Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Reuters’

AEJ-UK at 50

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 29th September, 2018

AEJ Brexit seminarWith Brexit looming on the horizon, there is not much for pro-Europeans to celebrate. However, yesterday afternoon the UK section of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ)  held a seminar at Europe House in Westminster to mark 50 years of its existence. The theme was UK-EU Relations beyond Brexit, which most speakers were agreed would need to remain close — both on economics and security matters — even if Brexit does go ahead on 29 March 2019. However, several contributors, such as the former Whitehall mandarin Sir Martin Donnelly and the anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller, minced no words about Brexit being a mistake and held out hope that somehow it could be averted. In contrast, the former Labour MP and arch-Brexiteer Gisela Stuart (soon to take up the position of Chair of the FCO’s policy forum, Wilton Park) maintained that the voters had made the right choice in the 2016 EU Referendum and that the result had to be respected.

Given the audience — which included over a dozen journalists from other AEJ sections, from Ireland to Cyprus and Bulgaria — there was quite a lot of discussion about the role of the media in Brexit. Quentin Peel, former Financial Times correspondent in Brussels, admitted hat he had been lucky in working for an employer who wanted to know the details of complex European matters which were also of interest to the paper’s readers, whereas Peter Foster, Europe Editor of the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, outlined the difficulty of covering the European story in ways accessible to the general public. The name of the Telegraph’s “star” columnist, Boris Johnson, was unsurprisingly bandied about, as people recalled his fabrication of anti-EU stories early in his career and now his championing of his own Brexit scenario. I was based in Brussels myself for eight years, initially with Reuters news agency, and it was there that I first joined the AEJ (French-speaking Belgian section). The everyday minutiae of news from the European Commission were challenging to convey in an interesting fashion, but the longer I stayed in Brussels and began to understand the purpose of the European project, the more I believed in its aims — which is why the prospect of Brexit does sometimes keep me awake at night and why I will continue to fight for Remain, probably via a People’s Vote or new referendum on whatever terms Theresa May’s government agrees with the other 27 EU member states, always assuming agreement is possible.

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Can One Learn Journalism?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 7th September, 2017

journalism 2Earlier this week I was invited to speak to a group of young people who aspire to be journalists, or otherwise to write in other ways. Actually, it was more of a Q&A session, and as I told them, my career has hardly been typical. Whereas most aspirant journos would leap at the chance of a job for a mainstream media organisation, I shied away of being anyone’s employee, leaving Reuters news agency after only one year and heading off down the freelance road. In fact, that’s where I started, as my very first published articles were for the Manchester Evening News and the Geographical Magazine, written in Vietnam during the war, between school and university. I went into Reuters as a graduate trainee and I did learn shorthand during my time there, as well as how to write a story in pyramid style, so essentially it makes sense no matter how far down you cut it. But otherwise I wasn’t taught how to write; I learned on the job. The same was true with writing my books. So I am always a little sceptical when I hear of media studies courses at university, though some, for example at London’s City University, have a good reputation. Can one really learn journalism, I wonder? Or is it more a question of having some sort of innate wish and talent to find out things and then to put them into words? My advice to the young people I spoke to this week was to identify what they are really passionate about and then to start writing. They are unlikely to be able to just ring a newspaper editor and get articles commissioned straight away, which is what happened with me at age 18, but then I chose a “hot topic”. But young people today have the great advantage that there are so many more platforms available now than when I first began, and both blogging and vlogging (which anyone with a modicum of tech-savviness can get into) are just two ways of getting one’s material out there. Whether that can lead to some paid employment or commissions is another matter. And of course it is important that people don’t always give away content for free, even if occasionally that can be good as a “taster”. But as I advised one young man, many years ago, who asked me if he ought to become a writer: if something inside you drives you to express yourself through writing, do it. If that drive’s not there. don’t.

