On 23 February, the Sunday Times saw fit to publish a “news” article headlined: “Eurocrats take the gravy train back to their old schools“.
It began “Brussels bureaucrats are being offered two-day all-expenses-paid trips home to extol the virtues of the EU to schoolchildren in the run-up to this May’s European elections.”
Difficult to know where to start.
First, they do not go for two days, but generally for a few hours, unless they take annual leave.
Second, in many cases, they pay for themselves, because they think this is something worth doing.
Third, they are not at their alma maters to “extol the virtues of the EU” but to talk about their jobs and answer questions honestly – partly in the hope that they might inspire some of the audience to explore following in their career footsteps. Members of many professions from accountancy to zoology – and certainly including national civil servants – visit schools for similar purposes.
Fourth, this initiative has been going for years and will continue long after the elections.
So four misleading statements in the first sentence. Good going.
And there were more, though the slant of this article is revealed as much by a crucial fact it omitted as in the distortions it included.
It did not say that the EU staff back to school scheme, far from being some nefarious exercise in Brussels indoctrination, is co-organised with and backed by national governments, especially the UK government, which has made very clear, very often, that it sees increasing the proportion of British officials working in EU institutions as a key aim.
Indeed, only a couple of days after the Sunday Times “exposed” this pernicious propaganda plot by Brussels, a Foreign Office generated website put out a call for more speakers.
The Sunday Times did at least allow our Head of Representation, Jacqueline Minor, 120 words (about a quarter of the length of the original piece) to respond to this masterpiece of bias and insinuation.
Here is what was published:
The scheme reported in your article “Eurocrats take the gravy train back to their old schools” (World News, last week) is organised jointly with governments.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has co-signed letters to UK schools and last week called online for more speakers.
The aim is to explain what officials do and to get more British people working in EU institutions.
Some who attack the EU as an “ivory tower” seem to object to officials speaking to people and answering questions.
Our staff do not get “two days off work”.
Legitimate expenses are paid and they go straight back to work, or, if trips are self-financed, they get an extra day’s leave – without expenses.
Finally, officials go alone, not with press officers”
The text originally submitted had a rather different first sentence: “Your article on EU officials visiting their old schools (ST, 23 February) was unfair.” As usual, before publication, the newspaper expunged any criticism of itself: we have to save that for this blog.
But at least the Sunday Times did allow a right of reply, without any of the quibbling with which some newspapers often respond to our requests to be allowed to set the record straight.