Update of the BlogActiv.eu platform in progress

Posted by Dominique Ostyn on 07/07/11

Dear Bloggers, Dear BlogActiv Readers,

We’re currently updating the BlogActiv.eu platform and you may still encounter some minor issues over the next 12-24 hours. We’re working very hard to sort out all the remaining points.

If you’re encoutering some strange issue with the Website lay-out, then please first try Ctrl-F5 for a refresh of your local cashed memory. If you want to signal any other issue with your blog or with some of the general features, don’t hesitate to send us an email on  dominique.ostyn at euractiv.com or simply leave a comment in the box below.

We’ll be enquiring about your reactions on the new BlogActiv in a separate blog post shortly.

Dominique

First BlogActiv Blogger’s Café Brussels, 13 July 2011

Posted by Dominique Ostyn on 06/07/11

Dear BlogActiv blogger,

BlogActiv.eu is rapidly approaching its 4th anniversary. A moment to look back and indeed ahead!
We would like to share a couple of recent developments with you, and would like to invite you to our first BlogActiv Bloggers Café. The event, aimed at the EU blogging community as well as some surprise guests, will consist of a small presentation and debate, followed by a celebratory toast on the successful future of BlogActiv.eu.
You are hereby cordially invited to our first BlogActiv Bloggers Café on Wednesday 13 July 2011.
  • When: The event will start at 12h30 and finish at 15h. We will provide drinks and light sandwiches.
  • Where: It will take place in the EurActiv Brussels’ Network office in the International Press Centre (1 Bd. Charlemagne, 1041 Brussels), just behind the Berlaymont building.
On the programme, we will have:
  1. BlogActiv.eu’s new look: Now yellow and more user-friendly! (starts at 13h)
    > Redesign and upgrade of the technical BlogActiv platform – Give us your opinion on the new BlogActiv logo here.
    > Further integration and increased visibility on EurActiv.com and its network partner websites
    > Future developments
  2. BlogActiv’s latest high-profile blog: Stakeholders’ Community Federating European Citizens’ Initiatives. We believe the ECI could rejuvenate EU debates in 2012, enrich the preparation of political platforms in 2013, and – let’s cross our fingers – support EU election turnout in 2014. (ends at 14h15)
  3. And, chiefly, informal networking!
How to register?
Simply send an email with your contact details to dominique@euractiv.com and we will confirm your registration shortly after that.
This event is by invitation only, but do let us know if you wish somebody else to be invited.
We look forward to welcoming you on Wednesday 13 July.
Best regards,
Dominique Ostyn, Senior Manager Communication & BlogActiv.eu
Daniel van Lerberghe, Social Media Director & Politech Founder
Christophe Leclercq, EurActiv Founder & BlogActiv initiator

Liveblog from EPP Summit

Posted by socialmedia on 24/03/11

Today, Blogactiv is covering the EPP summit at Meise castle. This liveblog is part of our ongoing EU Citizens and Media debate. It’s only the second time that bloggers (so-called “citizen journalists”) have been given access to an EPP summit. Time to debate a few of the practical and ethical issues that this sort of access throws up? Follow @Blogactiv on Twitter for live updates, and hashtag #EPP.

UPDATE:

To clarify: Joe Litobarski is writing today’s liveblog

PLEASE ADD YOUR COMMENTS HERE

17:19 – Wow. Okay, a lot of stuff has happened since the last update. The most interesting part of the summit was definitely the second part – after I went “backstage,” so to speak, and saw a bit behind the scenes. Unfortunately, wi-fi access power sockets for the laptop were not very easy to come across (and a lot of time was spent standing in corridors talking to people) – so the “live” part of this blog has suffered. I’m now switching to “analysis” and “debate” mode. I’ll be posting a full review of today’s events – talking about the ethics of what happened, the trend towards inviting bloggers to events like this, and what added value bloggers can provide (after the second half of today, I think there’s a great deal we can do).

14:00 – Really interesting couple of comments by Europasionaria (who keeps an EU blog and has been given access to EU Council events as an accredited blogger herself) about this liveblog experiment:

“I wouldn’t say you are ‘citizen bloggers’ in this situation. You are professionals of an organisation, a branch of a news organisation actually. That gives the EPP the certainty that you are not going to act weird. Providing access to independent citizen bloggers who do that as a voluntary activity is a whole other story.”

Then, when I argued that – personally – the distinction between covering an event as a citizen and covering it as a professional blogger feels very blurred, she made a good point:

“Well you are blogging indeed. But you are there as Blogactiv, blogging on the Blogactiv social media blog, and not on your personal blog. So in this situation, you are not a citizen blogger although in your leisure time you are. Does it make sense?

It’s complicated for bloggers to deal with their different hats. I think probably the future of the debate on bloggers’ accreditation will have to deal with this.”

