FOLLOWING revelations that the Military Defence Intelligence (VOS), the counterintelligence arm of the Defence Ministry, has been wiretapping journalists, media experts have stressed that eavesdropping on journalists or their contacts is unacceptable in a democracy.
“Every such case of ‘weird’ wiretapping, mainly that of journalists, is a threat to democracy in a country,” the head of the International Press Institute’s (IPI) Slovak branch, Pavol Múdry, told The Slovak Spectator. “Wiretapping or monitoring of journalists is aimed at threatening these journalists and their colleagues and getting at sources.”
According to Múdry, this equals a violation of the Press Code and a limit on the irreplaceable role of the media in a democratic society.
Múdry also said that the IPI would follow the development of the case and call for a thorough investigation and consequences for those responsible, while pushing for changes to the legislation so that similar cases do not occur in future.
Michal Arpáš of the Association of Publishers of Print Periodicals said in a memo sent to The Slovak Spectator that such practices are not only unacceptable but are also incompatible with the country’s legislation.
“We cannot imagine a legal reason which could have led to this [the wiretapping] and which a court approved,” Arpáš said.
The Slovak Syndicate of Journalists (SSN) will press charges over allegations of wiretapping, SSN vice-chairman Zdenko Cho told the TASR newswire.
“We view this scandal as highly serious,” said Cho. “We would be profoundly disappointed about a violation of fundamental democratic principles if the allegations prove to be true.”
After the scandal broke, local media received what purported to be transcripts of a conversation between Vanda Vavrová, a reporter at the Pravda daily, and Smer MP and former interior minister Robert Kaliňák. The transcripts suggest, according to the Sme daily, that Kaliňák put pressure on Vavrová to write a story about then defence minister Ľubomír Galko exceeding the speed limit.
Kaliňák on November 24 said that he would turn to the General Prosecutor’s office over the wiretapping of Vavrová, claiming that Galko had abused his powers by the wiretaps and by the VOS’ archiving of telephone conversations between him and Vavrová. The Smer deputy said that the wiretapping was illegal, since his conversations with the journalist did not include any state secrets, the SITA newswire reported.
“The wiretapping affair has opened up the problem of media ethics as well as the relationships between the media, journalists and politicians,” Múdry told SITA in response to the transcripts.
According to Múdry, the trustworthiness of the media and of journalists is of the highest value to the audience, and they must protect it.
“If that does not happen they will become an easy target for pressure and influence from politicians,” Múdry said.