Free Media!

OK, so the title is intentionally dubious and the reason for it is the recent politically induced turmoil that has engulfed the most influential Slovene media. On the whole it can be said that this is indicative of the looming showdown which is widely expected to leave many dead and wounded (figuratively speaking) and to be down right dirty (literally speaking).


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As noted in yesterday’s post, the battle of the headlines has already begun. This includes pressure on Slovene media which has never been totally free and independent. One rather curious statement was uttered by Jože Školč MP, a political veteran of the Liberal Democrats (among other posts he held the office of chairman of the Socialist Youth while the organisation was a driving force behind democratic changes, president of the parliament and minister of culture). Mr. Školč, while debating the state of Slovene media in the parliamentary committee said that “if the left [while in power] did things wrong, this is no excuse for the right to do the same“.

Which is of course correct. What is interesting, though, is that the former ruling option (broadly speaking, the political left) is at least on the surface apparently coming to terms with its deeds while in power. I say finally, because deeds of this government made the pressures exerted by previous governments look like a picnic. And this is the main problem. Instead of media becoming increasinlgy independent (I won’t utter the word untouchable, but feel free to think it), they are becoming more and more criticised for not reporting on this-or-that.

One of the more symptomatic phrases in yesterdays session of the parliamentary committee for culture (which covers media as well) was uttered by one of the coalition MPs who said that the “opposition has no proof of media control by the coalition“. Furthermore, the minister of culture, Vasko Simoniti, Ph. D. (otherwise a respected intelectual) challenged the opposition to name at least ten cases of government controlling the media (“You said ‘cases’! Plural! That’s not one or two! Plural! I want at least ten!”), etc, etc.


Obviously, if the government (and the opposition as well) would take their heads out of their asses and have a look around they would find that:

a) The Prime Minister demands a vote of confidence but picks apart a particular newspaper and journalists as a whole instead

b) A parliamentary body debates the state of media in the country

c) Politicos who look, walk and talk like they flunked the third grade of elementary school take it upon themselves to count charatcers or seconds devoted to a certain subject and not another, which favours the government (say inflation vs. GDP growth).

d) Pro-government journalists have a one-on-one with the PM (no counter-arguments allowed) or they invite journalists who criticise the government to their talk shows and they try do discredit them (contarty to the unwritten code that a journalist will never attack another journalist as long as they both do their job professionally)


After three years the media and journalists finally took a stand against continous rape by the government (with a not-so-little help of opportunist capitalists who smell a change in power), which is of course suddenly suffering from a bad case of amnesia and basically claims that time started with Danilo Slivnik and Peter Jančič being removed from Delo daily. Nothing is being said about Jančič and Slivnik (the former being a stooge for the latter, both doubling as governmental hench-men) running out half of journalists of Sobotna Priloga (Delo’s most read Saturday supplement), of recalling journalists on foreing posts home just because they didn’t report in line with government’s foreign policy (I didn’t even know we have one!), of the foreign minister boasting that if there is something not printed in the papers, he’ll have it printed (or else…), of articles being rewritten by Jančič to the extent of being unrecognisable to their original authors, etc, etc…


As I said, all of the above makes the pressures exerted by the political left (while it was in power) look like a picnic. Although their achievements are not to be diminished, either. I will refrain from ranting about how FM frequency were distributed and then re-accumulated by friends-of-friends, with the watchdog being as toothless and impotent as a 90-year-old siphylitic patient with Alhzeimer’s – I am, afterall, highly biased on that matter (which don’t mean I’m wrong, but still ;)). Instead, we can remember all the brouhaha about the government of Janez Drnovšek buying a jet plane and the not being entirely truthful (i.e.: they lied) about the price.

But what I’m afraid of is that the soul-searching the left is doing at the moment is only temporary, kind of like “I-said-I’m-sorry” attitude and that nothinh will change, even in the unlikely event of change in the political balance.


So I popose a very simple excercise, which will show whether the left is serious about their newly found love for media freedom. In case they win the election they should:


a) Change the law on RTV Slovenia, radically lowering the number of politically appointed members of both boards (to a max of, say, 25%).

b) State funds must immediately sell any and all remaining shares in all media companies they may still own. And they should sell it exclusively to journalists employed by those media companies.

c) The Law on media should be ammended, re-introducing the clause forbidding media contentration.

d) Forbid operators of future digital radio and television networks from becoming content providers as well.


