In American football, after a man was tackled by an opponent, it was common until the mid-1970s for other tacklers to jump on top of them until the original two players were buried under a pile of over-fed bodies. The practice of "piling on" was later banned because it was dangerous, and because it delayed the game, which was what everyone had paid to see.
On January 25, for the first time in three years, the Pod Lampou talk show did not appear on STV. In the two weeks since it was last broadcast in its original independent format, its former presenter, Štefan Hríb, has been the victim of a "pile-on" in the Slovak media. As the one who made the original "tackle", I feel responsible for defending Hríb against the latecomers.
Hríb's decision to invite fired editor Eugen Korda to the show alone on January 11 was a mistake, but let's not get carried away. He may not have chosen the best way to fight STV Director Radim Hreha, but his protest was still a courageous and moral response to political interference with the station.
As a journalist, Hríb has always been a loose cannon, and is best remembered for publishing a story in the Domino Fórum weekly in June 1998 about attempts by a PR agency working for the SDK party to bribe journalists. But he has never been accused of cowardice, until the recent media pile-on. Political scientist Miroslav Kusý, for example, used the word "courage" six times in his commentary in the Sme newspaper, not once to describe Hríb, who, we were told, "hid behind others in a cowardly fashion" and "abused his show in order to state his political views of STV". This was cowardice, Kusý claimed, because "his actions cost him nothing worth talking about".
Kusý did not tell his readers what great sacrifice would "be worth talking about" in his books, so consider the following: Štefan Hríb was not an internal STV employee, so if the Council for Broadcasting and Retransmission now decides to fine STV for the lack of balance on the January 11 Pod Lampou show - which it could easily do given its current composition - the station in turn could require that Hríb pay the fine in full.
But where Kusý really loses sight of the ball is in claiming that "it is not a matter of whether Hríb was justified in sounding the alarm". Actually, that's exactly what it is all about. In the urge to pile on Hríb (safety in numbers!), his critics forgot that what the Fico government is doing through Hreha at STV is a scandal, and one that should be protested loudly and publicly. We can argue about what form that protest should take (the radical Kusý wants a "factual and serious political discussion"), but those who dismiss the one protest we get as cowardice should be asked what towering act of moral courage (self-immolation?) they would have deemed sufficient.
Štefan Hríb admired former police VP Jaroslav Spišiak, whose defining trait was that he never resorted to dirty tactics to catch the bad guys, even though it would have made his job easier. Hríb's protest might have been more effective if he had followed that principle, but it might also have ended up costing him less. So let's at least give him credit for risking his livelihood, which is more than Kusý has on the line here. And let's also not lose sight of what Hríb was protesting in the first place, or of the fact that Slovakia evidently still needs its protesters.
By Tom Nicholson
29. Jan 2007 at 0:00