Richard North, 05/04/2006  

The EU parliament in StrasbourgI seem to remember a certain amount of outrage last November at the news that the Pentagon had contracted the Lincoln Group, an American public relations firm, to pay Iraqi news outlets to print positive articles while hiding their source.

Now, according to the International Herald Tribune, the EU parliament has gone one better, and is actually paying journalists to come to Strasbourg to cover its proceedings.

Furthermore, this is a programme that dates back to the 1980s, in which journalists from across the EU member states have been receiving generous travel and entertainment subsidies from the parliament, which can include payment of for first-class train or economy-class plane tickets to Strasbourg from any of the 25 EU member states and a daily stipend of €100 to cover hotel, food and entertainment over two days.

It seems that about 60 journalists from member states are invited to Strasbourg each month under the programme, with beneficiaries including RTBF of Belgium, RTE of Ireland, ERT of Greece and ORF of Austria. Understandably, these organisations have been reluctant to comment about their funding arrangements.

Nor does the generosity stop there. The Parliament also provides television journalists with unlimited use of free state-of-the-art television studios, free sound and camera equipment, and free two-person camera crews that can be borrowed for the day.

And, while the funding does not necessarily ensure full coverage of what are described as "stultifyingly dull" sessions, one journalist – who, surprisingly enough, wanted to remain anonymous – admitted that the perks had prompted him and his colleagues to refuse requests by editors to write stories on MEPs' privileges and travel expenses. "How can I expose such perks when I myself am benefiting from them?" the journalist asked.

Far from being ashamed, however, some MEPs from smaller countries like Portugal and Greece have been lobbying to have the subsidies for journalists expanded in order to ensure that the members receive coverage back home.

Nor, of course, is this by any means the whole extent of jornalistic bribary. Brussels's 1,550 journalists, one of the world's largest press corps outside Washington, benefit from a host of perks and privileges from EU institutions, including free meals and unlimited free phone calls during EU summit meetings and free television studios at the European Commission.

Furthermore, at the beginning of every six-month EU presidency, the presiding country invites journalists to a free junket in the capital. In February, Austria, the current holder of the EU's presidency, invited 62 Brussels-based journalists to Vienna, paying for their lodgings in a lavish Hilton hotel and hosting a complimentary dinner in an 18th-century baroque castle where a soprano sang Strauss operettas - all on the tab of the Austrian government. Media organs had the option of paying for the trip. Only eight opted to do so, according the Austrian representation to Brussels.

And all these goodies go to the wonderful, impartial MSM which are sooooooo superior to us bloggers.



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