The Covid pandemic is having an increasingly negative impact on the way we can do our work as Brussels correspondents. API wants more opportunities for journalists to directly and closely report on European summits and ministerials. In a letter to Council secretary-general Jeppe Tranholm-Mikkelsen, API calls in particular for journalists to be allowed access to the doorsteps of leaders and ministers on arrival and departure at the Lipsius or Europa buildings.
Now there are only cameras where leaders can make, sometimes meaningless, statements and avoid critical questions. Previous requests to also admit journalists there have not been granted, mainly for security and safety reasons. But we keep trying. Below is the text of our letter to the Secretary-General.
"The Covid pandemic has a major impact on the way journalists - and in our case in particular the Brussels correspondents - can do their job. Personal contact - eye-to-eye and ear-to-ear, formal and informal - with ministers, spokespersons, officials or even our fellow journalists, has been reduced to virtually nil. We have to make do with virtual encounters, but direct contact with our sources is essential for the proper performance of our task.
This has become apparent more than once during recent European Council and ministerial meetings, since journalists do not have access to the Council's premises. It was and is almost impossible to ask leaders or ministers questions directly upon their arrival at the Lipsius or Europa buildings. Most of them just make a statement for the camera; asking questions is impossible. This offers them the opportunity to avoid difficult issues and to control communication, but it undermines our journalistic role as critical followers of politics.
We have previously pushed for the possibility of at least some journalists attending these doorsteps so that leaders and ministers can not get away with statements that are often meaningless. Soundbites alone will not do anymore. So far, our requests have not been successful, as was the case at the European Council last week.
API is pleased that - also at our insistence - the Council last week did create more opportunities for audiovisual media to do their work properly, also within the security perimeter. But as far as we are concerned, it should not stop there. We urge you once again to ensure that at the next European Council or ministerials journalists will have more direct access to the leaders and the opportunity to ask them questions, especially at arrivals/departures. Obviously while observing necessary security restrictions related to the Covid pandemic. We now see that several leaders organize physical press briefings themselves before and after EUCO-meetings. It should be possible to extend this opportunity.
Of course we understand that you are complying with the sanitary measures dictated by the Belgian authorities, but if those measures prevent effective democratic control of European politics by the media - which is our number one task - then other solutions must be found. Freedom of the press and of information is at stake. Virtual communication must not become the new normal.
We rely on your understanding and support in this regard and are of course open to consultation with you and your services about the practical implications."