Society

No Europe without the Media

Article published on Jan. 31, 2006
From the magazine
Article published on Jan. 31, 2006
In a special article for café babel, celebrating the launch of its Polish version, journalist and co-founder of Gazeta Wyborcza Jacek akowski writes about the role of media in the development of the European public opinion.

My working day usually starts with coffee and the International Herald Tribune - just like that of many other journalists, businessmen, politicians, and all sorts of expats across Europe. When we meet during European conferences or conventions, many of us refer to IHT as our common newspaper, in the same way you talk about FAZ in Germany, Wyborcza in Poland, or NYT in USA. We get irritated by its decline, we praise some articles and criticize others, or we argue over them. It all seems pretty regular, save for one detail: that the only de facto Pan-European newspaper remains American, or actually, ever since NYT bought out Washington Post’s shares – New Yorkish.

The position of IHT may have been natural in the 1950s, when continental Europe had to build new democratic customs and institutions devastated during the chaos of the 1930s and the subsequent war, but today? When you stop to think about it, it is bizarre. The world’s most important trans-national community, interconnected with a network of political, institutional, economical, cultural and social ties has no daily newspaper of its own.

Language problem?

The language might serve as some sort of an explanation, but “some sort” is the key phrase here. If the Americans can publish a daily newspaper that is quite universally read by the European elite, then why can’t Europeans do the same? Is it because each country, nation and language has always had its own press? That is the usual explanation. And it’s a good reason, but not enough of a reason. The language is an obvious obstacle. We all place great importance in the protection of our native language. Not only intellectually (because we acknowledge the value of identity), but also emotionally – because we are attached to it. This means that even the young generation of Europeans, which in its international contacts naturally speaks and writes in English, on a daily basis prefers to read and write in its own language. There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with it, but that’s not all. When reading in our own language, we want to read about the area in which it is dominant. This tendency can be easily spotted in the Polish media. In the practice of most news desks, European affairs still belong in the foreign section. Europe isn’t quite foreign to us anymore, but it isn’t our homeland yet either. There is no European society and de facto there is no European public opinion.

Can one continue constructing a common Europe, a European identity, the European Community, a nucleus of a European nation, without a European public opinion? I don’t think so. There was a time when you could build countries, nations and identities starting from the top – from the government down to communities and individual people. Today that is not possible anymore, as proven by the rejection of the constitutional treaty.

General interest?

The European constitution lost, and the idea of a new European political identity was halted because the European public opinion was not involved in the process of its creation. And it wasn’t involved because it never existed in the first place. The European political elite eventually somehow managed to come up with an agreement, but then all of its members were immediately forced to explain the document to local and national public opinions, and to local media, which – unavoidably – perceived the constitution from a local perspective. And in each local perspective, in the eyes of each local public opinion, something was bound to be missing from that document, and something was bound to be off. In the eyes of each local public opinion the common interest, which the constitution aimed to represent, was bound to entrench upon some interests of the local communities.

The constitution only lost in two countries, but it could have lost in many more, had the ratification process not been stopped. This shows that the simple sum of national interests cannot be translated into one common interest if there is no common consciousness. In other words – the European Community cannot develop much faster than the European consciousness and identity do.

Politicians make mistakes and according to the dominant European line of thought they are, by default, to blame for all misfortune. But even if they were angels gifted with antediluvian genius, they wouldn’t be able to circumvent the threshold of public consciousness. There can be no truly common Europe without the real existence of a European public opinion.