Janez Janša on the “war with the media”: a fable about us, the frogs that were slowly cooked in lukewarm water; and death threats

Janez Janša

“A war of an individual with the media does not exist, just as a war of an individual with an army of a country does not exist.”

It is very likely that you have heard the phrase “The war with the media cannot be won” many times before. It is one of those phrases that everyone knows, and many people keep repeating in good faith, without thinking about what they are actually saying. If you light a fire under the cauldron and throw a frog into boiling water, it will quickly jump out. But if you throw the frog into lukewarm water, which is then brought to a boil slowly, the frog will stay inside the cauldron until the bitter end.

I, too, was one of the people who repeated the popular phrase about the war with the media, until I came across a wise man seven years ago in Berlin, who was a long-time friend of the late German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. We talked for a bit, waiting for the round-table discussion to begin when I mentioned the phrase in passing and then watched him raise his eyebrows. “In ancient Rome, young legates were taught that fear of Roman legions was a more powerful weapon than their spears and swords,” the wise man began his lesson. And continued with a lesson from ancient history (the summary is based on my notes): “Therefore, through merchants and travellers, they systematically spread the word throughout the then-known world, that the Roman legions were invincible. They were extremely disciplined, trained, and well-equipped, but by no means invincible. They have been defeated by the Celts, the Germans, Carthaginians, Parthians, and many others, but their battles were nonetheless persistently praised at home and around the world as victorious. And many Romans believed in their invincibility even after the Praetorians themselves appointed the “barbarians” for their emperors, and the empire rotted because of its own decadence. But it is true that they did not have the internet back then.”

“The situation with the media is similar – especially with the media that are predominantly used as a tool of propaganda, instead of a mirror of the truth,” he said. “Such media claim the right to a monopoly on behaviour and judgement. They criticize, but they do not tolerate being criticized. You cannot disagree with anything with them. And even less so with their owners or masters. You can only agree with them. Otherwise, they declare you incompetent; they make fun of you and ‘kill’ your good name. If you do not give up, if you defend yourself and do not surrender, you are accused of assault. They turn it around. You are suddenly accused of attacking them or even going to war with them,” he said and thought for a while.

“My friend Helmut Kohl became their target after he stated somewhere that he does not read the newspapers at all,” he continued. “In an interview, he said that the newspapers write about what has already happened, but he is primarily interested in the future, less in the past, so that is why he does not read them. They attacked him immediately, especially the leftist Spiegel, and eventually began accusing him of every possible thing. Friends began warning him, asking him to give up, saying that a war with the media could never be won. And in return, he asked them if they know of anyone who has won by running away?”

Later, at the round-table discussion, where many intellectuals from all continents took part, we talked about the same topic, and after several hours of discussion, the following conclusions were drawn: 1. A media outlet that follows the truth, which is a prerequisite for a collection of articles or contributions to even be called “media” at all, will never call the criticism it faces an attack on the freedom of journalism or even a war against the media. It will publish the criticism and try to disprove it with facts. If there are no facts to disprove the criticism, the editorial board will apologize and repair the damage. If a certain “media” acts differently, then this is, of course, not really a media, but an extension of a narrow, particular interest, and by no means a pillar of freedom and democracy. 2. If someone is falsely being sullied and he does not defend himself, saying “it is not worth arguing with the media” instead, he has lost the battle at the very beginning. If he relies on proving his right in court, after a few months (in some places in the West it would take months, in Slovenia, it would take years, and in China, it would never even happen), he would be surprised to see that the same media that killed his good name, has published the verdict in his favour in the least conspicuous place or at the least appropriate time, with the smallest letter or as short as possible, and the other media outlets would mostly stay silent, saying that the matter did not concern them. 3. Criticism of their false or manipulative reporting is declared a war, which shakes up the common man simply because of the concept itself. Then they accuse the person whose good name they are trying to sully of also waging a war against them. And part of “public” opinion, which was cooked in lukewarm water, wisely nods along, saying that “war on media cannot be won.”

The professional group, which first called itself the seventh force within the Western civilization, then the fourth (unelected) branch of the government, and finally, the moral arbiter of political correctness, is increasingly difficult to recognize today as something good because, in reality, they no longer represent the first, nor the second, nor the third idea. This is also becoming increasingly clear to the general public. The two historical “equalizers” of modern society, education and the internet are decidedly destroying the emerging idols of the Orwellian society and bringing about the hope that the Western civilization will not experience the fate of the (W) Roman Empire. World libraries of knowledge, accessible to hundreds of millions of people in real-time, make it very difficult to direct the “behaviour” in a national, regional, and global context. The internet gives each individual a piece of media power, which, in conjunction with knowledge and the ability to check information immediately, severely limits the reach of media monopolies. The modern “cure” for the media monopolies is thus still the necessary competition in the media space, and free internet. In Slovenia, such a discussion on media freedom and the “war with the media” would also be more than welcome.

