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The watchdogs are on guard

If the election campaign holds few optimistic prospects for Slovakia at the start of the coming year, let the continuing determination and commitment of the responsible journalists – in Sme, in Denník N, or wherever else – be one of the little sparks of hope for 2016.

(Source: Sme )

IT’S BEEN a year since ownership issues that followed the efforts of financial sharks from Penta to buy their way into the media world moved the lives of many Slovak journalists.

I remember the growing concerns as I read the reports about the negotiations between Petit Press and its soon-to-be new shareholder, and I watched the then editors of the Sme daily announce they were leaving. What would become of the daily?

And then the events took a new turn and affected this newspaper too.

No, it was not the fact that Penta now owns a minority share in our company. We didn’t rejoice about that when the deal was closed, but all through the year we haven’t felt any impact of that change in the ownership structure whatsoever.

Rather, it was the decision of our then editor-in-chief Beata Balogová to take over at Sme that brought the changes home to us. I was offered her position and decided to accept, even though at that time I was preparing for a very different role, unrelated to the struggles the newspapers were dealing with.

The whole 2015 has been a year of changes for many Slovak journalists: those who started the new project, Denník N, and those whom they left behind in Sme and other Petit Press outlets, to meet the challenges posed by the new co-owner of their publishing house. As a result of those changes, the journalism community found itself divided into “those who left” and “those who stayed”, and discovered a new kind of rivalry.

However, the past year has been rich in other divisions too, and did not leave much room for journalists to linger over those they have been experiencing within their profession.

First Slovakia was divided over the referendum on family. Discussions were heated, and the two opposing camps mostly focused on shouting at their adversary rather than listening to what they had to say. A few months later the same happened again, when the attention focused on refugees flowing around Slovakia’s borders.

While it is important for media professionals to reflect on their work and their position towards their employers, their outlets, and most of all towards their readers, it is also true that we must not get stuck in our internal issues so much that we would forget to do our job and keep a critical eye on the world around us.

Looking back at media coverage of the major events, I am happy to report that there are still many journalists in the country, regardless who owns their outlets, who do not fail to do that. Responsible newspapers have done their best to bring balanced reporting and explain to the public (or at least the part of public willing to listen) what the refugee crisis was about and why the referendum on family was a controversial idea.

Meanwhile, they did not let slide some internal issues in Slovak politics that the government perhaps would have liked to sweep under the carpet – such as the suspicions over cronyism in the state health insurer or the questionable financing of a major startup conference.

That new kind of rivalry turned out to work for the benefit of the media environment, after all.

And the watchdogs need to stay on guard in the coming year even more fiercely, as issues that have to do with human rights, like the refugee crisis, once again overlap with the election campaign.

If the nearing elections and the campaign that yet has to start in full swing hold few optimistic prospects for Slovakia at the start of the coming year, let the continuing determination and commitment of the responsible journalists – in Sme, in Denník N, or wherever else – be one of the little sparks of hope for 2016.

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