POWER is awfully intoxicating. Very few can resist the damaging but not unexpected deviations that it brings. This is why it often happens that presidents and prime ministers, regardless of the political gardens they come from and the colours they wear, after years of ingesting excessive power start showing some common symptoms.
The symptoms can be manifold but their manifestation and impact on society depends on their particular historical and political context. Paranoia and the so-called conspiracy complex can emerge at a very early stage, after even just a couple months of ruling under the influence, and is mainly directed at the media and anyone who strongly and frequently opposes the politician’s conduct.
Statements about possible assassination attempts against these politicians are usually seen after several years of excessive power abuse and are often accompanied with a skewed sense of self-importance. However, the more extreme ‘I am the nation’ or ‘I know best what my people need’ syndrome normally only emerges in the very advanced stages of a power-drunk politician’s condition.
But perhaps the most visible sign of a politician’s failure to manage the healthy digestion of power through their system is their reluctance to enter into discussion with opponents and their conviction that they no longer need some form of “political debate” to present their opinions to the public.
The communist state-controlled media was perfectly suited to feed the addiction of those who were pouring out their monologues on the nation, with hours of air time given to them to read out their monotonous statements. Those who grow nostalgic reminiscing over these conditions enjoyed under the previous regime do not need to despair, since even after two decades of democracy, genuine and unrestrained debate is still not a natural instinct for every broadcaster.
Since being appointed prime minister, Robert Fico has not yet shown much evidence that he burns with desire to indulge in a good fiery debate with his political opponents. The format of “semi-monologue occasionally interrupted by timid questions from the anchor” seems to serve him best.
However, the problem really has its roots in the fact that a format where ruling coalition politicians propound their views without any relevant or substantial opposition also seems to suit the public broadcaster as well. And, in turn, the way the public broadcaster is currently run, managed and financed seems to suit those in power.
The debate about the problems of political fingers tampering with Slovak Television goes back to almost the very inception of the post-revolution television broadcaster, but a recent televised debate has reminded its critics just how wrong it has all gone. Shortly after Fico resuscitated the scandal around the unexplained financing of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), STV set up a public debate that had party financing as the main point on the agenda. However, the early optimism of those who had thought that Fico would finally get a fitting debate opponent evaporated after they learned that, actually, no representatives of the SDKÚ would be anywhere near the studio while the debate on its own scandal was taking place.
Without addressing the qualities of Fico’s verbal duel partner – Ján Figeľ, chairman of the Christian Democratic Movement – it can be said that he simply wasn’t the right opponent because he was not from the SDKÚ. If Fico did not want to answer Dzurinda’s challenge to public televised debate, STV could have at least invited someone else from the SDKÚ.
The SDKÚ has accused STV of consulting its political debate programme on Súmračná Street, where the Smer headquarters are located. STV struck back, suggesting that the SDKÚ’s ironic statements were “disgusting” and that STV sees no reason for any political party to dictate whom they invite as a guest. The public broadcaster also seasoned its statement with phrases like “service to the public” and “a feeling of public responsibility”.
Last year, STV Director General Štefan Nižňanský banned the broadcast of an investigative report about a ‘social company’ in Bardejov that was receiving subsidies from the Labour Ministry and described the report as ‘sketchy and tabloid-like’ in its approach. The piece in question actually showed that the company that had been lapping up public subsidies was in fact already defunct. After reporters spoke out and appealed to the STV Council, it finally allowed the report to be broadcast. So why was the report banned? Out of service to the public, obviously.
True, it is the natural instinct of politicians to want to influence the media; there is nothing surprising about that. No post-revolutionary government has taken efficient steps to make sure that the public broadcasters are sheltered from such political influence. But then, perhaps the broadcaster itself should work a bit harder on resisting such influence. Otherwise this “service to the public” can easily become a service for the voters of just one political party.
15. Feb 2010 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová