Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ok, it will never be Gangnam style, but still...

I have been posting quite a number of videos produced by the EU on this blog; some better than others; some longer than others; some more controversial than others. But they all have one caracteristic in common: you need to look for them. I mean, the European Union spends a lot of money producing video material, some of which actually not very good. And it produces a huge number of videos: the EuTube channel, (yes, it is the right spelling!) has around 400 videos. And this is only the channel of the Commission, so no Parliament, no Council, nor any of the agencies.

The channel has more than 16 thousand subscribers and had around 20 million and five hundred thousand views since its birth in 2006. That sounds impressive? Well, not really, if you think that the most viewed video of all times, one single video, Gangnam style by Korean singer Psy, has been viewed more than 800 million times in only 4 months (actually, I am very puzzled about that one too, but that is for another time! Have a look at it anyway).

Maybe an unfair comparison but, more to the point, what is the distribution strategy for all the EU's video material? Wouldn't it be better to produce a bit less and use the saved money to distribute the rest a bit more? Why nobody - and please contradict me if you have - has ever seen one of the good videos - for example the one on women on boards that I uploaded last week - on a national television? Is it that difficult or that expensive? Have the people in charge for these videos in the Commission ever tried to get some special deals with member states broadcasters or with cinemas across the EU? I know that we are in the internet age so that's where all videos should be, and I am very pleased that the video I just mentioned is on the homepage of the website of Commissioner Reding. But let's be honest, how many people will voluntarily go to that website? The fact that this material has been produced and posted online does not mean the job is done if nobody watches it; it's just a waste of money and of a great opportunity.

Everybody working in the institutions here in Brussels complains that Europe is misunderstood and that European citizens are not really aware of all the good things the EU does for them. Then would it not be a good idea to start showing what it does for them and promote this kind of material in member states? Just a thought.

PS: In case you were interested, here is the most popular video on the EuTube channel (and I am sure that the fact that it's a sex scene has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that it is the most viewed!)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Love me gender, force me through..

Back to Europe and my favourite subject: how to communicate - and possibly visually - what matters to European citizens. A topic that has come up lately in the news and not only here in Brussels is that of women and work related matters; both in terms of the existing salary gap between men and women and in terms of the under-representation of women in boards of companies. On this last issue, the feisty commissioner Viviane Reding - responsible for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship - has made a controversial proposal for a Directive that sets an objective of a 40% presence of the under-represented sex (better be safe, just in case someone were to find a women-only board and starts complaining!) among non-executive directors of companies listed on stock exchanges. The Commission has approved the proposal last week. It remains to be seen whether it will ever make it to through the Council and the Parliament and how watered down it might end up becoming, but nonetheless the idea has sparked a big debate, with men and women on both sides of the argument.

The ECB governing council- spot the woman if you can!
I have always had my doubts on quotas (a friend of mine said she does not like the idea because quotas apply to milk and not to human beings! Maybe it applies also to milk-producing human beings?), not because I don't believe that there should be more women in company board (and mind you, not just the ones listed in the stock exchange - have a look at the lovely family photo of the European Central Bank governing council!) but because I felt that imposing percentages would inevitably create resentment and it could have the perverse effect of proving that women are not as good as men, if some companies were to hire the wrong person for a job only on the grounds of gender.

But then I changed my mind.

I went some time ago to an interesting conference that was called 'The State of the Union - Revitalising the European Dream - a corporate view' and was completely struck - and not only me by the way- by the absence of women, the majority of company representatives at the conference being old-ish men in grey suits. Revitalising the European Dream? Who are we kidding? The shrimps on the buffet tables looked more fit for purpose! Did the organisers simply not care to have a slightly more balanced list of speakers or did they not manage? Then I found a very revealing quote by management guru Richard Pascale: “Adults are more likely to act their way into a new way of thinking than to think their way into a new way of acting.”

Now, my view can be summed up like this: 'I don't like them, but they work!'
And talking of something that works, I found two videos produced by the Commission on women and work issues. Great videos, clear messages, effective delivery and attention to details (look at the way the woman in the gender pay gap one, who gets treated so badly, acts as if it were sad but normal, a really nice touch). So it is possible you see? Another proof that visual communications can be effective while at the same time remaining pretty simple. A bit like...quotas, actually.

Here they are:

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The BBC and Newsnight: a very personal view.

You will have to allow me a little digression this week. I have spent ten years working for the BBC, seven of which for Newsnight. My editor on that programme was, for a lot of my time there, George Entwistle, now ex-BBC Director General. George has resigned and both the BBC and Newsnight are facing a huge storm (I have inserted the link to a ...yes, a BBC website, with all  the details, here and also below); I just wonder what might happen in the coming months. If I look at the state of most public broadcasters across Europe, the quality of their journalism and how they have bowed to political and commercial pressure, I want to cry. Is the BBC heading in that direction?

There are three reasons why what is happening in these weeks at the BBC fills me with sadness but also with anger.


What was a terrible story on child abuse (whose ramifications would have anyway involved the BBC as the accused abuser was the BBC star Jimmy Savile) has become a BBC story; this is partly normal as the Corporation has always attracted a lot of attention and it is correctly under huge public scrutiny. But in the last decade this scrutiny has been coupled with a very clear agenda: anti BBC media - without naming names- have been actively campaigning to reduce the credibility of BBC with the final aim of taking away what they feel is an unfair advantage ie the fact that the BBC receives public money.  I strongly believe in television and radio as public services, hence publicly financed. The idea is that the quality of its production is partly linked to the fact that the BBC has to provide services to all and to justify its existence - and its expenses. This latest crisis is the perfect opportunity to push the anti-BBC campaign further, to prove that the money is not well spent because the BBC has lost the trust of its public. If this campaign were to succeed then it would be the end of the BBC as we know it and have grown to love. Having said this, mistakes have been made and big ones too. But please let's not forget what this is all about and what the risks are.


Still, the management structure at the BBC is far from perfect and in need of reform; plus, there has always been (like in any other news broadcasters, actually) a strong tension between "hacks (journalists) and suits (management)": the BBC inadeguate answer has been to maintain the independence and the integrity of the news by creating a wall between what is news and of public interest and what is the Corporation and its interests . This tension and this separation become, as we have seen, a bombshell when something goes wrong. This wall was the one that led to the 'lack of curiosity' that has been attributed to the now former Director General George Entwistle; as a former journalist himself, he did not want to be seen as putting pressure on the editorial decisions of the news teams. He must be spending his time asking himself 'why the hell did I not ask the Head of News- when she told me Newsnight was investigating Jimmy Savile- what the investigation was about?' and wondering how Newsnight could have made such a cock-up, airing a report that wrongly accused (even if his name was not mentioned) a former Tory politician of being a paedophile. We will all be wondering what kind of Director General he could have been since he did not have the time to do much. I was personally very sad to see George going; I understand why he had to go;  I really respected him as a journalist then (always pushing for strong and insightful journalism) as I do respect him now that he has taken the decision to resign. Would he have tried to tackle the hack-suit issue and reform the management system while increasing further the standards and the independence of its journalists? Or am I kidding myself? Truth be told, what was always said at the BBC was that a good journalist is not necessarily a good manager; in fact the opposite might be true. Interesting times ahead: who (a hack or a suit) will be chosen as new permanent Director General? and will the BBC Trust suggest a separation (yet more managers though?) between the Editor in Chief and the CEO? Fingers crossed.


What are the consequences of this crisis likely to mean for investigative journalism and for Newsnight in particular? As I write, there are talks of disciplinary actions against the journalists that authorised the Newsnight report to go on air. And the new acting editor of Newsnight has already been told to stop investigations. The programme itself might be cancelled or renamed. I can see the reasons behind all this, but all the same I fear that there will be deeper implications: will a journalist now be much more fearful of investigating a story, of criticising companies, celebrities or politicians? Will the BBC hesitate before allowing a report to be transmitted or - in the attempt to safeguard itself -soften the content? Will it spend more money on controlling rather than reporting? I sincerely hope not.

Newsnight (click on the name for the link to the history of the programme and if you, unlike me, manage to see it properly do watch the Newsnight at 20 film) has been doing some amazing journalism, not only investigative by the way, for more than 30 years; maybe a breath of fresh air is a good thing for the BBC as a whole, but let's make sure that this new air is not in reality a Trojan horse- good and useful on the outside but filled with enemies of true journalism inside.