Anyone in Slovakia who has a television and half a brain has long recognized that state television - STV - makes a mockery of the ideals of publicly funded media. But STV's performance during the past election campaign was illegal, immoral and deeply cynical, and everyone associated with its broadcasts should feel thoroughly ashamed.
Paid out of the pockets of Slovak workers, STV has been completely taken over by the ruling HZDS party of Premier Vladimír Mečiar as a political trumpet to blow in the ears of Slovak citizens. Slovakia has only one official media watchdog - the toothless Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting - was powerless during the campaign to rein in STV bombast. The council has a nine-member board selected by Parliament, but only two of its members come from the political opposition, which is immoral if nothing else.
STV's broadcasts in the campaign period frequently broke the law with their rabid commentaries against opposition parties, international observers, foreign media and whoever else did not kow-tow to Mečiar. The closer the election came, the grosser the violations that occured.
Slovakia's election law says that "48 hours before the opening of the polls, and during the vote itself, the mass media is prohibited from campaiging for or against a party or a candidate by word, sound or image."
But STV's evening news on September 23, broadcast approximately 42.5 hours before polls opened on the 25th, carried news items featuring the Ministers of Culture, of the Interior, of Transportation and of the Environment, the vice Premier and the state secretary of the Ministry of Defence. Six men, all from Mečiar's HZDS, who were presented in the rosy glow of past accomplishments. No opposition party member, or indeed any deputy from either of the HZDS's coalition allies, made the big screen.
The program was capped by the regular "No comment" feature, which presents edited news clips with music in the background. Regularly used to bash opposition politicians, this time the spot made a determined pitch for Mečiar's foolhardy infrastructure programme.
Viewers were led in slowly with depressing shots of Slovakia's crumbling roads in 1992, accompanied by weepy violin music. After about 90 seconds of pathos, the soundtrack burst suddenly into an optimistic, up-tempo waltz to accompany shots of the beautiful, modern highways that Mečiar has been opening at a breakneck pace in 1998.
Many of the people who would have been watching this programme are those who attended HZDS rallies during campaign '98. Mostly old, poor and desperately simple, these people believe what their government tells them through their televisions. They believe all of the lies, the half-truths and the spin-doctored claptrap they are fed by STV. And they will continue to support 'their Mečiar' without ever having seen him for the autocrat he has become.
Instead, with STV's help, these people have been taught to believe in the HZDS's happy dream for a special people in a bright land between the mountains under a blue sky where the sun rises every day. And that's too cynical for words.
24. Sep 1998 at 0:00