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Big Think Interview With Philippe Cayla

Question: How does EuroNews position coverage of issues for all of Europe?

Philippe Cayla:  The peculiarity of EuroNews is to have a non-national point of view, a non-national editorial line.  When we cover the affairs of a particular country, we don't take the point of this particular country, but we try to take the point of the neighboring countries, as well.  When we report about Brussels, conversely to other European channels we don't take the national point of view of what is Brussels doing for this particular country.  We are taking the general interest of the Europeans at large, and we try to understand if what Brussels is doing is good or bad for the Europeans as a whole—not for a particular country.  That is what makes EuroNews very specific in reporting about Europe.

Question: How did you cover the Greek bailout?

Philippe Cayla:  We present both rationales, of course.  Every country, both Greece and Germany, have their own good reasons to act as they did.  Of course, Greece is [...] for having committed to so much debt and for not having put in place the reforms that they need that they're now trying to implement.  Conversely, the fact that the claim for bailout for other European countries is natural, it's part of European solidarity, and nobody can contest that.  The point of Germany is that in fact they are the wealthiest and the richest country in Europe.  They have committed to much support of other European countries that they are now a little fed up, so you can also understand their point of view.  They are fed up with countries like Greece who are unable to manage their own problems properly.

It is also a rupture with traditional, I would say, common understanding in Germany that Germany was supporting Europe, and because of it's particular history it was a political necessity.  So also in Germany there are some mixed feelings about whether other countries should or not react as Mrs. Merkel did.  So in EuroNews, of course we present all facets of the story.  We present... On screen you can see people shouting in the streets of Athens, you can see German leaders saying that Greece should sell out their islands in order to recover some money, which is absolutely a crazy idea.  But we don't say it's a crazy idea—we just report the story, and we present Mrs. Merkel's side, too.  We try to treat the view as an adult, and so to present him the facts as they are and to help him in making his own assessment of the situation, his own judgment.  That's what we think is our [...] and our editorial line.

Question: What’s the biggest challenge for EuroNews?

Philippe Cayla:  The main challenge is to be simple and attractive for the viewer, because of course nationalism has not disappeared in Europe.  People are still very nationalist, and they care chiefly for their own domestic affairs, so to make them... to create the sense that neighbor's affairs are also interesting for them, not only intellectually but also practically.  If they want to make business with neighboring countries or other European countries, if they want to travel, for touristic reason, for instance, they need to understand a little better.  So we try to make it simple and attractive for a European watching EuroNews to have an eye on what we present and to try to catch a better understanding of the situation abroad.  That's not easy because people—like everywhere in the world I think—but in Europe one could think that there is more solidarity feelings than in the rest of the world, but it's not really the case.  In fact, everybody's very nationalistic.  And so you have to create this feeling that there is some solidarity between the people, and that's not easy.

Question: Do European networks try to shock with news coverage?

Philippe Cayla:  No, it's not at all what we intend for.  Of course, we need not to be boring, but we don't want to be an entertainment channel, a news entertainment channel, as some others are.  We try to keep our serious line, but nevertheless, we don't cover only political news and business news.  We try to have a larger coverage of news, covering also culture and science, which is also very specific to EuroNews.  You can find a number of programs on EuroNews.  At all, we have 40 different programs, and a number of them cover cultural events in Europe, outside of Europe—be it exhibitions, theater, cinema releases, film releases, music, music events.  And in the field of science also we have specific programs for the science at large, new developments of European science. Space, space industry, space adventure, which is very popular in the U.S. but also in Europe, high-tech in all its forms.  So we try to offer the viewer a wide range of human activities, if you like, which aren't only the politics themselves, but which covers all aspects of human life.

Question: How do you deal with fatigue surrounding important news stories?

Philippe Cayla: It's always the problem when you manage a news television.  It is a problem of the agenda or what is at the top of the agenda.  Something like the spill – of course it should be at the top of the agenda in America, in Europe a little less, but it's changing every day.  But when you are a 24-hour news channel, the viewer never stay more than 20-30 minutes, so every half an hour you have new viewers who haven't seen what has been broadcast before. So it's only an impediment for the ones who are watching for long hours the same news channel... but there are very few of them.  Only professionals like you, maybe, or others.  All the wise people who watch news channels watch it only for 20 minutes to half an hour, and the just get what they need to know.

Question: How can a modern news organization attract and retain a loyal following?

Philippe Cayla:  Certainly to create a loyalty among the audience you need to respect some basic laws to be... basic laws of journalism; honesty, transparency.  What is particular to EuroNews is a balance.  We have a good balance between values and opinions.  We are not an opinion channel; we don't give an opinion to the people, and when there is a conflict we always present both sides of the story.  For instance, the Middle East I think, at least along the Western channels, we are very considerate because we don't take a particular side between Israel and the Arab world.  We present both sides of the story, whatever events which recently occurred.  For that we receive some messages of consideration, of respect.  People like us because of this balance, which is I think particular to EuroNews.  We don't represent necessarily... we don't represent a particular interest.  We don't represent the West against the Middle East or the East...  I would say we try to be as balanced as possible, and this is due to the fact that we are multinational and multicultural, and we don't have a national background—any particular national background.

