ROBERT Fico stepped into the lion’s den, according to some on the Slovak political scene, when, as leader of the biggest opposition party, Smer, he launched a personal blog on the website of the Sme daily. The potential conflict arises from the contrast between Fico’s politics and Sme’s readership, which is believed to be mostly critical of the populist former prime minister. His arrival in the Slovak blogosphere did not go unnoticed: his first article, published on April 7, immediately hit the top of the week’s most-read chart.
Slovak politics is perhaps more ‘online’, principally via the medium of personal blogs, than most other countries. The second largest party in the current ruling coalition, Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), which was launched only in 2009, achieved significant exposure to a large extent as a result of the blogging activities of its leader Richard Sulík and other members. Many leading politicians, including some in government, pursue lively online interactions with supporters and citizens.
“When politicians make essential political statements, they tend to not have enough space to add detailed arguments. That is why I decided to enter this blog arena,” Fico said in his explanation of why he had started a blog on Sme’s popular blogging platform, in a short video inserted into his first article.
According to Karol Sudor, administrator of the blog.sme.sk website, having more space to explain their arguments and provide more opinions on topics moving the political scene is indeed one of the main reasons why many politicians publish their own texts via blogs.
“When a politician writes an article on Sme blogs, nobody can interfere with the text, as long as it doesn’t violate the law or our internal ethical code,” Sudor told The Slovak Spectator, adding, however, that blogs also expose a politician to much more criticism directly from readers, who can participate in online debate under the article.
Fico’s first blog article, an opinion piece about the process used to select the general prosecutor, was published on April 7. Within one week it was viewed more than 63,000 times and had over 1,700 contributions in the discussion below.
“He will certainly not have problems with readership numbers,” Sudor said. “When he writes something the numbers will be very high – unless of course he bores readers by posting three articles a day.”
Blogs on the Sme daily’s website are among the most-read in Slovakia, thanks partly to the fact that the most popular articles are also featured on the main page, www.sme.sk. That may be one of the reasons why dozens of Slovak politicians maintain a blog there, with many of them publishing regularly.
According to Sudor, however, politicians using the blog.sme.sk service are mainly from the right-of-centre side of the political spectrum – especially SaS, whose 2010 election success was built partly on the activities of its members in the blogosphere.
Robert Fico admitted that the readership numbers of the Sme website were a motivation.
“On the one hand the Sme daily is rightist and supports [Prime Minister] Iveta Radičová, that’s obviously clear,” Fico told Sme. “But let’s be objective and admit that their internet portal is the best and the most read.”
The media, however, noted that Robert Fico has consistently been at odds with the Sme daily and its journalists, and has repeatedly accused Sme of printing lies and misleading its readers. But that did not prevent him from starting a blog on the same daily’s website.
“He is a politician without scruples,” political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator. “For him, everything that meets a purpose is acceptable.”
18. Apr 2011 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani