Feeling the weight of our words

A watchdog to keep the powerful within proper bounds, the ‘truth business’, scribomania with a moral dimension, the fifth estate – these are just to a few of the roles and names given to the business that The Slovak Spectator entered 15 years ago.

A watchdog to keep the powerful within proper bounds, the ‘truth business’, scribomania with a moral dimension, the fifth estate – these are just to a few of the roles and names given to the business that The Slovak Spectator entered 15 years ago.

Over the centuries “publishers” have had different motivations for printing their newspapers, but only those who understood that there was a moral dimension to journalism made lasting contributions to their societies and to human history. Those who did not recognise or ignored this precept served merely as just another form of entertainment for the masses. Well, the Slovak Spectator is not a vehicle for entertainment, neither does it communicate directly with masses of people.

I have accompanied this newspaper for about half of its journey. Even after seven years of putting the current edition to bed late on a Thursday evening or sending one of our special publications to the printing house, there is still that strong urge within me to check the headlines one more time, that fragment of nagging unease whether we quoted each person correctly and that pressing anxiety if we have chosen the right and the best words. The ‘truth business’ is probably what causes me this all-consuming fastidiousness: because one wrongly chosen word can yield irreparable harm.

And the wrongly chosen word can cause harm not only because Slovak state officials have acquired the disturbing habit of seeking to turn the media into their personal cash machines by suing for libel in civil trials or because Slovakia’s prime minister has repeatedly called the press his political opposition.

Governments now have more sophisticated means to force journalists to bite their tongues: they no longer jail them, blow up their cars or stage midnight raids of publishing houses. But that doesn’t mean their new methods are innocent or that they do no harm freedom of the press.

But my strange anxiety to get it all right does not primarily come from any fear of facing oppressive challenges from the powerful; rather more from this compulsion: how can we expect our readers to feel the weight of our words if we do not carry it ourselves?

This is the feeling that the numerous people who have made so many vital contributions to this unique 15-year journey of The Slovak Spectator know intimately and passionately.
Beata Balogová, Editor-in-chief

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