Friday, May 26, 2006

"I Wouldn't Cover the EU if You Paid Me"

Don't read much about the European Parliament? They have a plan to fix that. The International Herald Tribune reports that to persuade Brussels-based journalists to make the trip to write about the Parliament when it goes to Strasbourg once a month, European taxpayers are ponying up travel and per diem money for journalists. This is in addition to the already generous facilities they get to use free of charge in Brussels. (Hat tip: No Pasaran!.) Here is the most revealing excerpt, although the whole thing is worth a read:

Although it is generally viewed as unethical for journalists to accept funding from institutions they cover, analysts said that in countries that rely on public broadcasters, the notion of using available public money to fund journalists may be viewed as acceptable.

Jaime Duch, spokesman for the Parliament, said the funding was intended to encourage EU journalists who would not otherwise cover the Parliament to make the monthly pilgrimage to Strasbourg. He said the Parliament under no circumstances interfered with what was reported. "If we didn't help them, they wouldn't come because they have other priorities," Duch said. "And if we stopped the funding, the journalists would protest."

One television journalist who regularly travels to Strasbourg using funding from the program said the daily stipend was sufficient to pay for a quality hotel and lunch at an upmarket brasserie, including a glass of Bordeaux wine and a dish of Strasbourg's celebrated sausages. The neo-classical Hotel Hannong in Strasbourg - popular with journalists - costs about €60 a night if booked on the Internet.

Another broadcaster, who like others interviewed for this article requested anonymity, said perks such as these had prompted journalists to refuse requests by editors to write stories on members' privileges and travel expenses at the Parliament, a topic of growing interest in Europe. "How can I expose such perks when I myself am benefiting from them?" the journalist asked.

Substitute “U.S. military” or “big drug companies” for “Parliament” and the, um, ethical conflicts become obvious. There are two lessons to take away from this episode: that the Parliament is paying the money, and that the journalists are taking it.


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