20 Apr 2018

Ask not what the EU can do for you...

That the media doesn’t seem to care much about the impact of Brexit on EU citizens is sad news for everybody who believes in the free movement of people, the exchange of talent and the mutual support Europeans should give each other.

Alexandra Borchardt
Alexandra Borchardt Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
Ask not what the EU can do for you... - NewsMavens
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks before the European Parliament on April 17, 2018. AFP/EAST NEWS

Do Europeans care about Brexit? Not so much, according to an analysis of media coverage in eight countries outside of the United Kingdom.

The final report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford and media research specialist Prime Research will be published in July, but preliminary findings are clear: Only one in five of more than 3,500 news items published over a period of six months discussed implications of Brexit for the EU.

The analysis suggests journalists don’t seem to be particularly interested in the rights of the citizens who are affected.

Excluding Irish media that reflect the particular situation in its country, only 4 percent of all news stories mentioned citizens’ rights. If the coverage discussed issues at all, it centered around trade relations and the economy.

That the media obviously doesn’t care much about this part of the European idea is sad news for everybody who believes in the free movement of people, the exchange of talent and the mutual support Europeans should give each other.

This support will be needed more than ever at a time when the region is squeezed between old American and growing Chinese dominance and faces additional anti-European sentiment from within.

Granted, the report focused only on Brexit coverage and didn’t address all the news about the European Union. But it could be symptomatic.

When discussing the EU, people forget that it was built to link an abundance of different cultures and a variety of democratic shapes. Instead they ask: What is in it for me?

It is easy to forget that the EU was first and foremost created to prevent people from shooting at each other.

When the common European economic area was created, its founders assumed that closer business relations would lead to a political union and closeness among its people, despite how often they had been divided by war.

The system has worked, despite debates about who won and lost in the process of knitting together the Eurozone. People can work in any EU country (even though navigating between different tax and benefit systems can be a nightmare), they can contribute, and they have rights. Young Europeans don’t even know that life wasn’t always like this.

Discussions about rights often begin only after they are taken away. The marches for Europe have been an indicator for this.

And the debate has started in Britain, where young people – those who are EU citizens by birth – feel particularly betrayed. The media should acknowledge their voices.

Currently it is the young French President Emmanuel Macron who keeps telling us what we have to gain and what we stand to lose if we retreat instead of moving ahead. Our identity as Europeans is key, and intimately linked to civil rights.


Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

The information and views set out on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.

NewsMavens is a media start-up within Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's largest liberal broadsheet published by Agora S.A. NewsMavens is currently financed by Gazeta Wyborcza and Google DNI Fund.
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