It may, of course, be pure coincidence, but fact of the matter is that only days into Russian aggression against Ukraine, the government of Slovenian PM Janez Janša began a siege and ultimately an assault on RTV Slovenija (RTVSLO), the country’s public broadcaster.
Normally, putting the war in Ukraine and the shit Janša is getting away with side by side would be gratuitous at best. But it is not only that there is a temporal overlap between the two. The Glorious Leader is directly using RTVSLO coverage of war in Ukraine to instigate the latest and most brutal round of undermining and destruction of the public outlet.
It was by no means a secret that Janša has had his sights set on RTVSLO takeover. I mean, for all the Viktor Orbán’s millions poured into SDS alternative media reality, controlling RTVSLO was always the main prize. Nova24 TV station,
Volkische Beobachter Demokracija magazine, a shitload of web portals and whatnot, they all actually generate very little bang for their buck.
tHE REAL PRIZE
Sure, these “outlets” are good enough to keep the base hooked on a diet of communist scare, gay bashing and misogyny. But they are simply too toxic to be generating new converts to the Cause. Which is why RTVSLO, and especially its TV arm are so coveted by the Glorious Leader and the Party. Their brand still carries weight, their reach is unrivaled and the legislation is just weak enough to make political pressure a viable option.
In fact, it was precisely due to the very few legal safeguards against political meddling that pengovsky was sure Janša would go after RTVSLO first. Instead, he tried to hobble to the Slovenian Press Agency (STA), in the process spending enormous political capital and goodwill to virtually no effect.
So when it was finally RTVSLO’s turn, everyone already knew just how exactly he felt about media freedom in general and public media in particular.
The first moves in laying the siege to RTVSLO were done in early 2021 when Andrej Grah Whatmough was appointed the new Director General of RTVSLO, despite not fulfilling the formal criteria for the post.
Once he was in place, the new uber-boss employed a fair amount of procedural trickery to replace Natalija Gorščak as Director of TV SLO, the operations head of the TV arm of RTVSLO.
THROWING A HAND GRENADE INTO PROGRAMMING
That Gorščak, a highly experienced media operative with years-upon-years of mileage at RTVSLO ran against Whatmough in his bid for Director General, probably sealed her fate from the get-go. And with Gorščak out of the picture, the RTVSLO uber-boss was free to appoint her successor. Which is where the story really gets interesting.
The first thing Valentin Areh, the new acting head of the TV arm of RTVSLO did, was to fuck around with content programming. And by “fuck around” pengovsky means really throw a hand grenade into the whole thing.
Shows were rescheduled, similar content was broken up and dispersed and entire slots were moved from one channel to another. At the same time, Areh made grandiose promises and proclaimed visions for a stellar future of public television which were at odds both with his amateurish and counterproductive programming strategy.
Obviously, it all spiraled out into a shitshow. Just as the journos working for the TV desk said it would. And when the new leadership wouldn’t listen, news editor resigned en masse. And when the new leadership still wouldn’t listen, they organised an unprecedented protest gathering last November, demonstrating that they really really think the proposed changes are a fucking bad idea.
Basically, their point was that cutting resources, cancelling shows and spreading content over multiple timeslots and channels will have the exact opposite effect of what Areh purportedly aimed for. Which is sort of a no-brainer for anyone who had worked in media for more than a week.
TaRGETS OF OPPORTUNITY
But pengovsky wrote that Areh was purportedly aiming for better results. Namely, there is ample evidence that the entire exercise was aimed solely at dismantling the independence and professionalism of RTVSLO. Specifically, its news section which – despite all obstacles, both internal and external – did try and hold the political class to account.
Which brings us to the war in Ukraine.
As a part of this harebrained scheme to “increase viewership”, Globus, the only real foreign affairs programme on any Slovenian TV channel, was cancelled. Because of course that is precisely what one does while an international crisis is brewing. It is not as if RTVSLO has a legion of foreign correspondents, all of them chomping at the bit to do engaging content and reporting (spoiler alert: it does and they do).
What is particularly galling here is that Areh made a bit of a name for himself as a war correspondent from Afghanistan many moons ago. And now, he’s fucking up a public TV outlet at the start of another war, much closer to home.
But, as noted, this might all have been part of a plan. Or, at the very least, a target of opportunity.
Because the moment shit hit the fan in Ukraine, PM Janša started screaming about how RTVSLO is not pulling its weight in covering the Russian aggression. He also wondered aloud if the public broadcaster is perhaps infested with secret putinists.
t minus six weeks until elections
Specifically, the Glorious Leader took aim at Tarča, a political debate programme which, among other things, exposed the corruption and incompetence of his government early in the pandemic.
