The ECPA Masterclass Series
New Media, New Challenges: Access, Confidentiality and Transparency in Public Affairs
Synopsis of themes
The European Parliament, in common with other EU Institutions, is active across the range of new media communications vehicles, and has embraced social media as one of these tools. Currently active on web and mobile based formats, it is a live participant on Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare.
The stated aim is clear: the Parliament believes that social media can and does make a difference to the political process, and so uses these media to create an online space where the politics of Europe are debated.
Fulfilling this aim comes with a range of issues and challenges both for those generating content and for those recipients who want or need to engage in the dialogue. Transparency, accountability, authority, reach and impact emerged as sensitive and at times controversial areas.
For public affairs practitioners and politicians alike, of chief concern is the “grey area” between the use of social media for individual and professional purposes. MEPs, for example, do enjoy a degree of personal licence in their statements, and their individual blogs are made available live via the Parliament’s portals. Yet transpose this status to civil servants – European Commission officials for example – and the line between personal and professional opinion is of greater concern. Some felt that sufficient codes of personal conduct exist to ring-fence this area, though others felt that a specific code of conduct addressing individual online activity may be desirable.
An important element in addressing this concern is for the Institutions to remain focused on keeping their activities on social mediaissue based; to ensure that their presence aligns with the current work programme, and is not concerned with the relevance or popularity of the Institution per se.
Engaging in the social media dialogue as it pertains to the current work programme clearly raises issues for public affairs practitioners. Whilst on the one hand it can be a vital tool for keeping in touch with ongoing activities, where does it sit in terms of the traditional, linear processes of legislative procedure? The Institutional view is that the worlds of new media and more traditional communications channels comfortably co-exist, and that feedback received irrespective of platform has equal status. The stated timelines for any work programme remain in place and are not distorted by the immediacy of the new media dialogue.
It is clear that public affairs practitioners have a range of new options, and new challenges, before them. One viewpoint was that the use of social media for professional purposes should be as a welcome and relevant mechanism for monitoring, but that it is not the appropriate platform for a corporate dialogue. Others felt this to be overly cautious. What is clear that between those who see social media as a parallel universe and those who embrace it at the expense of traditional media there is a gulf which has yet to be crossed. Our challenge and our role as public affairs practitioners is to find the appropriate middle ground where we can effectively embrace the two.
Speaker: Stephen Clark, Head of Web Communications at the European Parliament
Moderator: Maria Laptev, Executive Director, the ECPA