A response to the “concerns” of the left-wing media

First Slovenian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dimitrij Rupel (Photo: STA)

Slovenia is a paradise for journalists. Many of them create great careers after establishing themselves in their field. Ljerka Bizilj and Danica Simšič became Members of Parliament (and continued from there); Tanja Fajon and Irena Joveva even became Members of the European Parliament. Mitja Meršol, Mile Šetinc, Ivo Vajgl, and Tamara Vonta were all journalists. Even Marjan Šarec once signed a famous journalistic petition.

For a while now, we have repeatedly been hearing complaints about the “right-wing” in Slovenia – whether they are in power or in the opposition – about their alleged persecuting of the media and the journalists. The explanation for these complaints, which are mostly not very polite, of course, depends on the definition of the word “persecution.” Complaints may be well-founded or unfounded, but above all, they are illogical in a parliamentary democracy and a multi-party system (which Slovenia is – in principle). In dictatorships, such as Yugoslavia (and with it, Slovenia), the authorities may persecute the journalists and freedom-loving authors; in Slovenia, they focused on the cultural magazines (Perspektive, Nova revija…), because the dailies and the weeklies were under the strict control of the Party anyway. However, the exact opposite is typical for democracies: the media and the journalists can control and criticize the government as much as they want!

Formally, we have a parliamentary democracy in Slovenia – despite all of the reservations about the heritage of the former one-party state – which is supposed to encourage media/journalistic criticism of the authorities. The Slovenian media have a complicated “mission,” as the so-called right-wing rarely manages to “come to power.” In Slovenia, the so-called right-wing politics are four times weaker than left-wing politics. In the last thirty years, as has already been noted countless times, the so-called right-wing has been in power for only 20 percent of those thirty years. Because the media – for reasons that can be explained with the traditions from the undemocratic times – prefer to deal with the right-wing, rather than the left-wing, they could be left virtually without work. To prevent this from happening and prevent the losses of their jobs, they are attacking the right, even though it is not in power, and although there is only a small chance of it coming to power. Maybe there is a danger that this will happen by mistake? Therefore, they pay as much “attention” as possible to the opposition.

A few days ago, an international journalistic organization informed me that an objection to an untrue report on Slovenia, which Peter Jambrek and I wrote on May 6th of this year and sent to the editorial board of the English newspaper The Guardian[1], was now also being persecuted. The Guardian did not publish or even reply to our letter. But the fact that we dared to object to a journalist is enough for an accusation and persecution. Besides, neither Jambrek nor I are members of any government or a government party. So, it really is high time we explained the concepts.

In 1935, Eugene Meyer formulated and wrote the seven principles for “the Conduct of a Newspaper,” so the mission for his famous newspaper The Washington Post. Above all, the newspaper – this would also apply to other forms of media today, for example, electronic media – must tell all the truth (about important issues of the state), so far as it can learn it. When disseminating the news, the newspaper must be as polite as any decent man should be. What the newspaper publishes must be suitable for reading by the young and the old. The newspaper’s duty is to its readers and to the general public, not to the private interests of its owners. In the pursuit of the truth, the newspaper must be willing to make sacrifices of its material fortunes, if this is necessary for the public good; it must not be an ally of any special interest but must be fair and free and comprehensive in its outlook on public affairs and public people.[2]

The Washington Post (and most reputable media outlets in the West) prescribe the fact-checking criteria in line with these principles. Journalists are primarily responsible for reporting, writing, and verifying their stories. For this purpose, the newspaper has one or more editors who review and, if necessary, correct the data in the articles. There are department heads, their deputies, and assistants, who work with the reporters on the origin of their stories. News and stories can be hot or less time-sensitive; the senior editors have an overview of everything. A special feature of the Washington Post is diversity. Accurate reporting means engaging different interviewees and different authors, striving for co-workers who will have different backgrounds and life experiences that will reflect in their work, and seeking feedback from anyone who can contribute.

Associations, agencies, and political forums, which – in their own words – strive for democracy, could send the media and the journalists in Slovenia (why not in Europe?) a questionnaire to help them find out whether they are free, freedom-loving, or not. The questionnaire would include the following questions:

  1. How many times in the last year, and when, have the politicians or government officials:
  • tried to influence or
  • decisively influenced the direction of your editorial board or the publishing of an individual article in your media outlet?
  1. Do the authors of the articles (in your newsletter/media outlet) decide on the publication themselves, or do they need the approval of one or more editors?
  2. Are there rules and criteria in your editorial office for establishing the truth or the credibility of the data you post? Please list them.
  3. Are there multiple levels of verification of facts in your editorial office? If the fact are checked by levels, how many levels are there?
  4. Does anyone in your editorial office check the eligibility of the articles; does he or she have the right to sanction hate speech, insults, moral propriety…?
  5. Are the owners of your newsletter/media outlet related to the journalistic profession?
  6. European countries are largely in favour of a “social market economy.” How does your media outlet view this? Would you say it advocates for:
  • a more social orientation – with the largest possible share of state ownership,
  • more of a market orientation and the free economic initiative,
  • a combination of both?

8.    European countries mostly present themselves as “legal and social states.” What’s more important to your media outlet:·         the rule of law, which ensures the equality of all citizens,·         the welfare state, which (through social transfers, stricter taxation of the wealthier and more prosperous) ensures the greatest possible equality of citizens, or·         a combination of both?9.    Which party programs are closest to the owners/editors of your media outlet:·         socialist, social democratic, left (even communist),·         liberal, liberal-democratic,·         conservative, traditionalist, right (even Christian democratic)·         programs that defend the national interests (even nationalist ones)?10. Which foreign newspaper or which foreign TV network serves as an example for you, or is what you like best (multiple answers possible):

  • The Times
  • The Guardian
  • Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
  • Die Zeit
  • Der Spiegel
  • Washington Post
  • Wall Street Journal
  • Le Figaro
  • Le Monde
  • La Repubblica
  • Corriere della Sera
  • CNN
  • Fox News
  • BBC
  • ITV
  • ZDF
  • ARD
  • Deutsche Welle
  • RAI 1
  • RAI 2
  • RAI 3

An analysis of the objective answers to these questions would certainly be more than just instructive.

Dimitrij Rupel, Ph.D.

Endnotes

[1] “Remarks to a Partisan Portrait of Slovenia” (Reply to Shaun Walker: “Slovenia’s PM Janša channels Orbán with attacks on media and migrants”, The Guardian, May 4th, 2020); “Letter from Peter Jambrek and Dimitrij Rupel to the Guardian: We feel sorry that unbalanced and fake debate re-appears in a highest status international daily of The Guardian. Readers deserve better”, Nova24TV, 8. 5. 2020.

[2] The mission of The Washington Post is defined in a set of principles written by Eugene Meyer, who bought the newspaper in 1933.

The Seven Principles for the Conduct of a Newspaper

  1. The first mission of a newspaper is to tell the truth as nearly as the truth may be ascertained.
  2. The newspaper shall tell ALL the truth so far as it can learn it, concerning the important affairs of America and the world.
  3. As a disseminator of the news, the paper shall observe the decencies that are obligatory upon a private gentleman.
  4. What it prints shall be fit reading for the young as well as for the old.
  5. The newspaper’s duty is to its readers and to the public at large, and not to the private interests of its owners.
  6. In the pursuit of truth, the newspaper shall be prepared to make sacrifices of its material fortunes, if such course be necessary for the public good.
  7. The newspaper shall not be the ally of any special interest, but shall be fair and free and wholesome in its outlook on public affairs and public men.

Eugene Meyer, March 5th, 1935