Marielle Vitureau: Covering the Baltic States as a French correspondent
Marielle Vitureau is a French independent journalist. She has been the correspondent for Radio France Internationale, Courrier International and other media in the Baltic States for the past twenty years. Based in Vilnius, she is mainly covering social issues and the integration of the Baltics into the European Union.
What is the difference between you, a permanent journalist in the Baltics, and foreign journalists who cover the Baltic countries on an ad hoc basis, not living in the country?
As a correspondent, I have more insight into what is going on in the country, knowing the ins and outs. Regarding civil partnership currently being debated in Lithuania, I can better understand the process of setting this topic on the political agenda, why and how. More accurate perception of the situation. Also, while information emerging abroad is released through the press agencies, as a local correspondent, I am keeping abreast of other topics, more local ones. Journalists who are staying in their national office remain merely informed through press agencies.
From the French point of view, do you think that there is a lack of coverage of the Baltic countries, since you explained being one of the few journalists to cover these countries, at least permanently?
Not only can we say that the Baltic countries are suffering from a lack of coverage, they are not the only ones. We don't talk a lot about Finland, Slovenia or Slovakia in the French media. So, I don't think this phenomenon is only true in the case of the Baltics. International programs remain extremely rare in the national media. France Inter [1st French radio] dedicates one hour a day from Monday to Friday to international report. And we end up being in competition because it's not only a European program, so the Baltic states are competing with all the other countries in the world. Lithuania being a small country with little political stake, it is difficult to impose my reports. The topics always need to be strong enough.
Another issue to iron out is the trouble French journalists are having talking about Europe. Should we talk about it through the institutional prism of the European Union? How to talk about European societies? We can't figure out how to approach it, and make a real difference between Europe and the European Union in the coverage. It is not obvious. And this difficulty can curb atypical and unconventional coverage of the news and make covering local issues riskier because if the stakes are not very high in France, people find it trifling.
So, as a permanent correspondent you have a keener insight into local context, a more nuanced opinion but also contacts to gather divergent stances on a topic. Can the lack of knowledge lead to a phenomenon of misinterpretation of the information by the foreign press to get the story of what people want to hear? Also, when journalists stay in their national editorial board, they may be tempted to limit themselves to governmental sources and only then check the local press, which can lead to politically oriented information instead of actually reporting the news. What do you think?
As for France, I don't think so. Journalists who come to work here are coming with a fixer because it is not possible otherwise, for most of them at least. For example, Arte broadcasts every week a European report in its Sunday program, and as I can testify for the Baltic countries, Arte's journalists are always working with fixers whose task it is to add context and nuance. France Inter recently came before the beginning of the war, and I worked with them to give them context. So, I don't feel like it is that biased in France.
What do you feel matter to French readers when we talk about the Baltic countries?
The unusual category works very well. Also, if we manage to find topics which echo subjects currently debated in France, it can be riveting for the French audience since it brings another opening on an issue. For example, a few years ago, the Lithuanians succeeded in putting a deposit on plastic and glass bottles. And it is something debated in France, so covering a topic that provides a solution by asking how the Lithuanians did, it's an easy topic to suggest to media, even the international ones because there is preexisting open-mindedness. Foreign policy issues are of great interest too. Why is Lithuania thinking this or that about Ukraine? Why is Estonia having such a position on Ukraine, for example? The interest grew with the war in Ukraine too.
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Editor: Marcus Turovski