'Paranoid British press is full of jingoistic rubbish'

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The European Commission will today launch its most ferocious assault on the British press, accusing it of misleading readers by publishing anti-Brussels "paranoia" and "jingoistic rubbish".

The Commission has decided to hit back at the relentless criticism of the EU project in Britain's newspapers by returning their fire in similar terms. "Bias, untruth and propaganda" are some of the Commission's more measured comments.

"Seldom has press coverage of Europe been so distorted," Geoffrey Martin, head of the Commission's London office, said yesterday. He said much of the British press "continues to obscure the substantive issues by sensationalising the trivial and presenting ill-informed opinion as fact".

He singled out The Mirror's likening of those countries implementing European child safety standards to Nazi collaborators, and the Daily Mail's suggestion that EU grants had funded IRA arms bunkers.

According to a report to be published by the Commission today, the papers most in the Brussels doghouse are the Mail, which has 11 articles singled out for criticism, The Sunday Telegraph (9) and The Daily Telegraph (4).

The commission complains about the propagation of "Euro myths", including reports that Brussels had brought in new standards for children's swings; ordered London theatres to give their customers more legroom, and decreed that the size of condoms should be harmonised across Europe.

Then there was The Express story suggesting that the "great British toilet" could "go down the pan" because of an EU threat to ban the siphonic lavatory invented by Thomas Crapper. The commission insists: "There is no EU rule that will force Britain to abandon the traditional toilet in favour of a continental version."

Other criticisms are about the interpretation of events such as this year's review of the EU's governing treaties, which some papers have portrayed as leading to a European superstate. "The real agenda may not be headline-grabbing, but scaremongering and paranoia are poor substitutes for quality journalism and informed debate," said Mr Martin.

"These doomsters have been predicting the imminent arrival of the European superstate for years. For how much longer do they think they can hoodwink the British public?"

Newspapers will challenge his criticism, suggesting the review is designed to pave the way for European tax harmonisation. Romano Prodi, the Commission's president, has put the issue on the agenda even though Britain has vowed to veto a common tax policy.

Mr Martin's criticism is not confined to Eurosceptic newspapers. His report includes two articles in The Independent. One said Mr Prodi wanted to standardise everything from electric sockets to pensions - claims not contradicted directly by the Commission, which pointed instead to his call for "radical decentralisation" of decision-making.

The other said several EU commissioners "had their fingers in the till", which Brussels said was "without foundation" after an inquiry found no commissioner had benefited.

Mr Martin said: "Some newspapers see the EU as a foreign body trying to impose its will on a hapless and helpless United Kingdom." This was also reflected in radio and television coverage, he said.

"The result is a nation where much of the public are kept in the dark about the active participation of their political leaders in hugely important policy areas such as the single market, defence, police co-operation and foreign affairs."