Saturday, June 09, 2007

Response to Enrico

It appears that my post about the way in which the media/lobbying nexus blurs the lines on the information that a citizen receives from the EU bubble has caused some debate over at Margot’s blog.

To his credit Enrico has had the decency to respond to my earlier post in the comments. Below I try to answer his points, (Long post warning)

Dear Elaib (???),

It’s a long story, but no that isn’t my real name,

I am really sorry that you think that I am fraud although you say that I was a
nice enough chap…

I am happy to repeat that you are a decent chap, however you represent in your professional life something that I regard as fraud. I do not suggest that you are alone in this. Indeed the problem of journalists moonlighting as consultants or lobbyists or vice versa is a huge problem within Brussels press corps. Your misfortune is that you were honest about it in the article, and thus became an example to illustrate a general malaise.

I am afraid there is a miss understanding from your side! The article was just a
try to describe Brussels in a not too serious and boring way…I did my best to
look funny!

Trust me I didn’t think that everything that you said was deadly serious, it was of course a light hearted piece. Frankly in that magazine it could hardly be anything else.

I can tell you that I am extremely honest and ethical.

This is a difficult one. I am certain that you believe yourself to be both of those things. Indeed mutual friends and acquaintances have confirmed it. But I still believe that in your professional life you are indeed dishonest. However it is, to coin a phrase institutional dishonesty, not personal.

The organization that I represent (unfortunately, I am not the director of the
Brussels office) is not the typical lobby, because our members are politicians,
we do not represent any industries or other unethical stuff, but just elected
people from peripheral regions… our topics are based on environment, energy,
regional development, maritime safety…and moreover it is an independent
organization which does not receive any money from the EU.

I am sorry if I promoted you to Director, Director of Communications would be a more accurate description. That is however a side issue.
Lets get this straight, the CPMR is a lobby group. Yes there are all sorts of lobby groups in Brussels. The article states that there are, “more than 1,000 organisations representing business or companies, 500 consultancies and law firms, around 750 NGO’s some 1,500 journalists as well as some 3,000 interest groups”.
I guess your organisation would count as the last. It doesn’t matter. It is in Brussels to influence the debate to the benefit of its members. No problem with that, it would be mad not to. (Your comment “industries or other unethical stuff” is quite revealing – industry is unethical, whilst working for public institutions is ethical. Where do you think they get there money from? They get it from taxing those unethical industries, which provide employment and so on.) None of this matters, it is still a lobby group.
As for receiving no money from Europe. Ok your website makes it clear that,
The Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions is independent of EU institutions”. However the Organisational Charter of the CPMR, a document I linked to, states,
Supplementary budgets, covering expenses over and above the general resources of the Conference. The supplementary budgets are financed, either from supplementary dues fixed by the regions concerned (additional costs brought about by the operation of the Commissions or by specific actions in regard to a group of regions) or by research or assignment contracts concluded by the CPMR (with the EC for example)”. My bold.

If that comment is in your charter than it is a reasonable assumption that there are financial links between yourselves and the institutions. I am happy to accept that the CPMR does not receive central funding direct from the EU, but put it this way, it is funded by the members, who are regional authorities, who are in the main recipients of European Regional (and other) development budgets. The money comes from the same place in the end, the taxpayer. So the taxpayer funds the organisations, which fund you organisation, which lobbies the Commission and other EU Institutions to ensure that more taxpayer money makes its way to the taxpayer funded organisations that are members of your organisations.
The bottom line is that it would not be in the interest of your employer if you were to ask difficult questions when you wear your other employer’s hat.

Since I am a journalist and I have a passion for this job, I also work
occasionally for a really small regional Italian TV.

So you are primarily a lobbyist. Not the impression given by the fact that your access to the European Institutions is granted by the yellow press badge I have seen you wear. Nor indeed the impression given by the article that started all this where there is no doubt that you are a journalist first,
Enrico Mayhofer is an Italian journalist who has been living in Brussels for nine years….and as a press officer”. Likewise the illustration accompanying the article is you conducting a TV interview, titled “Enrico at work”.

My work consists in diffusing European news connected to my region. I think I am
one of the few regional journalists in Brussels, contributing to better
communicating what the EU does for our territories. You must know that my
region, Puglia, is 2000km far from Brussels, and it is one of the poorest of the
EU and I can tell you that it is not one of the most informed regions of Europe…

As a journalist, or at least as an independent journalist I would suggest that your job is not to communicate “what the EU does for our territories”. That is the work of a propagandist. Your job is, as I understand it is to report on the activities of the European Union in a clear fashion, without let or favour. To do anything else is, I would suggest, selling your audience short.

Seriously, I cannot see any conflict of interest in these two activities!

That I think is the problem. You do not see that working for an organisation that lobbies for funding and legislative preference for your members, whilst posing as an authoritative source to your audience must be a conflict. Are they aware, for example when you interview a Commissioner on matters pertaining to the harbour and trade out of Taranto you may well have been involved in lobbying the self same Commissioner on behalf on small and medium sized trading ports. Is it possible that your interviewing of that Commissioner could be affected by the interests of what you describe as your main employer? Can you not see that this is a clear conflict of interests?

Which policymaker do you think I influence informing some citizens that live
really far about EU activities?

How about the MEPs that you boast about when you say, “Sometimes we’re ghostwriters”. If writingthe speeches for MEPs isn’t influencing them, please tell me what is.Why do you think that my articles are not independent? Independent from who or what?

I cannot pretend to watch your articles on AntennaSud, so I will freely admit that I cannot point an exact example. But knowing that your primary income is predicated upon giving a good impression of your lobby group, then it is reasonable to have doubts. It is possible that you are able to build Chinese walls between these aspects of your professional life. If so, I applaud you. But a reasonable observer would have questions about this.

During your "investigation", did not you ever think that if there was a real
conflict of interest I would have tried to hide it, instead of diffusing the
information so openly in an article???

This is an interesting point. I think the article was a piece of fun, 2o minutes with Martin Banks, between assignments. I doubt you prepared for it, or indeed thought about it a great deal. After al, who reads a magazine like “Together”. Only people deeply embedded in the EU bubble. Given that from my own, and others far more informed and experienced than me think that somewhere between ¼ and 1/3 of accredited EU journalists operate in a similar, opaque fashion I doubt it crossed your mind. After al it is so normal, so undisputed it is uncontroversial. The only reason that it is controversial at all of course is because somebody like me read it and made a fuss. Niaive maybe.

I do hope you will again think that I am a nice enough chap, and please stop me
next time we meet in the street because I do not know who you are!

Enrico, you are a decent bloke, not least for taking the trouble to respond to my anonymous assault. You personally are not my great beef. You, by agreeing to the interview merely made public one of the worst kept secrets of Brussels. Many of those who wear the yellow press badge are not journalists, or at least not in a traditional sense. How can the citizens of the European Union trust the information they receive if much of it comes from those whose critical faculties are compromised by employment within organisations that have an interest in keeping the institutions sweet? I believe that there should be strict rules governing accreditation of journalists to the European Institutions, rules that would preclude obvious conflicts of interest. That is not the case at present. It is the situation rather than the individual against which I rail.

Enrico Mayrhofer

PSJust a suggestion:during your next accourate "scoop" try to be more polite;
it is never elegant to offend or diffamate somebody you do not know...

Please excuse my anger, and thus perhaps my lack of grace. As I say I bear you no, personal ill will.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

funny, it should be the CPMR. I used to know a lot about them. I may have even gone to a conference of theirs in a previous life. Naturally, they are an interest group, what else?