The practical restrictions on what a blogger can do at a summit were covered brilliantly last year by Julien Frisch (who attended the same EPP summit I’m at right now). However, what we can perhaps do today is talk a bit about the ethics involved in something like this. As Europasionaria points out – “citizen bloggers” have to juggle many hats. Also: are we just playing “useful idiots” by gaining access to events like this and providing fairly uncritical coverage. It’s a very grey area. Any thoughts?

13:16 – Fascinating to watch the journalists and politicians interact. Some politicians will really work the press – going down the line and talking to as many journos as possible, really taking their time.

The press, for their part, are all very keen to get their own unique version of the same footage that everybody else will be running. Step-ladders and chairs everywhere, as photographers and cameramen scramble to get good shots. Every time a car pulls up, the chain-smoking journalists around me squint through the crowd and ask “who is it?”

We were given a list of names and faces so we could identify the politicians as they got out of their cars. It feels a bit like bird-watching. Fascinating to see it through the fresh eyes of a blogger.

Some VIPs are more VIP than others. Generally, the longer the convoy of limos, the more excited the press pack gets. Add a couple of police outriders and journalists start running around frantically. When Jean-Claude Juncker arrived, a loud “Shhhhh!” rippled through the pack as everybody struggled to poke their microphones in his face.

 

12:32 – European leaders are starting to arrive. A few of the “more obscure” ones so far. Nevertheless, there’s a sizeable press scrum – with photographers standing on chairs and jostling one another to get the best shots. It seems the “arrival shot” of a VIP is almost the most important part of the day. I’ve heard rumours that ministers arriving at EU Council events might be staying in a hotel within walking distance of the venue, but will actually go round the block, get into a limo and drive 20 metres round the corner just to achieve that dynamic “doorstep” shot.

12:30 – Photo of Meise castle – the venue for today’s EPP summit – with press starting to gather. A castle is an interesting choice of venue for leaders to meet in. Very feudal.

PLEASE ADD YOUR COMMENTS HERE

 

EU Citizens & Media Debate – Part Three: Supporting the Press Without Controlling It

Posted by socialmedia on 18/03/11

IN THE first two parts of this debate (you can read them online here and here) we discussed some of the future and current challenges facing citizens and media in the EU. In this post, however, we want to look at some possible solutions. Should the EU be trying to actively support the media in Europe in facing down these problems? If so, how can it do this whilst also preserving and encouraging a critical and independent European press? We approached the heads of a couple of large journalist associations and asked them for comment.

Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, in a speech at the opening of the Brussels’ office of EURONEWS (14 June 2011) stresses that while the EU is supporting some relevant EU media financially, it does so scrupulously respeciting their editorial independence:

“Vous le savez, les institutions européennes – surtout le Parlement et la Commission – veillent particulièrement au développement de votre chaîne. Depuis l’origine, ou presque, la Commission apporte un soutien financier à Euronews tout en respectant scrupuleusement son indépendance éditoriale. Les liens étroits tissés entre votre quartier général lyonnais et “Bruxelles” ont toujours été marqués par un grand respect de votre liberté éditoriale, protégée dans nos accords et contrats.”

Peter Kramer, international secretary-general of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), which gathers national and regional journalists covering EU matters, believes the European Citizens’ Initiative might hold the answer. Kramer hopes the Citizens’ Initiative will make Europe more accessible and interesting to citizens, and thus coverage will increase. If this happens, he warns that national journalists will need support and training about the EU and how it functions:

“With upcoming European Citizens’ Initiatives, coverage of Europe will increase, but we will hear the good, the bad and the ugly.”

Aidan White, the outgoing secretary-general of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) – which groups together journalist unions around the world – speaks of the importance of sharing good practices between journalists:

“The challenges facing journalists in Europe are dramatically put into context by the struggles for press freedom south of the Mediterranean. This initiative is an opportunity to create a professional bridge of good practice that will strengthen journalism in the EU and inspire journalists striving for independence elsewhere.”

Christophe Leclercq, EurActiv founder, takes a balanced view on direct support for struggling European media:

“Journalists are faced with both government restrictions in some countries and the limited resources of their media companies, as exemplified by the dwindling EU press corps. Except for justified and competitive advertising or communication projects, the EU should not fund media companies. But the EU, among others, can help on both fronts. First, by taking a firm line on media freedom at national level. Second, it could develop and improve its programmes to make journalists aware, well-informed and well-supported when they do cover European matters… Social media tools could help journalists find mutual support, so they can identify stories they find relevant and leverage sources across borders. In the Arab world, this has worked efficiently in recent weeks: why not more so in Europe itself?”

We can be sure that the European Citizens’ Initiative will focus greater attention on the EU (assuming, of course, the ECI is a success). Will that be enough? The EU could also provide indirect support, especially in terms of training, resources and access. However, direct financial support would be a mistake. It would encourage media organisations to become dependent on aid from the institutions they are supposed to be reporting on critically.

