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Why the EU Needs Stronger PR

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When news broke that the European Union had won the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize for its contribution to "over six decades to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights", it was greeted by ridicule and derision; and not just by the right-wing press. While the cynicism is made easy by daily dispatches of rioting Athenians, from a historical perspective the achievements of the EU appear worthy of applause.

So why does Britain remain one of the few European nations where those who look favorably upon membership are outnumber by detractors? There are probably a lot of factors, but one of the most important might be the coverage (of lack thereof) in the British media. Because we only ever seem to regard the EU and it's parliament in the quality press or on television when there is some kind of crisis, the public, bombarded by negative tabloid coverage, is oblivious to 99% of what goes on there. Meanwhile the Westminster soap opera remains ever present and this could be a key reason why the British feel detached from Brussels and Strasbourg.

In 2002 the Pew Research Center published a study showing that the news habits of the American public had hardly changed following the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. Despite the tragedy and its worldwide ramifications, interest in foreign coverage was almost the same as it had been in the year 2000. Then the researches looked into the reasons for the public's apparent disinterest and described what they found on the Pew website:

"The survey offers powerful evidence that broad interest in international news is most inhibited by the public's lack of background in this area, overall, roughly two-thirds (65%) of those with moderate or low interest in these stories say they sometimes lack the background information to keep up."

The findings suggested that the less the public is told about an issue the less likely they are to follow it. Under-reported issues become complicated story-lines we're expected to occasionally pay attention to and staying up to date is harder if the public is unaware of the stories background. Its almost like trying to understand a television series like Breaking Bad by only watching every fifth episode. Naturally our interest is diminished over time and this causes news editors (who are usually under-staffed) to focus less and less attention and resources on the issues making the public less and less likely to be interested and the whole cycle become a self fulfilling prophecy.

With almost no serious coverage of the European Parliament the British public could be forgiven for regarding the EU as the massive generator of wasteful projects, inane legislation and bureaucratic gravy portrayed in the tabloids. When this is coupled with the ongoing eurozone crisis it creates a cocktail of pessimism and resentment ready to be exploited by euro-skeptics across the continent.

If the story of our age is the gradual shift in economic power from West to East, it is important to that we are provided with a fair view of the EU; collectively the biggest economy on earth. If it takes Nobel Prize to highlight its sizable contributions towards peace, aid, democracy, human rights and equality then it might need better PR. Because with the media currently rigged against it, the vacuum created by a lack of pro-European promotion, will quickly be filled by those who want to see it fall.