Obviously, none of what Janša tweeted was remotely true. But that has never stopped him before, so why start now? However, what did happen was that Tarča team took the unprecedented step and replied. In English.
Things did, of course, not stop there. In an effort to appease Marshal Twito and his clamoring for a more “correct” reporting on the war, primetime reporting was upended again, extending a flagship news programme Odmevi, thus making space for regular appearances of high-ranking government officials to talk at length on the war and why government of Marshal Twito is the best possible government for Slovenia.
Naturally, this did not get past the journos of RTVSLO. The unrelenting political pressure, extra-legal appointments to leadership positions (the latest one being the news editor, appointed over objections of the journalists she now leads), and overall gross incompetence of the new leadership are not aberrations. They are the whole fucking point of the siege of RTVSLO.
Because Muddy Hollows is, you know, six weeks away from a parliamentary election.
This, of course, is crucial. As horrible as Russian aggression on Ukraine is, the cynicism of Janša using it to try to shore up support for his regime is just as appalling . Especially given how his views on media, personal freedoms and democracy in general are more aligned with Putin than with Zelenski.
Over the past few months, PM Janša has clearly demonstrated how he sees the role media in general and public media in particular. As a subservient propaganda organisation, adapting consent and programming to the immediate needs of the regime and with a general ideology that follows whatever the Glorious Leader believes at any given moment.
And to make sure everyone toes the line, the Government Communications Office, that is to say, the regime’s AgitProp Committee, is helpfully producing bi-weekly reports on RTVSLO’s reporting transgressions.
I mean, some government insignificunt calling balls and strikes on what appears to be a random selection of programming content? The mind boggles. But apparently this is what catering to the audience of one looks like.
The siege of RTVSLO, however, is far from over. Over the last couple of weeks, the programming council has had a new president installed. The broadcasters nominally independent oversight body, which is really rife with political appointees, is now chaired by a vocational engineer whose sole relation to the media landscape is the fact that he is a right-wing talking head on one of the Orban-owned, Janša-friendly TV channels.
And right on cue, the new head of programming council immediately echoed the Glorious Leader and started making noises about RTVSLO not doing its job. He further added that journos who fail to perform their duty should be sanctioned and heads should roll all the way from the top if need be. It was, all in all, a very direct way of saying that either the people of RTVSLO will get with the regime’s programme or they will be replaced.
It would be one thing if all of this would be just a cynical ploy to take over the RTVSLO. Sure, there is that, and it is bad enough as it is. But on a certain level, knowing that the regime knows all of this is wrong, would be comforting.
Sadly, however, there are overt signals that the regime – or at least the intellectually less fortunate parts thereof – are very much drinking their own Kool-Aid.
The Makarov hello
Case in both points being Matej Tonin. NSi leader and defence minister recently labeled the protesting journos and their drawing parallels with the Putin regime, as defying common sense. Because, says Tonin, Putin has had journalists shot, whereas that is clearly not the case in Slovenia.
The implication here is as clear as it is despicable. Namely, that as long as journos (RTVSLO and others) do not get a Makarov Hello in the back of their head, they should shut the fuck up.
Pengovsky remarked more than once that Tonin is not really the sharpest tool in the shed. But he most definitely is a tool.
Telling journalists in a supposedly developed democracy to count themselves lucky for not getting shot is, well, stupid. Either the NSi big kahuna is saying the quiet part out loud and really does not give a flying fuck about media freedom, or he is starting to buy Marshal Twito’s narrative about how holding the government to account is somehow equal to a pro-Putin agenda.
Either way, history notes that any time the NSi got too close to the SDS narrative-wise, it was to the former’s detriment.
But the parliamentary election is still six weeks away. Which gives the Glorious Leader and his regime ample time to tighten the siege of RTVSLO. And that does not include just live broadcasts of a government pro-Ukraine rally which looked suspiciously like a pro-government election rally, funded by the taxpayers.
With protests of TV journos being loudly ignored and first sings of on-site censorship already visible, the attention will likely now turn towards RTVSLO’s web and streaming service, the other highly visible product of the public broadcaster. Not in the least, because MMC RTVSLO (as the section is officially known) was once headed by the very same person now writing reports on unpatriotic RTVSLO content.
And should attempts to take over MMC RTVSLO stall like a Russian tank column on the road to Kyiv, the attention will turn towards the radio arm of the public outlet.
However, in a fight between the regime and the public radio in Muddy Hollows, one would be wise to bet on the public radio.