Former MEP Richard Corbett on how Euromyths happen, and why.

‘But these stories must be true – they’re in the papers!’

The poor quality of UK press coverage of the EU is something I’ve often moaned about. Those who think I exaggerate should read the 2007 article by David Rennie, who was until then the Daily Telegraph correspondent in Brussels, so cannot be accused of coming from a pro-Europe stable.

In his article in E! Sharp magazine he says:

“British press reporting on the European Union is getting sharply worse. This matters more than you might think. When barmy Brussels stories first became a staple, they usually contained at least a speck of truth, which was then spun into an overblown confection like so much candy floss. Lately, however, once-serious newspapers have printed several stories that have not been checked at all or – strikingly – have been flatly denied by EU or government press officers, but published anyway.”

He goes on to ask:

“Why are things getting worse? Here are a few hunches. British newspapers are turning their backs on Europe. While the Brussels press corps is growing overall, the number of full-time staff correspondents from the UK is shrinking steadily. The worst pieces are almost always written from London, unsullied by contact with arguments from Brussels.”

He also quotes some of the same examples that I have blogged on such as the Sunday Express’ article on “a new EU police force” which he rightly describes as a “slab of tosh” pointing out that the opening sentance of the article succeeds in “cramming three claims into 17 words and getting all of them wrong”, and the News of the World story on the Queen being removed from British passports – which, he points out, the Daily Telegraph repeated after the government had pointed out that it was not true.

My colleagues from other countries often tell me of their incredulity at how outright untruths find their way into headlines in some British newspapers, even when the papers themselves know the story to be untrue. And it is hard not to conclude that this drip drip drip of falsehoods denigrating the EU does not have an effect on public attitudes to Europe.