Once More Unto The Referendum Breach, Dear Friends

Apologies for abusing The Bard, but the upcoming referendum votes do have a tinge of Shakespearean drama to it. Or maybe it is the Shakespearean length of this post. Who knows. To quote Hamlet, fuck it. Going to the polls for the third time in as many weeks, and for the fifth time in eight months, is not a regular occurrence in Muddy Hollows.

Shepherd boy with flute symbolises RTVSLO. The fate of the public broadcaster in Slovenia will be determined on a referendum on Sunday.
Shepherd boy with flute, by Zdenko Kalin, symbolising RTVSLO since forever. But for how long? (source)

And yet, this Sunday might prove to be just as crucial as the April parliamentary election was. For those of you living under a rock for the past few months, Slovenians are about vote in three different referendums on Sunday. There is a vote in the Government Act, on the law on elderly care, and the law on RTVSLO, the public broadcaster. A fucking cornucopia of direct democracy if there ever was one. But there is a catch. Because of course there is.

Continue reading Once More Unto The Referendum Breach, Dear Friends

Apr`es Moi, Le Déluge

News broke this afternoon that Studio City, the iconic RTVSLO programme, long a thorn in the side of soon-to-be-ex PM Janez Janša and his cronies, is to have its host Marcel Štefančič, jr. axed and its format radically altered. This, obviously, was not entirely unexpected.

Marcel Štefančič, host of Studio City, circa 2013.
Studio City and its host Marcel Štefančič, jr., circa 2013 (photo by yours truly)

All the evidence pointed to something like this. Not in the least because the outgoing regime and its recently-installed peons at RTVSLO spent the last couple of months dismantling every single bit of programming that dared look at the government with a critical eye. Studio City was right at the top of that list. However, that it should be done on 3 May, the World Press Freedom Day, is – not to be too direct – sadistic.

Continue reading Apr`es Moi, Le Déluge

Wag The Thompson

This sorry little excuse for a country spent much of the past week (and then some) fretting over a seemingly minor issue which – as per usual in this part of the world – was blown way out of proportion. We are, of course, referring to one Marko Perković – Thompson who was scheduled to give a concert in Maribor today but was banned only days ago over security concerns.


Marko Perković – Thompson being all patriotic and shit. (source)

When the concert was announced, everybody freaked out. The charge was led by local press, most notably Maribor-based Večer daily which has national coverage and soon half of the country was in overdrive.

Continue reading Wag The Thompson

I’ve Got Some Prime Newspaper Real Estate To Sell You

So, this was suppose to be an expletive-laden rant about how newspapers don’t take good care of their resources and willingly get buttfucked by advertisers just to make the bottom line. Not that there is anything wrong with buttfucking per se, but you get the idea. Namely Delo, Dnevnik and Večer, the three leading Slovenian daily newspapers hit the stands today with what appeared to be near-identical front pages. Which would be sort of embarrassing by itself. But in this case the front pages were actually full-page adverts framed as articles about Mercator, the largest retail chain in Slovenia. And while there was small print attached indicating the pieces were actually adverts, the end result was that the three dailies all ran the same pieces with the same titles (Dnevnik being the exception with one shorter title, possibly due to space constraints), the same body texts and the same photos. Luckily, the front pages were actually faux front pages (or wraps) with a real front page and a real newspaper inside.

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Today’s dailies (source)

Luckily, because this means that the newspapers and their management had not yet completely lost their bearings and sense of decency. Before today, there were other cases of wraps, although (this needs to be said) either as classic full-page adverts or running a different colour scheme and/or typography. Thus it would be unfair to say that new ground was broken or a new low reached, although it is fair to say that the ad is misleading in the sense that it masquerades as a series of articles by using the layout and typography of the real front page. True, the fine print saying “advert” is included somewhere at the edge of the field of vision, but clearly the ad aims to present itself as a genuine article and catch eyeballs. This, however, is completely in line with guidelines of the Slovenian Journalists’ Association, despite the fact that the said association issued a strong protest against the move by the three newspapers (both links in Slovenian).

At the moment pengovsky doesn’t have access to print editions of Slovenian newspapers and was initially led to believe that the wrap was the actual front page. My bad for not checking it out by myself sooner, but there you go. Drinks on me, I guess. But even with the way things are, it should be said that loud and clear that newspaper accept this sort of advertising at their own peril. I mean, yes, they gotta make money, people need to put bread on the table and all that jazz. And if you want to look at a wrap like this solely as a poorly designed advert, then by all means, do so. Nothing wrong with that.

But in the age where circulation is going down but for the select few (none of which are Slovenian, obv), where the like-fueled economy of content proliferation has failed to monetize and where website real estate is sometimes oversold to the point where only 20-or-so percent of the screen is devoted to content, the idea of “moar ads!” is dubious at best. Advertisers apparently know this, otherwise they would not have tried to imitate newspaper content, however crudely. The question is do the newspaper people know this or – rather – do they see this as their leverage or their liability. To put it crudely, are they being pressured into doing it or are they actively courting advertiser with what is essentially a print version of native advertising.

