European Mythbusters: The EU in the British Media

Daniel Schade, head of PDU’s London office writes about eurosceptic reporting in the UK and mythbusters within the European Commission.

As a European inhabitant of the United Kingdom’s capital city London I have grown accustomed to the fact that many Britons tend to believe that the term Europe is synonymous with “the continent”, thus with something that is far away and disconnected from one’s own identity. This stance, if one likes it, or not, is obviously bollocks (one of those wonderful, very British terms), geographically and politically speaking.

UK tabloids

UK tabloids on the Dover-Calais ferry

This reasoning, however, frequently translates into anti-EU headlines that can regularly be seen on the cover pages of a number of tabloids on newsstands around the capital. These articles are mostly factually unfounded, heavily opinionated and badly written. Comparing such pieces of writing with journalistic facts will thus often times make the content instantly obsolete. 

While the extent and impact of eurosceptic reporting has been commented on in the past, there is another serious problem related to it: repeating such headlines like a mantra is starting to alter journalistic standards and expectations as to how to report on Europe overall.

The occurrence of this problem became clear to me recently when watching the first episode of a BBC documentary on the day-to-day management of keeping traffic moving on London’s overcrowded road network. At first sight, one would not assume that factually wrong reporting on Europe could sneak its way into such a documentary. But that is only until one sees the traffic chaos around an old road tunnel being blamed on the latest EU regulatory “diktat”.1

But back to the matter at hand. What this disconcerting example shows is that Eurosceptic language that one would expect from tabloids is now permeating into much more of the UK’s mainstream media.

Sunday roast

Sunday roast: Latest EU-regulation-victim?

The bad reporting on Europe appears to have got so far out of hand that the European Commission’s representation in the UK now operates its own blog that debunks many of the EU myths that can be found in the UK’s media. In one recent post the blog has to explain that contrary to the reporting of the Sunday Express, “the EU” is not planning to increase the price of Britain’s traditional Sunday roast.

Taking up this more active role in the UK’s debate on the EU, the Commission’s representation has made the choice to invest some of its precious resources into something that is not strictly part of its mandate. While this is a necessary response to the dire state of reporting on the EU, this of course leaves less time to concentrate on its actual task of liaising between the UK and Brussels.

It is also doubtful that the limited resources at its disposal will be able to change such a dominant rhetoric in important ways. For my own entertainment I will thus look forward to the next episode of the Commission’s mythbusting exercise. 

Image UK newspaper @ Ferry courtesy of PoloGoomba via Flickr, released under creative commons share alike.

Image Sunday Roast courtesy of Carol via Flickr, released under creative commons noncommercial share alike.

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  1. The point of this blog post is not about this specific occurrence of unfounded EU-bashing even in the mainstream media. I would nevertheless like to point out that EU regulations and directives (agreed upon by the EU’s member states and its elected parliament) have nothing to do with a city’s decisions to limit access to its road infrastructure for safety reasons, as was the case for the tunnel in question. Sadly enough such high safety standards set by the EU only apply to major road tunnels that are part of important transnational transportation axes, necessary for a good functioning of the single market.