Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

When the news broke in June that the Greek public broadcaster ERT had been closed down, taken off the air, I found the justification of the Greek government provided an uncanny throwback to events in Britain.

Throughout the run-up to the 2010 general election, David Cameron, as leader of the Conservative Party, had been at the forefront of the demands to freeze the BBC licence fee.

Within three months of taking office, the coalition government formed by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats had imposed a 20 per cent reduction in the BBC’s spending.

The Greek’s government’s official spokesman accused ERT of being “a haven of waste”.  He said it had displayed “an exceptional lack of transparency” and had done nothing to end “incredible extravagance”.

Conservative politicians promoted a similar line when the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne justified his October 2010 spending review which included a six-year freeze on the BBC’s licence fee, cutting the the BBC’s income by £1 billion a year by 2015.

Like other powerful but controversial institutions the European Parliament is stepping up its investment in what amounts to paid-for journalism. Contracts are about to be awarded for funding programmes to be broadcast by local and international television channels. But, with editorial budgets for investigative and analytical journalism in steep decline, are the European Parliament -- and also the European Commission -- faced with no alternative but to buy news coverage in the media market place in the hope of gaining some favourable exposure? If the initial reports are correct, and if the contracts likely to be awarded for programmes on CNN and ITV are to be controlled by script and even post-production approval, the European Parliament could be in danger of repeating the worst examples of embedded journalism during the Iraq War and might well end up financing nothing more than blatant propaganda. Nicholas Jones examines an initiative which is already producing some agonised soul searching among Europe’s journalists.

Speech to MPs in the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus 1.4.2008 

If the talks to re-unite the island of Cyprus begin making progress, there could soon be an enhanced role for the fifty-seat parliament of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus. Determined efforts have already begun to re-engage the interest of both the public and the news media in the long-stalled programme to end the isolation of Turkish Cypriots. A priotity for action will be the establishment of a select committee to consider what will have to be done to ensure the institutions and services of the north are able to harmonise with the requirements of the European Union. An equally pressing task is the appointment of a public accounts committee to follow through the work which has already been accomplished by the recently-formed court of audit which has been monitoring public expenditure in North Cyprus. At a seminar in Nicosia (1.4.2008) Nicholas Jones gave a presentation to North Cyprus MPs and parliamentary staff on the importance of the select committee system and explained how strengthening parliament would win new respect for its members.

Turkey's negotiations over possible membership of the European Union have triggered yet more scare stories in the British newspapers. In a speech at an EU seminar at Gaziantep in south-east Anatolia (28.3.2008), Nicholas Jones said the role played by the British press had important lessons for Turkish journalists at a time when much of their reporting was having to focus on divisive issues such as the debate over the wearing of head scarves and the lack of freedom of expression. Jones said he supported the demands by journalists in south-east Turkey for a greater awareness by the European Union of the news media's needs and more action to improve the flow of information about the potential implications of Turkey's possible accession. He gave his assessment of the hidden agendas of British media companies and the role of scare stories.

 

Struggling to find stories when their Parliament is being boycotted by the opposition is just one of the problems facing the political journalists of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Lack of effective recognition by the European Union and isolation from the international community has already made life tough for the local news media so a political stalemate in the legislative assembly has only added to the difficulties for reporters.

Despite hard times for the local economy, the 200,000-strong population of Northern Cyprus is served by as many as ten daily newspapers. Most are subsidised by the competing political parties so this does ensure a wide spread of views and opinion.

But much of the parliamentary coverage is limited to reproducing the copy provided by the Turkish news agency TAK and the aim of a seminar, held in Nicosia (November 20-21, 2007), was to encourage more investigative and campaigning journalism.