A rather simple test. Failing to tackle any of these points will allow the present state of politics directly or indirectly pressuring the media to perpetuate indefinitely.

Published by

pengovsky

Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.

14 thoughts on “Free Media!”

  1. a) OK, good, although nothing will really move the state owned TV from the hands of politicians.

    b) WTF? What gives the journalists a privilege of buying the companies? Since I studied chemistry, should I be one of the few allowed to buy shares of the pharmaceutical companies? If those guys are really good journalists, they should be able to start their own outlet anyway. And that goes for both ends of the political spectrum.

    c) OK.

    d) And why, pray tell, should the voice of the digital content providers be quenched? Thank FSM for the first amendment in USA to protect from loonie ideas like that.

  2. @P: while I agree with most of the analysis above, I do have a few problems with the proposed solutions. Btw, dnevnik ran ab excellent commentary by vlado miheljak this morning complemented by a timeline of the infamous events of 28 april. Recommended read…

    Now as for the proposed ‘simple’ solutions, I agree for the most part with my fellow bezigrajcan 😈

    A) any appointments vs general elections will be inherently political if the appointing authority I.e. The owner is the state. More important to introduce effective checks and balances of sorts than to reduce state-owned share or the number of board members officially appointed by the state (the powers that be will alway seek to exert contol over media through the back door anyways).

    B) see above and combine with crni’s wtf. If shares sold, they should be sold to whomever pays the highest price. That’ my taxpayer money you’d like to give away to select journalists there.

    C) i support that idea all the way.

    D) I have a big problem with the state imposing any sort of prohibitions unless they serve to protect an important element in our chosen set of values such as trying to ensure relative independce of the media by prohibiting ownership concentration in this segment of the economy. Other than that, I say let the best woman win! :mrgreen:

  3. It was interesting to see (well… read about) Janša’s two hour parliament speech. Despite all convincing that the government does not influence or put pressure on media, he spent a good chunk of his time talking about journalists and media. If the PM (or anybody else in the government) is criticizing the journalists for disseminating “bad image of the country abroad”, that’s the textbook example of government pressure on the media. Such attitude is outright, to put it in American terms, “anti-freedom”

    I’m really glad Slovenes punished the government in the recent elections. Not so much because people seem to be leaning left now (which is excellent!) but because it shows a certain degree of political maturity.

  4. @crni & dr. fil:

    a) True. But in theory state radio and television company is suppose to be public radio and television. Ideally, RTVSLO should be government’s first reality check. Since we’re all paying for it (via electricity bills) I think the back doors the good doctor speaks about should be closed as tight as possible. But, again, I agree that a clean cut solution is probably not possible.

    b)Point. In any case there are not much of these left, because large media companies were (Delo, Dnevnik, Večer, etc.) were privatised in the first wave of privatisation (including the so called “internal buyout” by employees). However, fact of the matter is that one of the reasons for current state of journalism in this country is the fact that most journalists have little or no social security. Remember my post on student work? Media companies are a blantant example of this. They employ journalists as students, then keep them on part-time contracts (there is no part time work in journalism), which of course does wonders for moral and journalistic ethics. Not. It’s kind of hard to report on (say) corruption, when your employer can fire you in an instant. But perhaps there are other ways of achieving this.

    and

    d) actually, IMHO, this would protect freedom of speech. This point is directly connected to point c). Should netweork operators be allowed to provide content as well, they would have an unfair advantage over other content providers, who would have to rent space on their network. Let me give you a nice example: mobile operators preset their phones with their WAP portals (you know, just press this button). Obviously, you can access other portals (just not portals of other operators, mind you!), but you’re strongly discouraged from doing so by almost any means possible.

    The same is bound to happen with digital radio and television. If network operators are allowed to provide content as well, they will make their content easily available, whereas access to other content will be made difficult, basically limiting free speech.

    In case of cable television this danger was averted by makig cable operators re-distribute all terrestrial radio and television channels free of charge. With the advent of digital radiodifussuion this will end and everyone will have to pay network operators – except network operators themselves (no point in charging oneself, is it?)

  5. Perhaps Mr. Pengovsky can enlighten us with some of the examples of the pressure which make the pressures exerted by previous government to look like a pinic? I am also confused why such a talk about the independence of the medias now almost sixteen years after the independence? Does that mean that people like Mr. Kocjancic, who sat on the medias for almost a decade were exclusively impartial? Can we say that classes of journalists who learned their trade at the FDV by professors of dubious reputation such as Mr. Zdenko Roter have really been taught the lessons from “democracy”, “freedom of speech” or “professionalism”? I think not.

