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How to communicate about the European elections?

Posted on: 25.10.2018

 

The question the 2018 edition of European Youth Media Days (EYMD) aimed at answering was ”how to communicate the European elections”.

There are three angles to the question. How do the European Parliament and media communicate about the elections? How does your vote in the European elections influence your life on a local level? What can be done to the problem with misinformation?

Here is a summary of what was discussed in Brussels about the seminar’s theme.

Important elections

Elections were the theme this year because, according to one of the project coordinators, Mariell Raisma, elections are not an ordinary time in journalism.

“It is a time when problems with disinformation and misinformation become even more topical and when staying impartial and true to the journalistic values is a bigger challenge than at other times. For a journalist, this means that they need to use advanced skills and knowledge during elections. Additionally, it is no doubt the most important topic because it will form the lines of power for the next term of the EP”, Raisma said in her opening speech.

Many EYMD speakers highlighted the severity of next year’s European elections. They are important because the parliament has big decisions to make about e.g. the climate change, immigration and data privacy issues. That’s why it matters, which political groups are making the decisions. The parliament also chooses the ”government”, Commission, which has the power to propose new legislation.

It will be the first election since Donald Trump was elected as the President of the United States, Brexit entered into force and the immigration crises started in 2015. This means that the ideas about the future of Europe and the EU are much different and vary much more compared to the 2014 campaigns. Now there are powers inside the EU institutions that want to undermine the future of the EU. There is a real possibility that the EU critical parties become one of the biggest groups in the parliament.

The European Parliament itself communicates about the elections via the huge This Time I’m Voting campaign. At the EYMD two campaign coordinators Anastasia Veneziano and Karim Hallal Peche told about why they joined the campaign and why the EU matters to them. There are thousands of others like Veneziano and Peche, who’re telling about the EU in their home countries. This way the EU aims to bring itself closer and more real to the people.

One campaign led by the EU institutions isn’t enough to attract especially young voters, of course, which brings the attention to the media. The goal for the 2018 EYMD was to find journalistic solutions and models about how to inform the public and especially young Europeans about the European elections.

How to report about the EU?

When it comes to journalism, the most important thing to remember is the language in which you report about the EU and the elections. The problem with the EU is often that the politicians and the institutions use the language of the EU bubble.

It is understandably difficult to care about the EU and the elections if you don’t fully understand what the EU does or does not do. If you have to be an EU expert to understand the messages the EU sends to people, then the union isn’t presenting itself as if it is there for all the Europeans. The Secretary-General of the European Parliament, Klaus Welle, emphasised this angle and said that the EU needs to make a 180 degree change in its communications so that it isn’t telling the people about the EU itself, but of the impact is has on people’s everyday lives.

The keynote speaker, international political trainer, Jamila Aanzi had a few simple advices for the participants.

  1. Don’t use words like spitzenkandidat – only a few people know what it means. Explain the EU in a way your family members can understand it. Don’t use the vocabulary of the EU bubble.
  2. Share stories, not policies.
  3. Document and share your own story.
  4. Keep it simple and short. Young people are not going to get excited and share a long written article.
  5. Aanzi thinks that for the next European elections short, edgy and attractive videos will be a very crucial part of the information process.

 

“As journalists we’re entitled to the truth but not entitled to the status quo”, said David Herszenhorn, chief Brussels correspondent of Politico.

Seminar outcomes: models about reporting about the EU

How the seminar participants took on the challenge?

There were media products for various mediums: from Instagram Stories to traditional print articles. There were catchy and fast-paced videos about an imagined situation where the EU wouldn’t exist anymore in the 2020s and a video quiz about the EU. In another video product MEPs voiced their concerns about the lack of youth participation. In the print articles the issues covered were about the things the EU is usually quite criticized of, like the use of money. Also, some groups made the voices of young people heard by asking why they are voting and what is good and bad in the EU.

The seminar products clearly aimed at making the format catchy and attractive with compressed information that made the audience think about what the EU is doing and is it a good thing for her/himself. As one of the print groups concluded: Distrust in the EU comes from lack of information. These projects contributed to increasing that knowledge and the participants had taken a note of Jamila Aanzi’s tips, since the language was very concrete.

Why the media should care about the elections?

The second question about the vote’s influence on your life is linked to the first. It is basically up to the media how well-informed Europeans are about the election and its importance at the local level. After all, there will be 27 national elections.

Like the Parliament’s Vice-President Sylvie Guillaume, (S&D, France) said, the media has a crucial role in making elections successful. Many Europeans miss the election just because they don’t know that there is a European election. In addition to this basic information, Jaume Duch Guillot, Director-General of the Directorate-General for Communication at the European Parliament said that the important question is, can we explain why people should vote.

The media’s job is not to persecute people to vote, but to inform that there is an election, what is at stake and how voting and not voting can affect your life.

In the journalistic information process an important thing is to combat fake news, wrong information and false information that has been spread on purpose and with an agenda. “As journalists we’re entitled to the truth but not entitled to the status quo”, said David Herszenhorn, chief Brussels correspondent of Politico. It applies to fake news and it applies to election time reporting.

Fake news, disinformation and misinformation are well-known problems for the European institutions too, and not a new phenomenon. The less people know about a topic, the easier it is to get fake news through. As Duch Guillot said, it is difficult to make fake news about football because people know a lot about football. But it is easy to spread fake news about the EU because there’s a lot of information gaps that can be filled with just about any information.

Text: Oona Lohilahti

Photos: Laya Ross, Jordi Ribàs and the European Parliament