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Nostalgia for Brussels

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 27th July, 2017

Grand Place Brussels smallEncouraged by some heartening reviews of my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes¹, I have embarked on a new volume of recollections, this time covering the years when I was based in Brussels, initially working for Reuters news agency, covering the European Economic Community (precursor to the EU) and NATO, then subsequently freelance, writing books, magazine articles and carrying out various assignments and commissions in Africa and the United States. The period concerned is 1974-1981 and it is sobering to think that for young people today that is effectively history. However, what may be surprising to many readers, when the volume eventually sees the light of day next year, is the great affection I developed for the city of Brussels. It’s not just that it boasts one of the most magnificent city squares in Europe, or that the food is scrumptious. The quality of life in general is high and I loved the fact that so many Belgians (and indeed foreign resident) had real art in their homes, not just cheap reproductions. I also grew to love the Belgians themselves, both Flemings and Walloons, for their zest for life and originality. They are so very different from the caricature that comes over in jokes about their nationality, not least from the French. And, yes, I was converted to the European project, having arrived in Brussels as a young Eurosceptic but gradually understanding the extraordinary potential of the European endeavour. My nostalgia for Brussels, as I write my current memoir, is thus not just about the place and the people, but for being part of the EU — a situation now seriously in jeopardy thanks to Britain’s Conservative government and complicit Labour Opposition.

¹ https://www.amazon.co.uk/Eccles-Cakes-Odd-Tale-Survival-ebook/dp/B01II737EM/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1501177046&sr=1-2&keywords=Jonathan+Fryer

 

 

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We Mustn’t Take Peace for Granted

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 12th April, 2014

Battle of the SommeIn this centenary year of the outbreak of the First World War many minds have been turning to the issues of war and peace, and when I make speeches at hustings or rallies in the current European election campaign I always make the point that the founding fathers of what is now the European Union wanted to enmesh the economies of France and Germany (in particular) so that war in western Europe would be unthinkable. And so it appears. But it is all too easy for us today to take that for granted. As a child of the 1950s, I was very much aware of the legacy of the Second World War — the bomb sites, the drab unpainted unrestored buildings, the dreary food and the tail-end of rationing — but I was too young to see National Service. So it was perhaps a little perverse of me to go off to war voluntarily at the age of 18 — as a journalist in Vietnam. What I saw there burned into my heart a hatred for war and for all the human emotions connected with it. I attended my first Quaker meeting there, and joined the Society of Friends when I went up to Oxford. And although Reuters sent me off to comfortable Brussels when I joined the news agency after university, the lure of conflict zones was too great, and relaunched as a freelance commentator and broadcaster I covered a whole range of bloody situations, from Israel/Palestine to Central America and Angola. That was not because I revelled in the suffering. Quite the contrary. But I believed passionately that it needed to be reported, so people might learn that humanity should develop ways of resolving differences and rivalries more constructively. I still feel that today, as Vladimir Putin seems intent on infiltrating deeper into eastern Ukraine, alarming not just Kiev but several other of Russia’s neighbours. In the recent Clegg versus Farage EU IN/OUT debates in Britain, Nick Clegg stressed the importance of Britain’s EU membership for jobs — and of course that is true. But I shall also carry on talking about something that is not just related to the economy or livelihoods: the EU — enlarged a decade ago to take in formerly Communist states of central and eastern Europe — is a brilliant example of how to do things differently, about how to live togeter in peace, celebrating diversity. Fall back on nationalism, as Nigel Farage and some of his more unsavoury counterparts on the Continent would like us to do, will only lead to renewed tensions between peoples and, yes, the reappearance of the spectre of war.

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1989 The Berlin Wall: My Part in Its Downfall

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 11th September, 2009

Peter Millar book coverAs the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall approaches, the bookshops are filling up with commemorative and interpretative volumes. One of the most welcome is Peter Millar’s 1989 The Berlin Wall: My Part in Its Downfall (Arcadia Books, £11.99), which will be launched at the Frontline Club in London on 1 October. Peter followed me from Oxford into Reuters at the news agency’s old Fleet Street offices and then as the baby in the set-up in the International Press Centre in Brussels, though he lasted longer than I did. I resigned while still in Brussels when I received my first book contract  (for The Great Wall of China), whereas he went on to work for Reuters in East Berlin and then Moscow, before moving over to the Sunday Telegraph and then the Sunday Times.