    Personally I find the current situation in Slovenia tragicomic. We have a prime minister who was at the end of 1980s a research journalist who spent his time in jail for the articles he wrote. On the other hand we have circles around former president Kucan who imprisoned him and id nothing to help him to release. A victim is devilised and a perpetrator is idiolized.

    Basically I find this whole talk about the medias a complete joke. The problem is not really with the medias. It is not even a problem with pressures if such things existed or not under the current government. The pressures, the party obedience and lack of self-criticsm have always been in our society since 1945, so nothing ha really changed with the way of thinking of the media society. The problem is not even the fact that the people at the top of the DELO were replaced by new people. The problem is also not that previous editor wanted to replace some journalists. Those are all questions which are of second concern.

    What really matters here is that the current Slovenian Prime Minister is Janez Jansa and that he, under no circumstances, is allowed to win a new mandate on the next years’ elections. It is not that much important if he works well or not, afterall we have had presidents, prime ministers, ministers, mayors who were ten times more incompetent than Janez Jansa yet they got along with the press. They got along with them and tolerated their incompetence, blunders and mistakes because they were “one of them”. And this is what most matters. Afterall this was confirmed by Mr. Miheljak himself in one of his latest columns in the Dnevnik were he openly admitted that after the change on power next year everything needs to get cleaned (sic!).

    Jansa was probably one of the most sodomized people in Slovenia since 1990. If one read magazines such as Mladina in 2000-2004, where he appeared on almost every cover page, one could get the impression that he is running the show and not Drnovsek and later Rop. While Jansa was to blame for everything the government enjoyed a fair share of peace, so all the scandals, affairs and even 9.8% inflation in 2000 passed by unnoticed.

    Add to this those the old stories (never proved, but who needs a proof?!?) about arms trafficking, which brought him a huge fortune and Jansa’s political background (the fact that his father dared to be not a partisan but a 16 year-old domobran) and you can pretty much imagine the response of the medias, political elite and other spheres of public life, which was taught to keep our minds as closed and one-minded as possible.

    Perhaps this is why so very few people know today that Kucan’s father actually fought with Hungarians against the Soviets and that he was the chairman of the CK of the CPS and as such responsible for all the violations of human rights which one can endure and experience under a dictactorship, even in case if that dictatorship is the “people’s democracy” like it was in our case. Who would remember them, I wonder? The “fools” who had the audacity to speak against te injustice?!

  6. Karel, gladly! 🙂

    I just hope you will excuse me for re-using your comment – I figured it would be prudent to refute your statememts point by point.

    Perhaps Mr. Pengovsky can enlighten us with some of the examples of the pressure which make the pressures exerted by previous government to look like a pinic? I am also confused why such a talk about the independence of the medias now almost sixteen years after the independence? Does that mean that people like Mr. Kocjancic, who sat on the medias for almost a decade were exclusively impartial? Can we say that classes of journalists who learned their trade at the FDV by professors of dubious reputation such as Mr. Zdenko Roter have really been taught the lessons from “democracy”, “freedom of speech” or “professionalism”? I think not.

    I was under the impression that I had provided examples of such pressures. But let me copy/paste them from the actual post:
    a) The Prime Minister demands a vote of confidence but picks apart a particular newspaper and journalists as a whole instead

    b) A parliamentary body debates the state of media in the country

    c) Politicos who look, walk and talk like they flunked the third grade of elementary school take it upon themselves to count charatcers or seconds devoted to a certain subject and not another, which favours the government (say inflation vs. GDP growth).

    d) Pro-government journalists have a one-on-one with the PM (no counter-arguments allowed) or they invite journalists who criticise the government to their talk shows and they try do discredit them (contarty to the unwritten code that a journalist will never attack another journalist as long as they both do their job professionally)

    I also said explicitly that previous governments have exerted pressure over the media (i.e.: there are no innocents) but that the current government has taken this excercise to extremes we thought we left behind when we left socialism. Secondly – you seem succumb to the same “virus” as the present government, when you decide that most journalists who have begun their carrers in socialism don’t know the true meaning of democracy and should be therefore thought a lesson. I think not.


    Personally I find the current situation in Slovenia tragicomic. We have a prime minister who was at the end of 1980s a research journalist who spent his time in jail for the articles he wrote. On the other hand we have circles around former president Kucan who imprisoned him and id nothing to help him to release. A victim is devilised and a perpetrator is idiolized.