Our team consists of 350 journalists, and they make the editorial line together.  By mutual consent, they have to agree about what goes on the air, so of course it's this multiplicity of nationality neutralizes in some sense the editorial lines.  You cannot have a strong line when you have so many people.  We need to agree, to consent, on the editorial line.

Question: Do Europeans care more about foreign affairs than Americans do?

Philippe Cayla:  Yes, in fact it is a situation in the U.S. which is very similar to the one in the U.K.  You are islands as well, and as far as I know here in the U.S. only 10 percent of people have a passport, if it is correct.  It's a figure I have in mind.  In the U.K. maybe a bit more, but the fact you are in an island in some way, and you can't, well... mentally give... isolation and... of no need of knowing what the others are doing.

Of course, in Europe—in the continental Europe—because of history people have fought so much together in the past that... now they are in peace, but they have a tradition of "need to know" in some sense, which is higher.  But to be frank with you, it's not necessarily the case in reality.  I mean, do the French know the Germans?  And do the Germans know the French?  I'm not so sure.  Each of them, they have a conscience that they should know better the other party, but in reality every nation is still living inside its borders.  And there is, in each country, there is some kind of upper class of maybe 10 percent of the population, which for business reasons or for personal curiosity, travels a lot and wants to know better what is the situation abroad, but it's a limited slice of the society.

For the news channel... the news channel is...  themselves are niche channels in each country, you never go beyond one percent of audience rating.  For an international channel, it is niche of a niche, so we never go beyond 0.1 or 0.2 percent.  It's true as well for CNN International and BBC World.  So it's really an elite which wants to enlarge their understanding of the outside world.  So I'm not surprised by the U.S. situation.  It's maybe your own fault in the U.S. because you are... you feel protected for your particular geographic situation from the rest of the world.  But it is a situation which is basically in the genes of every particular nation.

Question: What will Europe’s place in the world be in 2025?

Philippe Cayla:  In 20, 25 years, it will be an aging continent.  First of all, the average age will increase from maybe... the average is I think 40 years now in Europe, and it will increase to 50.  So it will be a continent of seniors.  Nevertheless, there will be some birth and some youngsters, but the main problem with that is to have a civilization which is aging with people in good hands, by the way.  You know, I'm over 50, and I'm still in good health.  I think it will be the case in the future people are aging but keeping able to do things.  So what kind of things are they going to do?  Probably more social things.  They are not going to invent new things, but probably to manage the society as it is. They will probably increase their free time to travel, to increase understanding.  Is the standard of living going to grow or decrease?  That's debatable.  I don't know.  Maybe it will be stable or decrease a little, standard of living, because other countries, other continents, will move up.

What I hope is that it will keep being a peaceful area for the time being.  Europe is peaceful, and that's the main asset we have.  After so many wars and so many centuries, now Europe is a peaceful continent, so it will be probably a peaceful continent with always some difficulties to make up this European government that you... That is not the end of the story.  So the governance of Europe will probably improve in the next couple of years., and the European standard of living will be more stable, and that all people... I hope that Europe will be able to defend themselves from the... in case of not conflict, but in case of tough developments in the neighboring... the neighborhood of Europe.  So the main question for Europe is "What will occur in the Middle East? In Russia?  Will it be stable, or will it be a dangerous area?"  That's the question for the Europe of the future.

I think Europe has to make up it's own defense, which is not well-organized.  I don't know if you know, but Europe is, after the U.S., the continent which spends the most for  military.  We spend... in fact, the European spending for the military is 20 percent of the world spend.  U.S. represents 50 percent, and Europe comes second with 20 percent.  But this money is very much wasted with... nationally it's not well organized at the European level, so I think it should be better organized in order to secure the safety of Europeans in the future.

Question: How will David Cameron’s recent victory affect the U.K.’s role in the world?

Philippe Cayla: The U.K. is smoothly moving toward continental Europe, and the channel is not very wide.  But the U.K. is moving very smoothly.  What is interesting to see is... whatever the government have claimed during the election campaign, most of them have claimed they're anti-European, but once they're in power they are committed to work with other European leaders and finally to join to European policy even as a consequence, as a aftermath of the financial crisis.  Wherever U.K. leads a lot—in fact they are the first to have regulated their financial markets ahead of the rest of the continent.  So in fact they are more or less... They are in fact closer than they say, if you like.  They pretend to keep to themselves, to keep their independence, but in fact they are closer to rest of Europe, to the rest of the continent, and they work well with the other European leaders.  Mr. Brown and Mr. Cameron now are working with Mr. Sarkozy and with Mrs. Merkel on good terms, and they try to find common solutions.  So, there is a big difference between what the U.K. did and said and even what you read in the British press with the reality of British policy, which is much more European than what they say.

Recorded June 22, 2010

Interviewed by Jessica Liebman

A conversation with the Executive President of Euronews

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