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Gary Herman

Published: 1 July 2011

Region: EU

A few weeks ago, the European Policy Centre in Brussels held one of its regular ‘Policy Dialogue’ meetings where experts in fields that interest the EPC gather together to discuss a current thorny topic. This time the topic was ‘Public perceptions about minorities and immigrants: the role of the media’, and the experts included presenters Oliver Money-Kyrle, Assistant General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Raymond Dassi, a journalist and member of the Italian Intercultural Journalists Association (ANSI), and Alexandra Moe, the Director of New America Media (NAM). An interesting group of people, I thought, and wondered what could have brought them together.

The EPC describes itself as “an independent think tank at the cutting edge of EU affairs”.  It actually looks a bit like the European Commission in exile with more former EU Commissioners and Members of the European Parliament on its various governing bodies – an Advisory Council, a Governing Board and, at the top, a General Assembly – than you can, in the old English expression, shake a stick at. As a matter of fact, the great and the good of Europe all seem to end up sooner or later working with or for the EPC.

I scrolled down the lists on their website and found Peter Sutherland, Chairman of Goldman Sachs International and, among many other things, a former EU Commissioner, Hans Blix, former Swedish politician and UN weapons inspector, Meglena Kuneva, a former EU Commissioner, John Monks who heads the European Trade Union Confederation, Monika Wulf-Mathies, a former EU Commissioner and a veritable full-house of industrialists, bankers, academics, politicians and diplomats. You might think the EPC is less of a think tank than a lobby, and not so much independent as differently dependent.

But on the old principle of following the money, I found that the big funders were even more interesting.

The EPC obtains funds from a variety of sources, but its membership list is really fascinating. Corporate Gold members pay €10,000 a year each and include familiar names such as ABB, BP, Daimler, Deutsche Telekom, Ernst & Young, Exxon Mobil, GlaxoSmithKline, IKEA, Intel, Kraft Foods, Nestlé, Nokia, Phillips, Swiss Re, Total, Toyota, UPS and Vodafone. No-one tells you how much the Corporate Platinum members pay, but they’re an impressive bunch – BT, Johnson & Johnson, Manpower, Mars and Microsoft.

You don’t have to look far to see that the EPC is pretty much of a club for American and Western Europe big business. Diplomatic missions apart, there are hardly any members from Asia, the Middle East, Africa or Latin America. Even the NGOs are mostly organisations encouraging better business links between Europe and other parts of the world. And, intriguingly, with the single exception of the German TV giant, RTL, there seem to be no media companies.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against businesses and other organisations involving themselves in policy discussions relating to the European Union. As the EPC itself says, stakeholder consultation is an important part of EU policy-making. And I’m heartened by the fact that one of the EPC’s “flagship programmes” (the phrase is theirs) covers European migration and diversity. It is important that power-brokers like the EPC tackle the widely acknowledged problem of the media’s responsibility for shaping public opinion about minorities and migrants.

Yet the EPC may not be the best organisation to concern itself with such matters.

Look at the people who run it. Very nearly every individual advising, governing or administering the EPC is white; there are precious few female faces to be seen (and only one at the top of the organisation); and Muslims are pretty thin on the ground (there don’t seem to be any).

So how can this organisation even begin to address issues relating to the media and diversity with such minimal exposure to the media industry and an attitude towards diversity which seems to barely affect its own practice?

The answer, of course, is that it can't – but, like so much that passes for ‘debate about the issues’ in the higher reaches of power, it is important to create the appearance of consultation and concern.

Which is where the EPC's guest speakers come in.

Each in their own way represents an alternative voice in the discussion on the media and minorities. Oliver Money-Kyrle, the trade unionist based in Brussels, sees the problem as a result of the worsening conditions of employment for journalists who are forced by pressure of work and job insecurity to become mouthpieces for popular prejudice. Raymon Dassi, a journalist from an ethnic minority background in Italy, argues that the political response to immigration has created hostility which migrants have been unable to address because of the lack of organisations such as ANSI to support informed and enlightened journalism. Alexandra Moe, whose organisation works to promote ethnic media in the US, sees the answer in providing a strong enough voice for minorities with which they can gain the attention of the political establishment.

For the EPC, these all sound like plausible narratives which can be fed into the policy debates of the European Union. But the problem is actually bigger than the stories suggest. It is deeply embedded in the powerful institutions of our society – institutions like the EPC itself – and nothing will happen until these organisations look to themselves, see the fault within, and resolve to change.

Gary Herman for the Media Diversity Institute

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