Slovakia's newest television station, TV Luna, is set to begin broadcasting on November 27. Armed with a start-up loan from the controversial Devín Banka and burdened by rumours of close ties to the ruling coalition SDĽ party, TV Luna news staff say they are setting out to prove the station's objectivity.
"We won't play games with objectivity, but insist on balanced reporting," said Anna Ghannamová, TV Luna's News Director. Ghannamová said that since journalists all had their own opinions, they could never be entirely objective, and that a mixture of political sympathies among reporters was usually the best way to ensure balanced coverage.
"We have people representing a wide political spectrum here," Ghannamová said.
Luna was supposed to have launched broadcasting this summer under the name TV Telemars, but the company's owners asked the nation's electronic media watchdog, the Radio and Television Council, for a 180-day delay and changes in name, its ownership structure and its broadcast times.
The current owners of Luna include general director Peter Sedlák (17%) and his deputy Milan Nemček, whose company Alter Ego owns 50%, as well as Dušan Milko with 16% and Vladimír Matúšek with 17%.
The owners said at a press conference on November 9 that Luna would launch broadcasting on the cable network with 70 hours on-air weekly. By the end of the year 2000, they said, Luna would become a regular commercial station broadcasting 100 hours weekly, devoting 10% of its airtime to news and 23% to news analysis. The station will aim to reach 80% of Slovakia's existing cable viewers, or about 40% of the Slovak population, by the end of next year.
In Slovakia's 'anything goes' television market, where the state-run STV served as a propaganda outlet for Vladimír Mečiar's 1994-1998 government, and the main private station, TV Markíza, openly promoted the SOP party of current President Rudolf Schuster last year, Luna's financial connection to Devín Banka will
bring its news reporting under close scrutiny.
Devín Banka officials have close personal ties with the former communist SDĽ party of government, raising fears that the SDĽ may get more than its fair share of coverage.
"I consider the connection between Devín Banka and the new TV station as bad luck for Luna," said Ján Füle, president of the independent Syndicate of Slovak Journalists. Füle is scheduled to have a 20 minute daily current events talk show on Luna, similar to CNN's Larry King Live. Füle said he didn't believe that the SDĽ would stoop to influencing public opinion through the new station. "If it did, that would be the end of Luna TV, and I don't intend to have my fingers in it," he said.
"I can neither confirm nor deny these connections [between Luna and the SDĽ]," said Ján Budaj, chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Media and Culture. "If the SDĽ wants to spread its political propaganda through Luna TV, it will certainly be visible", he said, adding that only time would tell.
Füle agreed. "Luna TV reporting itself will be the best way to either confirm or deny these rumours," he said.
According to Alexandra Adamcová, Luna's PR director, rumours of a connection between the TV station and the SDĽ would be the best possible motivation for Luna journalists to be objective in their reporting. "The priority for them will be to prove that these rumours are not true," Adamcová said. She added that television stations were not bound to promote the interests of their investors. "You can be a Catholic and have your money in a Jewish bank, and do your shopping in Muslim department store," she said. "In other words, not all of us [at Luna] have little red books [carried by communist party members - ed note]," Adamcová said.
Füle stressed that Luna TV reporters would follow a manual called the journalist's code. "The basic principle of this code is highly independent reporting, and that's a good signal," Füle said.
According to Ghannamová, one of the basic principles of Luna TV reporting will be to give the same amount of time to all sides in a story, although the station would stop short of actually monitoring airtime given to each party. "Nobody can expect that we will measure how much time who will get, because it's impossible," Ghannamová added.
Although Luna's owners have vowed to run a "commercial" station, Füle said that he suspected the new channel's programme structure would be more similar to a public than a private station's line up.
"Look at the schedule for their first day of broadcasting. Their first film is with Marcello Mastroiani in the main role. Does that sound commercial to you?" Füle asked. "I think they [Luna TV] are trying to become another STV, because it would be a waste of time to start a second Markíza."