June 07, 2009

If the Media is National, Can the EU be International?

After the American Century

I have been looking at coverage of the EU elections on a wide variety of stations, but the story is much the same everywhere, or rather it is entirely different everywhere. On German television, the election is about German political parties and their relative strengths. Nothing is said about the rest of Europe. On Spanish TV the results for their 50 delegates are revealed at precisely 10 PM, when the polls have closed all over Europe. Nothing is said about results elsewhere, however. On CNN they say that the election is taking place, mention that the German Social Democrats have had a bad election (but no details), and focus more on Gordon Brown's weaknesses, as revealed by Labor's poor showing.

In short, the media is national, the languages are national, and the focus is parochial. Not a word about whether the new European Parliament will favor environmental reform, cuts in the massive agricultural subsidies, or greater investments in research and development. These topics are not even mentioned in passing. It is all about the local, the particular, the parochial, and close to being idiotic.

Imagine that you lived in Nebraska during the time of an American general election, when all members of Congress and one third of the Senate were being selected. Imagine that you turn on the TV to hear the results, and can only find out about how the election went in Nebraska. You also get a station from Kansas, so you hear those results as well. But no one talks about the election as a whole, about what the balance of power will be in Washington. Not a single sentence on this subject. The entire focus is on Nebraska and its political parties. To make the comparison complete, you would have to imagine a European party system, i.e. Nebraska would have at least five parties, five leaders to interview, five news conferences, and so forth.

How can Europe ever become conscious of itself in this situation? As long as the media remain fixated on the parochial level of individual states, no one will know what is going on in Brussels, and no one will care. There is no European public opinion, there are only various national opinions, splintered into small parties.