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Where politics and the media intertwine

AFTER several re-emerging scandals have shaken the citizens' trust in politicians and the business community, Slovaks are now faced with a fair amount of evidence forcing them to reconsider the faith they have in the local media.
The first blow came at the beginning of the year when former journalist Peter Tóth was appointed to the position of head of counter-intelligence at the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS).
Tóth had previously worked for the dailies SME and Národná Obroda. Martin M. Šimečka, editor in chief of SME, indicated that Tóth might have already been with the SIS while working as a journalist. The suspicion is given ground by the fact that newcomers to the service are unlikely to get such a top spot.

AFTER several re-emerging scandals have shaken the citizens' trust in politicians and the business community, Slovaks are now faced with a fair amount of evidence forcing them to reconsider the faith they have in the local media.

The first blow came at the beginning of the year when former journalist Peter Tóth was appointed to the position of head of counter-intelligence at the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS).

Tóth had previously worked for the dailies SME and Národná Obroda. Martin M. Šimečka, editor in chief of SME, indicated that Tóth might have already been with the SIS while working as a journalist. The suspicion is given ground by the fact that newcomers to the service are unlikely to get such a top spot.

Šimečka said his paper is considering legal action against the SIS for its violation of media independence. SME representatives already had to consider suing the SIS after it was found that the paper's phones were illegally tapped by the intelligence service.

To add to those problems, opposition MP Robert Kaliňák indicated that Šimečka may be a member of the "mysterious group", which according to PM Mikuláš Dzurinda, is trying to destabilize the country, his Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) party, and the SIS.

Dzurinda feels the group used a non-Slovak media publication - Jane's Intelligence Digest - to do so.

However, Dzurinda is no longer the only one making accusations against the media. Interior Minister Vladimír Palko has recently joined him, in saying that the Markíza TV station is corrupt and supports the mafia.

The Markíza founder and ANO party leader, Pavol Rusko, has a long history of using Markíza for political purposes. It was allegedly Rusko who in 1998 decided that Dzurinda would become leader of the Democratic Coalition Party (SDK), and later prime minister.

It was also Markíza that created the image of Rudolf Schuster and helped him to be elected president. And it is Markíza that Rusko's ANO has to thank for being in parliament.

Claims that Markíza is only a tool in Rusko's hands are reinforced by the fact that he is being investigated by the police for suspicions that he threatened to use his media powers to destroy people who did not do as he wished. That is not to mention reports of Rusko's links with the underworld.

There are good grounds to doubt that the other TV stations operating in Slovakia can guarantee unbiased reporting.

News channel TA3 was launched, and is still co-owned by Martin Lengyel, a former spokesperson for PM Dzurinda. This week, financial speculators J&T took over a 90-percent share in the company.

TV Joj, launched by Czech media magnate Vladimír Železný, is currently run by yet another person tied with the SDKÚ - Joj director Milan Kňažko, who served as Culture Minister in Dzurinda's 1998-2002 cabinet.

Slovak Television (STV), although not state-run, is indirectly controlled by political parties who can decide who runs the station. Current STV director Richard Rybníček previously worked as the boss of TV Joj.

This is just a glimpse into the world of the Slovak media, but similar tales could be told of other papers, magazines, and stations.

What the Slovak media reports is to a great extent determined by a mixture of political and economic interests. There is little reason for it to be otherwise, as this unique combination runs across all, or most, fields of public life, as the interior minister himself has admitted.

Under these circumstances, it is hard to expect objective news. However, under these circumstances, it is perhaps better not to know.

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