We didn’t meet up in East Berlin when he was posted there, though I was going in and out of the place frequently at the time, visiting Quakers and other people involved in what became the Swords into Ploughshares movement which was the forerunner of civil unrest that would eventually see the edifice of DDR authority collapse like a house of cards. By the time 1989 came round, I was at Bush House as a sort of ‘rest of the world’ commentator for the BBC World Service and at times rather envied those who could concentrate on the disintegration of European communism. I did go to Berlin again shortly after the Wall came down, however. Rather than  bringing back a chunk of that graffiti-daubed monument, I bought a very fetching Soviet sailor´s cap for US$1 from a tipsy Russian instead.

Peter Millar’s book — whose title is a deliberate nod of homage to the late, great Spike Milligan — is full of telling anecdote and seamlessly blends autobiography with historical reportage. There are a few go0od laughs, but much of the tale is suitably serious. There was indeed euphoria on the night of 9 November 1989, as the Wall was breached — I shed a tear of joy myself, watching the scenes on TV at home in London — but there was anguish too. Peter was able to smile wrily at some details he later discovered in his Stasi files. But for many of my friends and colleagues, what they then found out about the system they had been forced to live under for so many years was in many cases even more traumatising than what they had imagined.

Link: www.arcadiabooks.co.uk

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Lobbying the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 5th February, 2009

This evening I was one of two speakers at the European Society at King’s College, London, on the theme of lobbying the European Union. My co-panelist, David Coen, of University College London (UCL), presented an excellent academic framework to and analysis of the current state of the lobbying operation in Brussels, notably by the commercial sector, whereas I concentrated more on the political principles involved and the work of NGOs. About 2,600 organisations and groups of various kinds have a permanent base in Brussels, from which they can establish a close working relationship with officials in the European Commission and — increasingly — members of the European Parliament, as the latter institution increases its powers.

I used illustrations from the work that I did after I left Reuters in Brussels, as the first Executive Secretary of the NGO Liaison Committee to the European Communities — which brought together European-based Third World charities such as Oxfam (UK) and Trocaire (Ireland), which were conduits for European funds for development and development education — as well as the founding Secretary of the Quaker Council for European Affairs (QCEA), which has for the past three decades monitored EU matters of interest to the Religious Society of Friends and other sections of the peace movement, for example on the right to concientious objection and the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.

Using a template devised by Wilhelm Lehmann and others six years ago, I spoke of the four main functions of lobbying in Brussels: (1) a service function in researching and providing information to one’s client base or special interest group, (2) a lobbying function of influencing decision-making by contact with the appropriate authorities, (3) a decision-making function, in which special interest groups are consulted and involved in drafting  directives and other measures, and (4) an implementation function, putting European policies into practice (for example, NGOs working with the elderly, helping to implement anti-age discrimination policies).

Lobbying sometimes has a bad name in the popular imagination or the tabloid press. But in a modern democracy, the powers that be should consult widely with a wide range of interested sectors in society. When done well, this means that European legislation is better than it might have been, and is closer to the citizens of Europe.

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Writing the Truth about Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 30th April, 2008

Last night, I attended the first UACES-Reuters Reporting Europe Awards, at the splendid Reuters building in Canary Wharf — or, to be more precise, the headquarters of the new company Thomson Reuters, as it became less than a fortnight ago. It’s nearly 25 years since I worked for Reuters in Brussels, but the need for accurate information about the European Union is just as imperative now as it was then. Alas, swaths of the British press prefer to peddle lies and myths. The keynote speaker at the awards ceremony, Niall FitzGerald, Deputy Chairman of Thomson Reuters, gave an amusing but also rather depressing run-through of some of the more grotesque stories of recent months. This was doubly depressing, in that firstly popular organs such as The Sun and the Daily Mail still peddle such misleading rubbish, and that secondly such a high proportion of the British public reads this gleefully, so they can indulge in a good bit of Brussels-bashing down at the pub or the golf club.

But the point of the new awards is to celebrate good, fair and accurate reporting of European issues, and it was reassuring to see just what a strong short-list of nominees the judges had to choose from: Bertrand Benoit of the Financial Times, John Peet of the Economist, the blogger J Clive Matthews and the BBC’s Europe Editor, Mark Mardell were the commended runners-up. However, the award went to my former colleague Allan Little, BBC World Affairs Correspondent — and well deserved too. As we approach the Euro-elections of June 2009, thank God there are some informed and sane voices among the cacophony of scare-mongers and xenophobes.

Link: www.UACES.org   

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