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Is 'kissing story' relevant for public?

THE RECENTLY published photos featuring Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico saying goodbye to a female employee of his office in a way implying slightly more than a professional relationship has raised questions not only about the properties owned by the woman, but also the responsibilities of the press when it comes to alleged extramarital affairs of top politicians.

THE RECENTLY published photos featuring Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico saying goodbye to a female employee of his office in a way implying slightly more than a professional relationship has raised questions not only about the properties owned by the woman, but also the responsibilities of the press when it comes to alleged extramarital affairs of top politicians.

While Fico’s press department called the photos featuring Fico kissing Jana Halászová in a car a “ridiculous story” not worthy of a comment, media expert and Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) analyst Miroslav Kollár told The Slovak Spectator that the story is completely legitimate news.

The Plus 7 Dní weekly published photos on August 27 featuring Fico and the 27-year-old Halászová, while reporting that on August 21 Fico spent several hours with her at a chateau in Čereňany, 160 kilometres from Bratislava, after picking her up in front of her Bratislava apartment. Then, the Sme daily picked up the story by posing questions about whether the prime minister is having an extramarital affair, and if so, whether it presents a security risk for the country.

“There is nothing worthy to comment on this ridiculous story, which tabloid media use to imply something to the public,” said Fico’s spokesperson Beatrice Szabóová, as quoted by topky.sk, an online magazine. “Even the fact that this weekly [Plus 7 Dní] did not notice and did not take pictures of the other four people present at the celebration, who came and left the event at the same time as Fico did, shows [the quality of] this weekly’s work.”

Tomáš Gális of Sme indeed wrote a commentary in which he explained the reasons why the paper chose to cover the story of the photos, suggesting that the prime minister is a public person and thus even according to courts he must tolerate more interventions into his privacy.

“He must not be vulnerable to blackmail and he could be in such a case if he maintains dangerous relationships,” Gális wrote in his commentary referring to a recent example from the Czech Republic, when it turned out that part of the high bonuses that the former Czech prime minister distributed went to a top aide with whom he was having an affair.

Kollár of IVO said that in this case serious media can focus on “whether the behaviour of the politician is in harmony with the values which he declares, also in relation to possible advantages given to the concerned person by the politician and also from the view of the potential security risk flowing from the possible affair of the politician”.

Halászová drives a luxurious car worth around €30,000 and bought a new flat without a mortgage in August 2012 in a neighbourhood where a one-room flat costs approximately €100,000, according to the Plus 7 Dní webpage.

However, the Government Office has not yet responded to questions by Sme about Halászová’s professional role as well as her salary, arguing that she is not a top managing official and thus her wage conditions are protected by privacy laws, just as those of other state administration employees. The Government Office also told Sme that it could publish the information only with Halászová’s consent.

The photos and the related suspicions have not made it onto Slovak TV news reports with head of the private television Markíza’s news department Henrich Krejča telling Sme that it was a tabloid topic.

“However, we will consider covering this issue because there is possibility of a connection between private and state persons,” Krejča told Sme, adding that “the question is whether the secretary of Mr Fico is in any way favoured”.

The fact that RTVS, the public broadcaster, has not yet broadcast a report on the case does not mean that it is not working on it, Dominika Šulková, the spokesperson for RTVS, told to Sme. She added that when the broadcaster has information where the public interest prevails over privacy, RTVS will report it no matter who the politician is.

Private broadcaster TV JOJ did not want to copy the Plus 7 Dní, Roland Kubina, the head of broadcaster’s news department told Sme, adding that “it is hard to see anything on those pictures; I cannot imagine that we [JOJ] would shoot a minute and a half [long report] about it”.

Kollár opined that even though there is a lack of material for broadcasters, they could, for instance, confront both people in front of the camera. He expects that TV channels are presently gathering additional information in an attempt to break their own discoveries.

“If they [broadcasters] only passively wait for the development of the case I would consider it their failure, given their dominant position in the sphere of news reporting and its influence,” Kollár said, adding that only then would “questions about the reasons for such behaviour be justified”.

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