Archive for January, 2010

Truly European journalism

Slave workers in Europe. Personal tragedies, evil masterminds, fear, violence  and threats to journalists. And European questions. All elements for a good story are there. Yet it took Adrian Mogos from Romania two years before he had finally published the story, he already had heard rumours about so long ago. The reason: There was no money for travelling, communication and the extra time that is necessary to do cross-border research.

Now at last the story is documented: Workers from Moldova are trafficked to the Czech Republic, where they work under slave like conditions, in this case picking asparagus. The organised crime structures behind appear to have caused  a trail of fear, which was what the team of journalists found whereever they looked.

Adrian Mogos decided to follow the story – across borders and against all obstacles – including the economic ones.  The research could finally be done in the course of 2009, because Mogos and his team got a research grant from the newly founded Journalismfund.eu, which aims at supporting exactly this type of cross-border research.

Mogos and his team are not the only journalists, who face such problems. Even editors who support investigative and research intensive stories are often not willing (or do not have the budget) to pay for trips abroad, translations, long-distance calls and so on. While European integration has been evolving over the past decades, media still very much stick to their national focus.

Focusing on a national target group is crucial because of our different media traditions. Our readers simply are used to have their stories presented in one way,  that’s what they like. So that’s what they should get.

Yet the research should not be limited to stay within the national frontiers. When stories cross borders – like traffickers and their victims do, and like the vegetables do, that have been picked by the slave workers – then journalists must cooperate with colleagues across borders or travel themselves. Oftentimes networking is necessary because of the knowledge of each national situation. But networking ultimately also gives added value to the editors and publishers. If a team of reporters gathers good evidence each in the field or country, they know best, each of the editors will get more information through the added research to present to the readers. If the story then is published in several countries  around the same time, we are heading towards truly European journalism.

Time to get inspired to develop it further! Journalismfund.eu tries to do that by making possible stories like the one about labour trafficking through research grants. The grants are distributed according to a set of criteria by an anonymous jury – in order to maintain full journalistic indepence, avoid interference and heighten credibility. The jury consists of highly estimated colleagues, whose identity will be disclosed after their term is over – and when there will be no more interest in trying to influence them one way or the other.

The funding so far has been granted by the freedom of speach foundation Fritt Ord in Norway and by the Media Programme of the Open Society Institute. The Network of European Foundations has kindly supported the idea. Journalismfund.eu is a project by the Belgian Pascal
Decroos Fond.

Read more about the slave workers as well as the journalists’ report on how it was done.

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Cross-questioning

An obvious question for the incoming commissioner of agriculture tomorrow is about who gets the EU farmsubsidies, and who uses them for what. In other words a question by the Budget Control Committe (last question page 3). Why?

In order to make a good plan for the future, we should have a good picture of the current situation. What looks so obvious still is a difficulty when it comes to the EU farmsubsidies. Tomorrow’s questioning of the incoming commissioner for agriculture, Mr.Dacian Ciolos, is the perfect place to ask, how he intends to do move this large part of EU policies towards a new policy without full transparency.

The necessary information will get out eventually. However if the Parliament, journalists, the general public have to waste time on getting out data, there simply will be less time for the relevant debate. Also previously the data got out eventually, se for example why and how the Farmsubsidy team did it here.

Mr. Ciolos will have to draft “proposals for the future of the common agricultural policy in the post-2013 programming period,” according to the letter by president Barroso and to “promote a more competitive EU agriculture in an open world trade environment.”

The drafts – according to Mr. Barroso – should be “based on a comprehensive ex post evaluation of the value added and functioning of the current policy and on the results of the 2008 Health Check.” Thus the wish of Barroso.

The first and important step on the way is to allow not only the Commission but also the Parliament and the European public to be able to make this analysis.

The Budget Control Committee asks, whether the Commission is ready to publish “a list of all beneficiaries of all forms of EU funding on a single, easily accessible and user-friendly database”. This questions should, of course, be asked with a special emphasis to one of those commissioners with the largest budget post under his responsibility.

And he should be asked this question eventhough the outgoing commission has introduced partial transparency on farmsubsidy payments. Unfortunatel  the published data are still very rough and thus of little use other than to ignite envy. How can the public – for example – get an impression of the effort for the environment via farmsubsidies, when only the name of the recipient and the amount received is public, but not the budget line, for which the money was granted? How can anyone get a decent preparation for the second task of Mr. Ciolos, namely preparing the EU agriculture for a competitive world trade environment, when we only know the EU support structure for exporting agricultural products for a few member states?

Granting transparency is not a problem. The technical means nowadays are all there, and the Commission holds all necessary data in one central database. Allow the European parliament and the European public to make enlightened decisions, when something as important as the future of the common agricultural policy is on the agenda.

The information must get out and usually will. But the easier the access to information is made, the more focus can be on a constructive debate.

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