Obviously, there is no clear-cut solution to the conundrum that presents itself. Both approaches have pit-falls that are not easily avoidable. Catching eyeballs is increasingly difficult, doubly so with print. We often block out the ad sections almost subconsciously. Ad-blockers do it for us online. But doing native advertising means running the risk of blurring the line between marketing and journalism too much. First at the expense of the latter but ultimately, the former will have failed, too. Just look at the hot water BuzzFeed landed in with its native adverts.

The audience are not stupid and they can in all likelihood distinguish between an advert and news content. The problem is that the trend is moving increasingly towards blurring the difference between the two. Which is why newspapers, although understandably trying to make money and stay afloat, would do well not to dismiss the criticism of their advertising practices in an aloof or offhanded manner. After all, there is such a thing as peak advertising.

If you don’t believe that, I’ve got some prime newspaper real estate to sell you.

Why “Who Started First” Doesn’t Explain Charlie Hebdo

The Charlie Hebdo Massacre is resonating in Slovenia as well. For some strange reason it seems to have resonated with the people more than prior terrorist/hate-speech/other attacks on European media. Perhaps it was the fact that a few weeks ago most of the country was fiercely debating the role of media in a suicide of a headmaster of a Maribor high school. Or maybe it was brutality of the attack itself, apparently happening just as the new issue of the magazine was being finalised. Or the fact that Slovenian police picked up an individual (ethic Slovenian!) who apparently fought on the ISIL side of the Iraq-Syria clusterfuck. Or maybe the fact that it was Paris, just two-hours-flight away from Ljubljana. Or maybe the fact that pengovsky seems to follow a lot of journos on Twitter and is looking only inside his bubble. Fuck me if I know. However, a few things need to be said, especially to those who put the massacre into the context of (alleged?) European multiculturalism, with the bottom line being that Charlie Hebdo were sort of asking for it.

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A gathering of journalists in Ljubljana in support of Charlie Hebdo.

Now, that Europe is anything but truly multicultural is a given. In a continent teeming with former colonial powers of various Christian denominations who by far and large still sport some sort of racist/chauvinistic behaviour, being of non-white skin is not exactly a walk in a park, I imagine. Even worse, it is often enough to have a surname with the “wrong” suffix (Balkans in general) or wear white socks and a track suit (Slovenia in particular).

And yes, if one wants to embark on a fruitless and yet painful voyage of “who started first”, European countries and by extension the continent itself are anything but innocent. But bringing up Lybia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, the Crusades and whatnot leads to a false sense of a single act in the distant past unleashing an unfortunate chain of events which led to the clustefuck of today.

And if you really wanted to be brutally cynical (an attitude pengovsky tends to respect) you could argue that whatever pain and suffering terrorism perpetrated in the name od Islam brought to the Western world, it is still eclipsed by far by the pain and suffering brought upon the Muslim world by the West in the name of democracy.

But you would be wrong.

What happened yesterday was not an act of religious piety or a fight against oppression but a murderous rampage against freedom expression. That it was done while shouting the name of Allah does not make it any more pious or holy or acceptable whatever the fuck someone wants to call it. Sure, Charlie Hebdo pulled no punches when it lampooned Islam. But neither did it pull punches when it dealt with Christianity. Or French politics, from what I hear.

Muslims had and still have every right to be offended by many an issue of the magazine. But that’s what it was there for. To insult. Even its tagline bears the words “journal irresponsable”. The irresponsible magazine. This was their shtick. You can insult back (and try to be clever about it). You can ignore it. You can press charges (European countries have an impressive set of anti-hate-speech legislation), you can laugh at it or laugh with it, but you can not kill for it.

Because if you try to rationalise the massacre from the standpoint of West’s (admittedly) double standards towards the Muslim world or by defaulting to “they see freedom of expression differently”, you implicitly condone kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria, Branch Davidians or Jews forcing their way into the Al-Aqsa mosque. Or that Norwegian sick fuck. Or the Crusades, if you want to go that far back.

I don’t want to to into the “Islam/Christianity/Buddhism is religion of peace” shit. I’ve my own views on faith in general and organised religion in particular. Because this was not about it. This was not France’s 9/11 or Paris version of Madrid bombing. This was about a group of people killing a dozen people in cold blood because they did not share the same values. Think brownshirts of Europe’s 1930s, Brigate Rosde and Gladio bombings in Italy or Rote Armee Fraktion in Germany. Or even the Oklahoma bombing by Timothy McVeigh.

The Charlie Hebdo Massacre was not religious but political. And even that only insofar it was carried out by a group of people with a particularly degenerate derivative of an otherwise valid ideology who believe they have a license to kill anyone they dislike for whatever reason they see fit.

And journalists usually work on being generally disliked.

UPDATE:

This lovely clip from No Man’s Land, an Oscar winning film by Danis Tanović shows the futility of “who started first” while people are dying.