Take the credit, when you can. Point fingers, when it’s handy. The British media’s coverage of EU law does not reflect the real legislations that comes out of big bad Brussels.
It’s often a blame-game when EU legislation appears in the media spotlight. Negative stories sell. And when the EU actually comes up with a popular law, national politicians tend to take credit and forget its heritage. As in the case of mandatory fees on plastic bags.
It’s a law that has been under way for years. Danish MEP for The Greens Magrete Auken became spokesman for the legislation in 2013 and worked hard for the legislation to finally pass through in April 2015. Many European countries already had similar rules, but not England and when it was adopted it quickly was praised as a success.
Single plastic bag usage dropped 85 per cent in six months after the legislation introduced a five pence fee. In numerous articles about how plastic bags are no longer harming the environment, it was only the national government who spoke about the new law. And they felt no need to say thank you to the EU or Magrete Auken for the legislation. EU was mentioned zero times in 30 articles and top hits from Google, when searched “Plastic bag charge UK”.
“Personally I don’t care. But it’s not good for the British public,” Auken said.
“It’s almost a cliché. It’s us, when we succeed, but when it’s something a bit fiddly, then it’s ‘them down there’. Never a word about they also have been voting for it,” Auken criticized.
It could seem as the British and their media bear a grudge towards the EU. A study from the media research institute Media Tenor found that the public broadcaster BBC’s coverage of EU in 2015 was more negative than the coverage on Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping. The share of negative stories on the EU was equal to Syria’s disputed President Bashar al-Assad.
According to British Senior Lecture on Politics and expert in euro scepticism Dr Simon Usherwood from University of Surrey and The UK in a Changing Europe, the negative coverage is down to an old distant relationship.
“The British media have always seen the EU as something distant and not part of the UK. It’s a ‘them and us’-feeling,” Usherwood said.
British media sees the EU as complicated, distant, non-relevant and not news-worthy, Usherwood explained. Media are cutting down on their correspondents in Brussels, and this makes it even harder to report on what happens and which legislation comes out of the EU. Negative stories are easier for reporter, media and reader.
Opinions reflect on media
The take or blame-game influences public opinion according to Simon Usherwood.
“Peoples opinion reflect on how politicians and media talk about the EU. Over time people start to wonder what EU is good for, because they only see the negative stories and not the positive. A lot of people think the EU is a waste of time. It’s a drip-drip effect, that have led us to where we are now,” Usherwood argued.
The cold feelings toward the EU could maybe thaw, if the citizens for instance knew it was the EU, who orchestrated the popular plastic bag-law. But it could also have a reverse effect on the law.
“If the government had credited the EU for the law, the initiative probably would have received more negative attention,” Usherwood suggested.