Stephen Glover: Let’s send more reporters to Brussels and lift the muslin veil

This should have a huge effect on the way politics is reported in this
country. Even before the ratification of Lisbon, many of our laws emanate
from Brussels. Once the treaty is on the books, with an unelected European
President (perhaps not Tony Blair) speaking for us on the world stage, and a “High
Representative” framing European foreign and defence policy, the
balance of power will tilt even further from London to Brussels.

How will the media register this? Reporting of national politics is extremely
thorough. The BBC has an army of political journalists at Westminster, and
newspapers have small platoons. Columnists anatomise our politicians in
terrific detail, and brilliant sketch writers poke fun at the most
insignificant of them. Rogues may go unpunished, and mistakes unreproved,
but no one can doubt the scope and energy of our home-grown political
journalism.

By contrast, what goes on in Brussels is glimpsed through a veil of muslin.
Late night wheeler-dealing is not always recorded, and the European
Commission spews out important directives that are barely noticed.

Whereas a middle-ranking minister in the British Cabinet can be a household
figure, most of us could not name more than one or two Commissioners, though
they may wield far greater power over us. Few could identify the prime
ministers of Greece, Holland or Austria, yet these people sit on the
European Council, the EU’s highest institution.

I realise some British media organisations such as the BBC and the Europhile
Financial Times do devote considerable resources to covering the EU. The
so-called serious papers all maintain bureaux in Brussels, and there are
several excellent British journalists working there. But editors of even the
most high-minded titles fear that there is a limited appetite among their
readers for EU news, analysis and commentary. It is easier to fasten on to
the national institutions they recognise, as well as characters with whom
they are familiar.

Now it so happens that I write as a Eurosceptic who believes the EU is an
undemocratic, oligarchic organisation which we should hold to account.
Better find out what is really going on than merely marvel, as some
Eurosceptics do, at ancient and sometimes apocryphal stories of Euro-folly.
That is why I would like the British media to take more interest in
decisions made in Brussels. But if I were a swivel-eyed Europhile, to coin a
phrase, I would be equally keen on greater coverage in order to advertise
the positive aspects of the European project.

Whether you like or hate it, the EU after Lisbon will generate even more of
the political weather. It is as though we have forecasters obsessed with
local showers on our own island who assume that storms sweeping across
Europe won’t affect us. Or, to put it another way, there are too many
critics in the wrong theatre, and some of them should move across the road.
I realise it is quite costly to expand bureaux ? or, in the case of the
tabloids, to set them up ? but Brussels is only a Eurostar ride away, and
journalists armed with wireless laptops are much cheaper than the foreign
correspondents of 30 years ago. What alternative is there if journalism is
to speak truth to power?

Capitalism has been unhelpful to the capital’s newspapers

Last week’s announcement of the impending closure of London Lite was widely
predicted. It made no sense for its owner, Associated Newspapers, a
subsidiary of Daily Mail and General Trust, to go on publishing the
loss-making freesheet after Rupert Murdoch closed its rival, thelondonpaper,
last month.

Any residual doubts at Associated must have vanished when the London Evening
Standard announced a few weeks ago that it was going free. With a 24.9 per
cent stake in the Standard, Associated has an interest in its survival. The
paper’s prospects will be slightly enhanced by the closure of London Lite.

The freesheet wars were about business rather than journalism. Rupert Murdoch
launched thelondonpaper in 2007, partly to damage the Standard, then
entirely owned by Associated, and partly to lay claim to the London
afternoon freesheet market, which he then believed might be profitable.
Associated retaliated by launching London Lite.

In the end no one really won. Murdoch hastened the weakening of the Standard
but lost a lot of money. Associated also lost money, though not so much. It
saw off Murdoch from a patch of turf which in the worsening economic climate
proved to be unproductive for both parties.

What is left? Just a weakened Standard. Without a freesheet war it might be
struggling as a paid-for newspaper. The war increased its difficulties, and
it is entering uncharted territory as an upmarket freesheet. Should it
succeed, its owner, Alexander Lebedev (who acquired 75.1 per cent of the
paper from Associated last January), will be the main victor.

If only Murdoch had never launched thelondonpaper. If only Associated had been
able to invest the money and energy it has squandered on London Lite on the
Standard. The machinations of capitalism have hardly served the cause of
good journalism.

Ingrams must write tale of the Eye becoming an oldie

It is an amazing thought that in two years Private Eye will be half a century
old. Ian Hislop ? equally extraordinary reflection ? will then have been
editor for slightly longer than Richard Ingrams.

A Private Eye writer called Adam Macqueen is writing an official history to
mark the anniversary, having been encouraged in this endeavour by Mr Hislop,
whose protégé he is said to be. Interviews of key figures have already begun.

Gripping though Mr Macqueen’s account may well be, it would be a pity if Mr
Ingrams let the anniversary pass without making his own contribution.
Although the author of several books, he has not written about the magazine
between hard covers since 1971. The only other histories of the Eye I can
recall were by Patrick Marnham and Peter McKay, both of them more than 25
years ago.

As the guiding spirit of Private Eye (he has been its chairman since handing
over to Mr Hislop), Mr Ingrams should surely produce his own authoritative
account. He may have an opinion as to whether the anniversary would be a
fitting moment for Mr Hislop to hand over to a younger man. Mr Macqueen’s
name has been mentioned.

scmgox@aol.com

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