Mediating for the media
When Aoife Houlihan finished her first degree in economics, business and politics at Trinity College Dublin a few years ago, she felt no particular pressure to start a full-time job immediately. At the time, “opportunities were endless” in her native Ireland, she explains.
Instead, she spent half a year teaching English in Tanzania and went travelling in South America. She returned feeling as if she had learned a great deal, but she was still in the dark as to what she wanted to do for a career. It was only after gaining a master’s degree in international law and spending a year as an assistant to Eoin Ryan, an Irish MEP, that she decided that a career combining law, politics and society was what she wanted.
And that is more or less what her role at the News Media Coalition (NMC) involves. NMC, which represents the views and interests of major international media organisations, aims to ensure that journalists can report freely on major events, in particular sporting ones, without being subject to organisers’ “excessive controls” on the flow of news to the public. Its executive director, Andrew Moger, is based in London, while Brussels-based Houlihan runs NMC’s secretariat function.
Houlihan follows debates on issues related to press freedom, responds to consultations with position papers, and attends meetings with the relevant units of the European Commission (in the directorates-general for the information society, internal market, and education, culture, multilingualism and youth) and the Parliament (in particular, the culture and legal affairs committees). She says she is often surprised by “the lack of awareness” between departments about what other parts of the same institution are doing on a particular issue.
Last week’s Commission communication on sport, a case in point as to the cross-cutting nature of the issues that NMC follows, was eagerly awaited by Houlihan and her colleagues. One aspect of the communication was intellectual-property rights relating to the media coverage of sport events, which the Commission said it would examine further. “That in itself is a success,” says Houlihan. The NMC has been advising on these issues since the publication of the white paper on sport in 2007.
Not all of Houlihan’s working life is spent in meeting rooms in Brussels. She also gets “amazing opportunities” to travel and learn about how news is produced, distributed and consumed worldwide. On a work trip to India she was struck by the “immense appetite” for news there. She also notes that, however much Europe and the US think they are at the cutting edge of technology, a trip to Asia is a constant reminder of how commonly news is read via mobile devices there, particularly among the younger generation.
Attending large meetings with managing directors of world news organisations might seem daunting to the average 28-year-old. But not to Houlihan, it seems. “We need the clout of big names to support our case,” she says in a matter-of-fact tone.
What she particularly appreciates about her position at NMC is that she is always learning. “You should leave a job when you stop learning,” she says. Having recently been part of a panel for the International School of Brussels’s careers day, she has spent a fair amount of time thinking about how she ended up where she is. “When I started looking for work, I didn’t know this job existed. I’m a massive believer in luck and chance,” she says. She is also a firm believer that working hard will get you a long way.
And that is borne out by how she spends much of her time when she is not defending press freedom and helping newspapers and publications negotiate rights to cover events. Besides her work, she is also doing a part-time doctorate in European law, researching the non-economic objectives in trade agreements. “It’s totally separate and so refreshing,” she enthuses.
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