The decision of Štefan Hríb not to invite STV Director Radim Hreha to his Pod Lampou talk show to discuss independence at the public broadcaster along with fired STV reporter Eugen Korda was a mistake for two reasons.
First, it was a violation of a fundamental rule of journalism, which is that both sides to a dispute must be given an opportunity to present their views of the truth. "The duty of the journalist is to provide a fair and comprehensive account of events", reads the preamble of the Code of Ethics of the US-based Society of Professional Journalists. "Journalists must diligently seek out the subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing."
Hríb said in an interview with Sme that Hreha had not been invited to appear on Pod Lampou with Eugen Korda because "it wasn't planned as a show about the situation at STV, but about science". But the fact remains that Korda used his appearance to say that Hreha had dismissed him under political pressure, and that STV was no longer independent ("I don't want to work for such a television station. I was used to freedom.") Korda was therefore allowed to express his opinions on Hreha's conduct and the situation at STV, while Hreha was not given any chance to respond. This was a basic violation of journalist ethics, and Hríb's claim that he hadn't planned it that way does not alter this fact.
Secondly, it was a mistake because it gave the station a reason to fire Hríb, which it did on January 15, and handed the Fico government another opportunity to paint all journalists as biased and unprofessional. They are not, of course, but their public image is under attack by a government that is unusually hostile to journalism, the media, and an informed public as the foundation of democracy. In this environment, journalists must be even more scrupulous about their objectivity and use of correct methods.
From the elegantly attired thugs who guarded Smer's headquarters on election night, to the statement of Fico's spokeswoman Silvia Glendová last September that "we are in a battle with both the opposition and the media", to HZDS party Deputy Chairman Milan Urbáni's astonishing revelations two weeks ago of political interference at STV, the Fico government clearly sees the press as an enemy. The result is comparatively poor access to government sources and, ultimately, weaker reporting as the channels of information are closed.
Given the popularity of this government - the three parties scored a combined 69.1 approval rating in a January Statistics Bureau poll - the danger is that the Fico cabinet's dislike for the media may poison an already negative public view, and evoke a new public skepticism regarding the truth of what is written in newspapers or shown on TV.
Hríb said he had invited Korda to Pod Lampou, among other reasons, because he wanted to "express some solidarity and thank [Korda] for his three years of work at STV", and because Korda "definitely did a lot of good for STV". Of that there is no doubt. But the way in which this solidarity was shown did not do a lot of good for the public reputation of journalists, and gave the STV management and the ruling coalition another convincing argument in their campaign against the very media freedoms that Hríb and Korda - along with the rest of us - want to protect.
By Tom Nicholson
22. Jan 2007 at 0:00