Eiffel Tower

Europe is an incredible place, especially with 12 students and 2 awesome Mizzou professors there to explore the continent with you.  What began with 14 strangers on a plane to Europe truly ended with real friendships that will continue on as our lives take various paths. We traveled across the world to Europe where we explored the Czech Republic, France, Belgium and Italy for 16 days.  The stories that were told and told again from this adventure on the European Tour involved local residents, agencies, tourist spots and an awful attempt to put into words the hilarious memories created.  My experience abroad with the Missouri Journalism School was an incredible experience that I will never forget and would highly recommend for every student.

Although I could talk about how incredible my time in Europe was forever, I am here to share a contrasting view I uncovered while abroad.  It was not until we had visited a range of media outlets that I slowly noticed an emerging pattern.  The concept of privacy for Europeans heavily collided with the views of free speech for Americans.

Freedom of speech and your right as an American to know personal matters regarding public figures, such as politicians, is something many American’s simply do not give a second thought. That is because it is our culture.  It was not until I was immersed into a culture different from my own that I saw the differences.  The viewpoints we have in the United States are drastically different in comparison to individuals from around the world.

Following numerous agency visits I finally identified this existing tension.  It was the way I looked at freedom of speech in comparison to the residents of the countries within the European Union.  I had exposed myself to something new and finally understood that I was in a culture where freedom of speech is not limited, but strategically and respectfully censored.

Throughout numerous lectures the topic of limited speech and biases were brought to light.  It always seemed to be an extremely touchy subject and the presenter never in any manner openly believed or admitted that their companies were in fact biased.  That was because in the eyes of a European they were not biased.  I would always resist the urge to shake my head in disagreement towards the presenter.  I had yet to understand that my culture had taught me a different meaning towards “freedom of speech” and “unbiased.”  My viewpoints were drastically different than anybody that had grown up with European journalism.  I viewed a journalist’s freedom of speech as revealing the truth no matter how private the matter.   In Europe, they disagree.  They consider this harsh and indecent. A European journalist prefers to respect the privacy of the live’s they are reporting.  I have also been taught to view “unbiased” as separating yourself completely from the subject you are reporting on.  Once again, the definition of “unbiased” was drastically different.

A lecture in Paris at the Ecole de Journalisme de Sciences Po by Peter Grumble addressed the repetitive disagreement on the topic of censorship noticed by nearly all the University of Missouri Journalism students.  Grumble has lived in Paris since 2002 and previously worked for the Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine along and various other international news outlets.

It was odd as a student, not previously exposed to other cultures, to hear how the terms freedom of speech varied in meaning despite your location.  I always believed  in America’s view point of “freedom of speech” and that other countries varied within the spectrum of free speech.  This was not the case.  The meaning of free speech itself varies.  Grumble explains how freedom of speech in the United States comes first, where privacy of an individual leads in Europe.  Although, even though privacy is first they still consider themselves to journalistically have complete freedom of speech.   Grumble explained that for France in particular the laws regarding freedom of speech are halted the second the government considers it harmful.  He talked about known “secrets” in the realm of journalists within Europe.  These secrets would be front-page scandals in America; causing an individual not only their reputation but also their career.  In Europe, these breaking stories were never released.

There is a general consensus within America that if we follow public figures lives in the spotlight it is vital to understand who they are through their private lives.  In fact, we are eager to learn about public figures private lives as a way to determine how we overall view them as a public figure. This is not the case in Europe, and certainly not France. In fact, the general public has no knowledge or interest in learning about the private lives of individuals.  Often times a journalist stumbles across an affair, child out of wedlock, etc.  These “secrets” of public figures are acknowledged between journalists but never published or openly spoke about.  The public rarely even catches a glimpse of these stories, not even by word of mouth.  As told by Grumble, publishing stories such as these stories in a country like France can and does cost journalists their career.  He spoke of the unwritten guidelines within the culture of journalism in France.   The public often won’t see the repercussions a journalist endures from publishing a story regarding a powerful public figures private life.  These journalists are “laid-off” or “let go.”  Although, it will be cited that they were let go for reasons other than their mistake of publishing private details of a power figure.

European privacy is taken very seriously. This is opposite of America.  In America a journalist’s breaking-story revolving around a public figures private scandal often enhances the journalist’s career.

What was most interesting was that until Grumble openly spoke about the elephant in the room, no company or agency ever acknowledged their company’s potential bias.  This included both private and parliament-ran corporations.  The parliament-ran corporations were producing and publishing media to the residents in their country all while the employees were paid by the parliament.  As an American student this was difficult to understand.   In America many would see that as wrong, even corrupt.  For the citizens of France the potential bias of companies producing media, supported by their parliament, is not a concern.

The greatest thing I learned while abroad was the importance of culture.  The world is more interconnected than ever today because of the Internet.  No matter the career I pursue it is crucial to understand how culture and values vary around the world.  Neither country is right or wrong.   Although, you cannot learn about other cultures without first understanding your own culture.

It is not until you immerse yourself in a culture very different from your own that you can learn who you are and how your culture impacts your everyday life.  In that moment you will begin to see your daily life from a different perspective.

Learn more about Frances leading university Sciences Po at http://www.sciencespo.fr/en

The media tour and Mizzou Brussels study abroad group posed with the United States ambassador of Belgium:

The media tour and Brussels study abroad group posed with United States ambassador of Belgium

By: Malorie Barnett

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