It’s a fine line between supporting independent media and controlling coverage. Even whilst Commission President José Manuel Barroso was calling media freedom a “sacred principle” during the Hungarian media law controversy, the Commission was being accused of pulling funding from a project designed to support investigative journalism in the EU because of a disagreement over editorial independence. The Commission allegedly wanted to be responsible for awarding the grants and, crucially, wanted information about editorial content before money was handed out. The EU should be supporting editorial independence and critical voices, not trying to retain control of what is being said.

What do you think? All ideas are welcome, especially practical suggestions. What do you think about opening up future official or information events to high-profile bloggers? How can we make them more lively, involving different institutions and various stakeholders? Could focused financial support be managed by media organisations themselves? Which organisations? The most relevant contributions will be circulated ahead of the stakeholder workshop that Fondation EurActiv PoliTech (which runs Blogactiv.eu) is  planning.

YOU SHOULD ADD YOUR COMMENT HERE

Image Credits: CC / Flickr – Esther Gibbons

EU Citizens & Media Debate – Part Two: Media Freedom in Europe

Posted by EuroGoblin on 18/03/11

Across Europe, press and media freedom is under threat. Earlier this month, media experts called for a “reconquest” of crumbling media freedoms in the EU. Commission President José Manuel Barroso has described freedom of the media as a “sacred principle” of the Union, yet everywhere we look there are problems.

Last year, the International Press Institute warned of “serious pockets of concern” about the state of media in Italy – where Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi owns a substantial chunk of the country’s commercial media; in Turkey (a candidate member of the EU) thousands took to the streets last Sunday to demonstrate for greater press freedom following the arrest of more than a dozen journalists; in Bulgaria, journalists fear the use of illegal wiretapping; in France too, there have been accusations that the intelligence services “spy” on investigative online media; in the UK, the Deputy Prime Minster has called Britain’s famously strict libel laws a “laughing stock” (though some bloggers are sceptical about the chances of root-and-branch reform). Then there was the infamous controversy around new Hungarian media laws that threatened to overshadow the country’s EU Presidency (and saw thousands march in protest yesterday).

Reporters Without Borders published its 2010 Press Freedom Index last year under the headline “Europe falls from its pedestal.” What’s going wrong? Why are press freedoms retreating in the EU? Is there anything we can do to turn the tide and launch a “reconquest”? Well, part of the problem is that states are only now playing catch-up with technology. There is talk of a “revolution 2.0” sweeping North Africa and the Middle East, as protesters use Twitter and Facebook to organise demonstrations and to expose human rights abuses. The same tools that can bring down a despotic regime in one country can be used to mobilise people in liberal democracies. Alarmed by the chaotic power of the internet (which has positive effects – such as the aforementioned tumbling of autocrats – as well as negative – such as giving a greater voice to groups that want to incite racial hatred) governments are now reacting. In France, the HADOPI law is one manifestation of this reaction – as the government tries to restrict illegal downloads of media content. The justification given by the Hungarian government when it instituted its controversial new media legislation was that Hungary’s laws needed to be updated to better deal with the realities of online content.

However, regulators are catching up in other ways as well. New technologies can be used both to spread information and to monitor and control it. Turkey recently banned (again) Blogger, the popular Google blogging platform. In the past, it has also banned the video sharing site YouTube. The chaotic freedom of the internet still relies heavily on infrastructure controlled and monitored by the state. See how access to social media sites was blocked during the Tunisian, Egyptian and Libyan revolutions. What technology giveth, technology can taketh away.

So what’s the solution? Well, Barroso is completely right to call media freedom a “sacred principle” of the EU. It should be defended vigorously, and the investigation of Hungary’s media laws by the Commission is something that should be commended. Freedom of expression, in the internet age – when everybody has the power to broadcast to a potentially enormous audience – comes with responsibilities. However, governments need to ensure they don’t overreact when responding to the changing technology landscape. Again, the most effective way to put pressure on individual governments in Europe is through already-existing pressure groups (NGOs, think-tanks, etc.) and institutions (including the EU and the Council of Europe). We should not exaggerate. Hungary is not Belarus and France is not North Korea. However, even a small step backwards for Europe in terms of media freedom is a step in the wrong direction.

At a recent conference, outgoing IFJ leader Aidan White suggested setting up an independent think-tank to address these issues at the European level. Now is the time to make sure it has practical objectives, and obviously does not turn into an involuntary source of red-tape for the media.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Is the erosion of media freedom in Europe a problem? Should we be concerned? If so, what can we do to turn things round? Let us know your thoughts.

YOU SHOULD ADD YOUR COMMENT HERE

Image Credits: CC / Flickr – Jennifer Moo

EU Citizens & Media Debate – Part One: How To Stop Journalists Deserting Brussels?

