Les risques du métier

juni 23, 2007

Interview with Jaume Duch Guillot, spokesman European Parliament

Filed under: Europa,Europe,Journalism — Lien @ 8:49

Behind the scenes: European Parliament spokesperson Jaume Duch Guillot, director for media

“The media like drama, the EU cannot deliver it”

Jaume Duch Guillot

On the second floor of the press service building, in the shadow of the European Parliament (EP), a charming 45-year old Spaniard is preparing his workday. Jaume Duch Guillot, spokesperson of the EP and head of media starts his day by reading all the résumés his colleagues wrote: “Those résumés contain both news from the media and internal news. A good spokesperson is always informed of what is really going on in the parliament. Conducting a press office is similar to conducting an orchestra. When you are on stage, you have to project a single image of the European Parliament, instead of different sounds from the different political groups.”

“The real spokespeople of a parliament are the members of parliament. But in a supranational parliament like the European Union, with difficult proceedings, lots of technicalities and various languages, it is useful for journalists to have someone who can explain to them how the institution works.” The EP spokesperson is bound to rules. He can only proclaim institutional messages such as which debates are scheduled or what kind of majority is needed. Jaume Duch Guillot: “Sometimes it is difficult to define what is political and what is institutional. Together with Katrin Ruhrmann, spokesperson of the president, we have to look for the right balance.”

“If the EU would be more political and less about

policies, it would be easier to communicate”

In the last three years, the press service has evolved into a proactive organisation: “We try to communicate with the citizens. On the one hand we have the internet and on the other hand there are the journalists. I’m convinced this will be our principal mean to communicate to the Europeans.”

The spokesperson is also pleased with the high standard of European affairs journalists: “It is clearly specialised work. However, it is almost impossible for journalists who are not full-time covering the EU to immediately know how the institutions work and what the specifications of a certain dossiers are. I’m convinced it takes up to six months to really understand the European machine.” Could this be the reason why so few EU topics get in the media? “Compared to what happens on the national political level of member states, on a daily basis there is more relevant news coming from the European Union. And yet there may be only one person covering European affairs for a television broadcast or a newspaper, and, at the end of the day, only a small percentage of the news actually reaches the public. The explanation for this is quite simple. The media prefer drama and the soft politics of Brussels is not delivering it. Political drama is found on the national level. I am convinced that if the EU were more political and less about policies, it would be easier to communicate. Now that the parliament is acquiring more power and has more influence on the decision-making, the press service is more proactive and we see that the press interest is much stronger than it was five or ten years ago.”

Does it disturb him that journalists have more attention for the Commission’s briefings? “Some journalists have indeed more attention for their briefings than those of the Parliament. To me this is an old-fashioned way of reporting. There used to be a time when a journalist could stay a whole day at the Commission and be very well informed on the daily topics. But this is not longer the case. Of course, the Wednesday briefing in the Commission is a key briefing for the media. However, what is more disturbing is that some journalists still think that news is only produced in the Commission at the beginning and in the Council at the end. And they forget that before the Commission makes a proposal, and at the end before the Council decides, the European Parliament co-decides as well. Too often we see in the media: “the European Council has decided,” when it should be: “has co-decided with the parliament.” But let’s look at the bright side: The union is evolving on a daily basis and so are the journalists.”

“On a daily basis, there is more EU news than national news”

At 10:30, Jaume Duch Guillot heads off to the preparatory meeting for a pre-session briefing held the week before the plenary sitting of the members of the European Parliament. Together with his young team, he goes over the plenary agenda. They decide whether a topic needs media attention or not. A lot of humour is woven into their conversations. Later on in the day, Federico De Girolamo, in charge of constitutional affairs, tells me the best part of his job is the team: “We have been working there for three years now and no-one even thinks of leaving. And of course I have the best boss (laugh).” Although Jaume Duch Guillot speaks six languages, the meeting is held in French, one of the three official work languages of the Union, as well as English and German: “French used to be the diplomatic language. All of us are confronted with English on a daily basis, so speaking French is a way of keeping the tradition alive.”

At 11:00, he heads to the Parliament press room for the briefing. After his run-through of the important topics, Marjory van den Broeke speaks as head of the Press Unit. Alongside them are sitting the spokespeople of the political groups who each get their moment to express the points of view of their members. Back at the office, Jaume Duch Guillot points to the growing pile of documents he has to read and sign: “Within a few hours, that pile will be up to half a metre high.” Most of the documents are purely administrative: “I am not only a spokesperson, but also the manager of five different services. That is one of the hardest parts – combining both aspects of my job. Later in the day, I have a purely administrative meeting, followed by an interview with three Spanish journalists in regard to the upcoming plenary sitting. But I love my job. I don’t sleep a lot, but luckily I don’t need much sleep (laugh).”

Lien De Leenheer

Interview for the guide book of the European Youth Media Days.

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