    Check your history. Janez Janša never sat in prison for articles he wrote. He also wasn’t a research journalist. He was a scribe for Mladina magazine (the same magazine he later blatantly attacked as being undemocratic), who wrote about matters of defence. What he did go to prison for was a planted (yet forged) top secret military document and an article he didn’t write, It was actually writen by Vlado Miheljak, at whom you spew sulphur some lines below. Milan Kučan did not imprison him (the secret service did). It is, however, true that Kučan did nothing to release him. I covered that episode briefly in one of the previous posts. Kučan could have him released, but would have been removed from power for that. Instead, with Janša in prison, a simple movement for human rights evolved into a drive for democratic change.


    Basically I find this whole talk about the medias a complete joke. The problem is not really with the medias. It is not even a problem with pressures if such things existed or not under the current government. The pressures, the party obedience and lack of self-criticsm have always been in our society since 1945, so nothing ha really changed with the way of thinking of the media society. The problem is not even the fact that the people at the top of the DELO were replaced by new people. The problem is also not that previous editor wanted to replace some journalists. Those are all questions which are of second concern.

    What really matters here is that the current Slovenian Prime Minister is Janez Jansa and that he, under no circumstances, is allowed to win a new mandate on the next years’ elections. It is not that much important if he works well or not, afterall we have had presidents, prime ministers, ministers, mayors who were ten times more incompetent than Janez Jansa yet they got along with the press. They got along with them and tolerated their incompetence, blunders and mistakes because they were “one of them”. And this is what most matters. Afterall this was confirmed by Mr. Miheljak himself in one of his latest columns in the Dnevnik were he openly admitted that after the change on power next year everything needs to get cleaned (sic!).

    This is where you are dead wrong… If Janez Janša doesn’t win a second term it is because the voters will decide so. Just as they decided that the LDS doesn’t deserve another in 2004. If Janez Janša is not re-elected it will be precisely because he does a lousy job and then goes on blaming others (namely journalists) for not interpreting his achievements as historic achievements. And yes – it is not the media that’s the problem. The problem are politicians (in this case, the current government) which is trying to subjugate the media and – failing that – goes about attacking them in the parliament (the one arena noone else but elected representatives have access to).

    Jansa was probably one of the most sodomized people in Slovenia since 1990. If one read magazines such as Mladina in 2000-2004, where he appeared on almost every cover page, one could get the impression that he is running the show and not Drnovsek and later Rop. While Jansa was to blame for everything the government enjoyed a fair share of peace, so all the scandals, affairs and even 9.8% inflation in 2000 passed by unnoticed.

    Sodomized? Puh-lease! Two attempted coup-d’etats and subsequent rise to power via elections put Janša on a par with Hugo Chavez rather than a dissident-turned-prime minister. While noone disputes his achievements during independence, these don’t give him a carte blanche for his susequent actions. He’s a proto-tyrant and the little thing called democracy is the only thing keeping him from installing himself in power indefinitely (not that he hasn’t tried, of course)

    Add to this those the old stories (never proved, but who needs a proof?!?) about arms trafficking, which brought him a huge fortune and Jansa’s political background (the fact that his father dared to be not a partisan but a 16 year-old domobran) and you can pretty much imagine the response of the medias, political elite and other spheres of public life, which was taught to keep our minds as closed and one-minded as possible.

    Perhaps this is why so very few people know today that Kucan’s father actually fought with Hungarians against the Soviets and that he was the chairman of the CK of the CPS and as such responsible for all the violations of human rights which one can endure and experience under a dictactorship, even in case if that dictatorship is the “people’s democracy” like it was in our case. Who would remember them, I wonder? The “fools” who had the audacity to speak against te injustice?!

    Your last two paragraphs prove a pet theory of mine that every political debate in Slovenia ends up with the Partizan/Home guard issuse. While it may have had a influence in Janša’s world outlook, I don’t hold it against him that his father chose the traitors’ side during WWII. The sins of fathers should not be held against their children. Janša was, is and will remain dictatorious in nature. While at FDV (yes, Janša too went to the same infamous faculty as most of the journalists you scorn in the beggining of your comment), he demanded an esteemed proffesor be expelled from the university for not keeping in line with marxist ideology. Janša would be equaly dictatorial and exclusivist in any system. It just happens that he finds is hard to flourish in a democracy.

    What say you?

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