Archive for the 'Media' Category

Oh no, not again…

13 June 2008

A few thoughts after the Irish ‘No’:

  • National politicians and national media still have a major communication problem concerning the EU. European politicians too, of course, but they cannot solve the problem. Only those who already have the voters’ ear can do that.
  • The irony of constitutional safeguards: Current legal constraints on the powers of governments prohibit the creation of legal structures that would offer better legal constraints on the informal powers that governments already have created for themselves.
  • The democratic paradox: The smallest of Member States can veto a Treaty change supported by all other Member States. Isn’t this the dictatorship of the minority?
  • If the issue was costs to tax payers or delivering concrete results, Irish voters would have voted ‘Yes’, massively.
  • Nor can it be that the EU undermines symbols of national identity, like (in Ireland’s case) non-alignment, prohibited abortion, and low corporate taxes, as Ireland has opt-outs on the first two and tax decisions require unanimity in the Council.
  • Perception, then, is everything.
  • Today is Friday the 13th.

Update: First reactions by AFOE, Jon Worth, Nosemonkey.

Radio Netherlands grabbing chance Danes ignored?

23 March 2008

When the Danish cartoon row began around the end of 2005, it took several months before the Danish government embarked on a counter propaganda offensive. It was not until February 2006 that Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen appeared on Al Arabiya in order to explain the position of his government to a worldwide Arab-speaking audience.

Although it was a good thing that he did this in the end (and initially no one, except for the Arab regimes that instigated the rows, could have foreseen that it would become such a big thing), I was rather critical at the time because Fogh Rasmussen did not take the opportunity to explain what free speech was really about:

What Fogh should have done instead of saying that free speech is important, was explain why it is important. Instead of appearing as a weak leader not worthy of much respect, by saying that as a Danish PM he is used to being criticised and that he accepts that, he would have come across as a good leader by explaining that the constant criticism actually helps him to do a better job. He could have said that because people in Denmark have been allowed to say what they think about their leaders for a long time, and can even get rid of them if the leaders don’t listen, Denmark is such a wealthy country with so little inequality and suffering. The hint would not have been missed on a region still predominantly ruled by dictators.

Today, the Netherlands is holding its breath for a similar row to erupt, this time about a Quran-critical film that has been made by a Dutch MP and which should come out before the end of this month. Over at A Fistful of Euros, Guy described how the issue is being hyped in Dutch media before the film is even published. Hype or not however, the Danish case shows how easy it is to turn the positive reputation of a country into one of evil anti-muslim crusaders (that is, if you are an Arab regime with a motive and complete control over what appears in your own media). So it is only right that, in an attempt to avoid the Danish mistakes, the Dutch government has been working for months through its embassies in the muslim world to at least try to get its own message across to government and media in the predominant muslim parts of the world.

As part of the pre-emptive strike, Radio Netherlands Worldwide, the world service of the Dutch public radio, has now produced its own documentary (and a website ‘about Fitna, the movie’) in which it tries to explain the Dutch position on the MP’s film and its relation to free speech:

Has it succeeded better than Anders Fogh Rasmussen in the Al Arabiya interview? Well, yes, a little. What is good in the RNW film, is that it underlines that even the Dutch government is bound to obey the law, just like any ordinary citizen. It is not government, but the majority of the population through its representatives which makes the law. This is an important point to make. What the film also seems to be doing better than the Danish PM, is to make clear the importance of free speech for an open public debate. Even though a large majority of the population does not agree with the MP’s film, they still accept it is published because they realise that if they would ban opinions like these, next time it is one of their own opinions that is banned from being published. The giving and taking of free speech becomes a little clearer, and even more so because of most of the people explaining this in the documentary are Dutch muslims.

If the RNW film turns out to be convincing enough for a critical audience remains to be seen. What I am still missing, for instance, is a clear(-er) explanation of the connection between free speech, the state of law and democracy on the one hand, and having a government that is not corrupt, does not torture its citizens and governs effectively on the other. But it is an attempt, and anyway, if people turn to the streets over this film in Saudi Arabia, Syria or Egypt, we know that this is because their governments wanted them to, not because they have watched some film on the internet.

** update 27 March 2008: ** The film was published today. What an anticlimax! I mean, it is still the modern equivalent of Der ewige Jude, but not a lot of Dutch flags are going to be burnt over this. And it is badly made at that…

** update 28 March 2008: ** More on A Fistful of Euros.

Lack of transparency is not the problem, lazy media are

11 March 2005

Nosemonkey has this post on lobbying in the EU institutions. But although I think I am as committed as he is to the principles of transparency and democracy, my analysis would take a slightly different angle.

First of all, I think lobbying is in essence a good thing and in fact essential for the quality of public decision-making. We expect our representatives in various parliaments and in our governments (including the European Commission) to consult widely with civil society before they take any decisions. How else could they do that than by talking to its representatives? (more…)

Someone must have missed the point here

21 February 2005

I could not resist mentioning this delightful little incident caused by an admittedly rather smug TV advert made by the Swedish (state) broadcasting service SVT. Quoting the BBC:

In it, SVT describes itself as a “free” TV channel, in contrast to Italy where Mr Berlusconi “controls 90% of the national TV channels”.

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Saving cod and red herrings

10 December 2004

EU-serf, an EU-sceptic blog, wrote on 8 December:

In a desperate effort to undo some of the damage wrought by the stupidity of the Common Fisheries Policy, a complete ban on fishing in some parts of the North Sea is being proposed.

Unfortunately he is right: the Common Fisheries Policy is such a disaster that drastic measures like these have now become a necessity. I also agree with what I think is the basic idea of his post, namely that our best chance of returning to sustainable fish stocks lies in combining the ownership of fishing rights with responsibility for the same stock: The Icelandic shrimper whose boat I once sailed on had no issue whatsoever sticking to his quotas, because he knew that if he caught too many shrimp in his fjord this year, there would be fewer next year.

However, I am not convinced of what seems to be the other basic idea of EU-serf’s post, namely that this combination of fishing rights with responsibility must be achieved by returning fisheries policy to the national level. Cod levels in the North Sea, for instance, have been depleted by the joint efforts of local fishermen from mainly the UK, not (yet) by evil Spanish trawlers using the EU rules on “common fishing waters” to empty “our” sea before moving on to the next one. And local cocklers in the north of the Netherlands have succeeded in doing great damage to the ecosystem in their own tidal sea (while, for the time being, maintaining cockle production levels), without the help of any foreigners.

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Greatest kook ever

16 November 2004

After the UK elected Winston Churchill and Germany elected Konrad Adenauer, the country of Erasmus, Spinoza, Rembrandt, Van Oldenbarneveldt and De Witt elected Pim Fortuyn as “The Greatest Dutchman Ever”.

Something is truly rotten in the state of the Netherlands…

Net curtain shields Bush site from nosy foreigners

28 October 2004

Non-American net surfers dying to visit the official George W Bush re-election website will be disappointed to hear this is no longer possible. Overseas visitors get a message saying they are “not authorized” to view the site’s contents. A spokesman of the Bush-Cheney campaign says this is for “security reasons”.
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