The Brief — Commission’s Newspeak
“War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.” And trade restrictions are trade benefits, according to the latest from the European Commission this week – a move which rivals the fictional language known as ‘Newspeak’ in George Orwell’s timeless classic ‘1984’.
If you are a reporter covering the EU bubble in Brussels, you are probably used to the good old communication tricks by the EU executive.
For instance, the Commission’s policy of ‘not commenting on leaks or rumours’ has become as legendary and proverbial as the ‘Glomar response’ in the US – the ‘we can neither confirm nor deny’ reply our colleagues across the Atlantic hear on a daily basis.
Another favourite trick on this side of the Atlantic is the ‘quiet publishing’, aka the presentation of controversial or unpalatable announcements in the dead of the summer or, as has increasingly become a favourite, late on Friday afternoon.
But all of this is nothing compared to a new, much more worrying trend: the Commission’s Newspeak.
In Orwell’s fictional totalitarian state, Newspeak was the official language promoted by the government (Big Brother), which, in Orwell’s words, was “designed to diminish the range of thought”.
On Monday evening, the Commission released an ‘Avis aux médias’, entitled ‘EU extends trade benefits for Ukraine’, with a lead referring to “the suspension of import duties, quotas and trade defence measures on Ukrainian exports to the European Union”.
Was this the real news? Not at all.
The EU Council already adopted the extension of trade benefits on 25 May after the go-ahead of the other co-legislator, the European Parliament, on 9 May.
The justification to angle the press release in this way was that this decision technically entered into force on 6 June, but – as anyone even remotely following the issue can attest to – this is a relatively minor development.
Scrolling down, however, you find the actual news buried in the text: That the Commission has decided to prolong controversial temporary trade restrictions on select agricultural goods from Ukraine granted to five ‘frontline’ EU member states until September, a move whereby the executive is siding with EU farmers over Ukraine.
But, in Commission Newspeak, this prolongation becomes a ‘phasing out’, while trade restrictions become ‘trade benefits’.
In short, the Commission’s communications have increasingly become less about communicating and more about spinning their line.
Take, for example, attempts from the Commission spokesperson service to subtly ‘correct’ a EURACTIV article on agrifood, before publicly denouncing the article for ‘misleading’ readers – another move not completely out of character with Orwell’s ministry of truth.
As Orwell himself argued, imprecise, empty (and misleading) political language is used “largely [in] the defence of the indefensible.”
Which is precisely why this kind of Newspeak should concern us all and why we cannot allow incidents such as this to be lost down the memory hole.
And more widely, this also shows the need for specialised, independent journalists with the bandwidth to dig beyond the surface level in search of news.
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Look out for…
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