Posted by socialmedia on 18/03/11

The Brussels Press Corps is sick. Its current incarnation is slowly withering away, to be replaced eventually by a different kind of press corps; one fed by wirecopy and press releases – shallower and less critical of the institutions (or so sayeth the doom-mongers). The number of accredited journalists covering EU affairs in Brussels has shrunk – and there doesn’t seem to be much anybody can do about it. Numbers may recently be recovering – but this hides an increasing number of “commuting journalists” working only occasionally in Brussels. Media organisations across Europe were already suffering from declining advertising revenues when – in 2007 and 2008 – the financial crisis struck, compounding matters further. In an age when information travels from one side of the planet to the other in the blink of an iPhone, there are less obvious advantages to having “boots on the ground” when a story breaks.

Foreign news (as EU reporting is usually considered) is especially vulnerable. As The Economist‘s Brussels correspondent put it last year, the “severing of the link between advertising and news had a… uniquely grim effect on foreign news” because foreign correspondents are increasingly being seen as optional “prestige” positions. When times get tough in the news room, foreign news can seem like an attractive place to start cutting. Reader surveys suggest that people want more sports news, cartoons, crosswords and TV listings – not the latest gossip from Berlaymont.

What went wrong? The internet was supposed to liberate journalists by making their research easier and putting them directly in touch with readers. In fact, it has proven to be something of a double-edged sword – putting greater pressure on deadlines (you have to release immediately if you want to stay ahead of the pack) and increasing the amount of content correspondents are expected to produce (many journalists are now pressured to keep blogs and twitter accounts in addition to writing articles).

All is not lost, however. There is much that can be done to entice journalists back to Brussels – assuming the EU is willing to approach the problem with an open mind. Steps are being taken. In January, the first European Press Club was opened in Brussels – an attempt to encourage journalists of different nationalities to meet together, share stories, gossip and cooperate. This month, a “pilot project” was launched by the Hungarian Presidency’s press team, offering press accreditation to bloggers at Council events. Two bloggers (Ronny Patz and Europasionaria), liveblogged over the two days they were given access (you can read day one and two online). Mathew Lowry has put up a blogtour of the reactions, and suggests that, in future, accredited bloggers in Brussels could have an impact by reporting back information and opinions to their national blogospheres.

Bolder steps regarding traditional journalism have been talked about, such as subsidising training, travel, education – perhaps even accommodation. This raises issues of independence and of competition / attribution criteria. New problems may open as the crisis continues. However, such measures might be cost-effective compared to the millions spent on advertising, event organisation and, still, printing tons of glossy brochures.

Is this the future? Will “citizen journalists” soon help replace real journalists? Myriam Karama argues that – as the Brussels press corps is shrinking – covering EU affairs should be seen as a “civic duty.” Could it soon literally become the duty of citizens to report what our eurocrats are getting up to? This is a dangerous idea. As both Ronny and Mathew argue, bloggers do not have the time to dedicate to properly reporting events as they happen. Analysis and opinion, yes. Reporting… less so. Most bloggers write as a hobby, and find time to blog after work, during lunch or at the weekend. Professional journalists (mostly) have the resources and time needed to properly cover this sort of event.

Moreover, while the Brussels press corps is essential, it should not be the bottleneck in terms of access to EU affairs. Several years ago, Fondation EurActiv PoliTech issued a “Yellow Paper” titled “Decentralise Radically: Empower the Multipliers!” It argued for a more decentralised approach to EU coverage. So, could one engage the journalists interested in EU policies based outside Brussels?

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Is the shrinking Brussels press corps and the steady rise of so-called “churnalism” a problem for Europe? Or are there solutions? Could citizen journalists step into the void? Are there ways of supporting costs without influencing coverage? Let us know your thoughts.

YOU SHOULD ADD YOUR COMMENT HERE

Image Credits: CC / Flickr – David C. Carroll

EU Citizens and Media: A Debate

Posted by socialmedia on 07/03/11

The Blogactiv debate on EU citizens and media is now open!

This post will collect all the different strands of the debate into one place – acting as a focal point for the discussion.

Have a read through some of the stuff posted below, then come back here to post your thoughts. We’re planning a workshop around this issue, and we’ll take some of your ideas and present them to journalists, officials and other stakeholders so that this debate can hopefully have some impact.

Part One: How To Stop Journalists Deserting Brussels?
Part Two: Media Freedom in Europe
Part Three: Supporting the Press Without Controlling It
Part Four: Blogactiv Covers the EPP Summit

Further Reading:

1. Read Fondation EurActiv PoliTech’s press release on this issue (ENDE)

2. Posts from bloggers at an EU Council event (Day 1, Day 2)

3. Read a post by a blogger at the EPP summit last year (EN)

 

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