API-IPA organised an extraordinary general assembly Tuesday 24 September for members and non-members alike to discuss expectations, wishes and suggestions for the new communication team of the Von der Leyen-Commission. API-IPA will now ask for a meeting with the new leadership of the spokespersons service (SPP) to discuss these and establish a good working relationship. Below is a summary of the issues raised.
– SPP organisation: the current structure, one spokesperson responsible for more than one commissioner, has proven to be not workable for journalists. Information has become fragmented, there is less in-depth knowledge and it is often unclear who is responsible for what. It is a generally expressed wish to return to the old structure, proven well over the years, with each commissioner having one dedicated, specialized spokesperson/communication team. Also the current division of roles between spokespersons and cabinet communication advisors is not clear and has been not very useful to journalists.
– Quality of information: the Midday briefing has for many become increasingly irrelevant because it is difficult to get appropriate answers. It should not be abolished, but improved. Factual information about the work of the Commission needs to prevail over political spin. All questions deserve an answer, even if they are repetetive and the issue has been discussed in the press room earlier. We expect that SPs not refer to old statements to avoid having to answer again. The refusal to answer 'if'-questions is frustrating for journalists, especially where issues of EU law and regulations are concerned. In politically sensitive cases the SPP can and should resort to using the off-the-record/background mode. Colleagues also asked that spokespersons treat journalists with respect.
- Briefings: the current system of technical briefings is widely appreciated, but there is a great need for more background/off-the-record briefings, especially on politically sensitive issues. It was proposed that the old custom of using the so-called 'red button' – (temporarily) switching off EbS and going off-the-record – which has fallen into disuse, is re-instated. We would also like to see that spokespersons, at the request of journalists, remain available in the press room for off-the-record Q&A after the open Midday briefing. It would be greatly appreciated if the chief spokesperson would regularly (for instance once a month) be available for an off-the-record briefing for all in the press room to discuss current issues on the agenda of the Commission.
– Availability of information: press material on topics about which commissioners or officials give press conferences or briefings, should be available on time for journalists before those events, if necessary under embargo. The practice to distribute material only minutes before or often even during press conferences
– Equal treatment: inviting selected groups of journalists for informal or background meetings with commissioners should as a rule be done in a non-discriminatory way, with media of all types and origins having the opportunity to attend on a regular basis. Freelancers have the feeling of being left out. We propose that background briefings in Strasbourg are in principle open to all Brussels based correspondents present. When in informal or background meetings on-the-record information is provided, this has to be immediately communicated to all correspondents – as per the SPP-API-agreement.
– Language: bilingualism (E/F) should be the norm. Questions asked in French should be answered in French. Press material has to be available in at least English and French on time and at the same time.
– AV-media: colleagues from the audiovisual media would like that spokespersons are – as was practice before – more available for on-the-record comments after the Midday briefings. It is currently more and more difficult to get usable soundbites. Statements from the podium are often not usable by AV-media, also because SP's often switch languages while answering a question. The existence of EbS can never be used as an excuse not to be available for the (AV) press.
– President VDL: journalists are asking for regular appearances of president Von der Leyen in the press room. In this regard colleagues welcomed her first press conference on 10 September and her willingness to meet the accredited press frequently, on- and off-the-record.
– Journalists would like to have the opportunity – again – to talk directly off-the-record on (technical) issues with Directors or DG's, as was practice in the past but is currently not allowed.
– It is proposed to use technology to make technical/background-briefings accessible online for those accredited correspondents who cannot attend (password-protected).
– Topnews is still dearly missed, as is the daily Press Review.
– Journalists prefer to have the Commission's agenda available already on Friday; it can then always be updated after the meeting of the heads of cabinet on Monday.
– The security checks for accredited journalists at the Berlaymont entrance remain a major nuisance. We ask to discuss this again with the security service, and ask to be immediately informed before any change of procedure is introduced.