ONLY ONE SLOVAK REPORTER IS IN THE PERSIAN GULF, NONE IN IRAQ

Slovak media limited to second-hand war reporting

DESPITE strong interest in the Iraqi conflict in Slovakia, local media coverage of the crisis has been characterised by a lack of original reporting and a dependence on outside sources of information because there are hardly any Slovak journalists in the Middle East, media experts say.
"I think that our media organisation have been most handicapped by the fact that we do not have enough reporters in the region. Except for [TA3 reporter currently in Kuwait] Martin Rajec, there is no representative of the Slovak media in the region," said Rastislav Kužel, director of the MEMO 98 monitoring agency.
He said that neighbouring countries, on the other hand, have managed to organise on-the-spot reporting.


THE US State Department provides free photographs to foreign media outlets.
photo: US State Department

DESPITE strong interest in the Iraqi conflict in Slovakia, local media coverage of the crisis has been characterised by a lack of original reporting and a dependence on outside sources of information because there are hardly any Slovak journalists in the Middle East, media experts say.

"I think that our media organisation have been most handicapped by the fact that we do not have enough reporters in the region. Except for [TA3 reporter currently in Kuwait] Martin Rajec, there is no representative of the Slovak media in the region," said Rastislav Kužel, director of the MEMO 98 monitoring agency.

He said that neighbouring countries, on the other hand, have managed to organise on-the-spot reporting.

"Czech Television should be an example for us. They have four reporters in the region, one of them in Baghdad. As a result I think the information offered by them is really broad," said Kužel.

Representatives of state-run Slovak Television (STV), which, according to a survey done by the Media Research Section of Slovak Radio (OMV) released on April 9, is the most trusted Slovak TV station, said the company could not find the money to send journalists to the Middle East.

"Our calculations were made around two months before the first attacks, and we estimated that it would cost STV around Sk1 million (24,400 euro) per reporter. STV is currently going through a financial crisis and such an amount could not be found," said Elena Mallicková, head of the foreign affairs section.

Representatives of TA3, Slovakia's only news channel, whose reporter files from Kuwait City, say the expenses are indeed large, although they would not provide specific figures.

"The costs are in the thousands of US dollars. The most expensive things are the satellite connection, the TV broadcasting equipment, and accommodation in Kuwait," said Olívia Trnkalová, TA3's PR manager.

"Martin Rajec was sent to Kuwait to provide first-hand and objective reporting on the developments in the war in Iraq and the operations of the joint Czech and Slovak chemical protection unit, and to capture the reactions of civilians in the case of extraordinary events. We think it is natural to cover events such as the war in Iraq right from the location," said Trnkalová.

The station is reported to have wanted Rajec to be "embedded" with a US military unit, but that plan fell through.

"We were very interested in that idea, but after weeks of intensive attempts, we were not able to get the necessary approval for Rajec from the US military," said Trnkalová.

Rajec reported on the war in Afghanistan, where he was stationed in territories controlled by the Northern Alliance and later in Kabul.

Trnkalová said there was no indication that TA3's efforts have resulted in better ratings.

"It is not possible to judge that at the moment. We'll see after the next surveys. The results should be known sometime in April," she said.

Most of the other Slovak media companies use a variety of sources in its reporting on Iraq, with the majority of the information coming from mainly Western newswires.

"Our primary source is agency information. We get those from various agencies, such as Reuters, European Broadcast Union, and the Czech Press Agency (ČTK)," said STV's Mallicková.

"We also work with the Internet and other information sources, such as newspapers. The information is processed by our editorial staff, which consists of around 10 people who also work on other foreign issues," Mallicková added.

The only non-Western source for many seems to be Czech reporters.

"Unfortunately we do not have a reporter in the region, so we at least try to keep in touch with our Czech colleagues, who inform us about any developments," said Mallicková.

The Slovak Spectator conducted a survey of information sources on Iraq used by the leading Slovak dailies, SME and Pravda, from April 7 to April 9. The research showed that the Czech Press Agency (ČTK) is the most-used source of information, although Reuters is used almost as much in Pravda.

Reuters however is the clear winner as far as photographs are concerned, being almost the exclusive source of pictures for Pravda. Pravda was the only newspaper during this period to run a photo unrelated to the crisis as its main picture, and that was only on one day.

Experts say that despite the lack of original reporting, Slovak media organisations are doing their best to keep the news balanced.

"It's too bad that these media companies have to rely on information from other sources. But on the other hand, I think they are doing it rather well. I don't think there has been any sides taken, and the news has been balanced," said Kužel.

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