemic. One result is that the Commission has approved requests to temporarily waive customs duties and VAT on imported medical devices and protective equipment, which will benefit manufacturers. Such decisions could make multi-billion euro impacts in favour of EU’s lobbying clients, which include names such as Bayer, Chevron, General Electric, Royal Dutch Shell and Uber, among others.

JournalistThe European Union has been amazingly successful at convincing many, including many journalists, that it has been successful. In order “do their job freely and precisely” journalists need unconstrained access to accurate and honest information; this the EU declines to provide. Propaganda, alternatively known as ‘public relations’, bedevils much that the EU puts out, notionally to inform but in practice to deceive, the public at large, directly or indirectly through popular journalism. A more insidious tactic is to avoid putting out any information at all. The creation of its massive legislative load offers us insights into both approaches to avoiding giving us accurate and honest information. On one hand they promote the democratic virtue of the European Parliament as the main legislative body of the EU, when it cannot initiate legislation, and on the other their secret practices avoid the inconvenience of having much, if not most, new legislation by-passing the Parliament [6].

[1] Expensives and Secrets & Obfuscations

[2] Freedom from Information

[3] https://euobserver.com/political/147975

[4] Lobbying, Corruption and EU Decision-Making

[5] https://euobserver.com/coronavirus/147972

[6] Law-making in Secret-2: Update


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