In July 2016, at a convention of the Republican party, I met a colleague from IRI, the International Republican Institute, a well-known expert dealing with the analysis of election campaigns. He was very pessimistic. In regards to the possibility of their candidate Donald Trump winning the presidential election, he even said that there is no real possibility for it and that his candidacy will be very harmful to the party in the parallel congressional elections and the elections in individual states. Of course, he did not forget to add that Donald Trump is supported by only three of the 300 largest media outlets in the United States and that his tweets are what is damaging his candidacy the most. The opinion of the majority of members of the leadership of the Republican Party, whom we met in those days at the convention, was similar.

As we all know, the 2016 United States’ election ended not only with Donald Trump’s presidential victory, but the Republican Party also celebrated in the congressional elections and in more than two-thirds of states where elections were held concurrently with the presidential elections. A few months later, I received an internal election analysis co-signed by the same expert I spoke with at the convention. Among other things, the most important reasons for Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election were his direct communication with the voters, and above all, his quick, understandable reactions via Twitter, which prevented the hostile media from further serious manipulation.

When the media, with its monopoly power, attacks an individual or a minority group within a society, and the individual or minority tries to defend themself, this is not a media war. Not in our country, nor anywhere else in the world. The media only tries to create an illusion of this. In fact, there is no moral power in these confrontations with the weaker party, only the clear abuse of a privileged monopoly position or even taxpayer’s money, the abuse of the public, and fear of the truth.

A war of an individual with the media does not exist, just as a war of an individual with an army of a country does not exist. The only case when the term “media war” can be partially accurate, is when competing media with roughly the same influence clash with each other. Many Western societies were accustomed to this for centuries, because competition was established, and monopolies were thus prevented. There are no value-neutral people among people who think, which is what journalists should be, as all normal people with reason have their own system of values and beliefs. Therefore, in a democratic society, different value systems must have as equal opportunities as possible, to express themselves, and for their ideas to be defended. Media competition is more important than any other competition and is a prerequisite for a democratic social order and a free society in general.

So an individual cannot really win a war with the media, because such a war does not exist and has never existed. But the monopoly of lies can be broken. Not only is this possible, but it is essential for the good future of any nation or country. For starters, it is extremely healthy not to watch, read, or listen to those “media” where you know in advance how they will turn things around. You are just wasting your time by paying attention to them.

Especially in Slovenia, where the management team of the national RTV Slovenija wrote the following in May 2020: “Public radio and television represent one of the foundations of a free society, so the attacks on RTV Slovenia also represent an attack on democracy.” 32 years ago, in May 1988, the following statement of the then-presidency of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia was read in the same house: “… The Yugoslav People’s Army (Jugoslovanska ljudska armada – hereinafter referred to as JLA) is one of the foundations of a free and independent SFRY, so attacks on it also represent an attack on the socialist self-managing system…” Imagine if, while the protests are happening, where large numbers of people are violating the Communicable Diseases Act, and where certain individuals, dressed in the uniforms of the aggressors of JLA, fly the flags of the authoritarian SFRY, and where the MPs of the Social Democrats and Levica parties are wearing T-shirts with pictures of mass murderers and dictators on them (while shouting that they oppose the dictatorial Government!), the Government would publish a communiqué, stating: “The Slovenian Government, formed in accordance with the constitutional procedure and on the basis of the democratically expressed will of the majority of the voters, is one of the foundations of a free society, so attacks on the governing coalition also represent an attack on democracy.” Can you imagine the reaction of the “Public Radio and Television?” If you can, then it is clear to you where we stand and how deep is the perversion of those who have, without any election process or constitutional procedure, and without any shame, declared themselves the “foundation of a free society.”

And at the same time, they never ask themselves how the victims of the media murders and their families feel. The ones that were publicly convicted and slandered, and murdered in the media, before the court proceedings even began. Hundreds of those who did not even have the chance to defend themselves, and the better-known cases, from Novič to Radan and finally, even those rare few judges who dared to judge differently than these media murderers. They, too, have recently been ruthlessly discredited precisely by those media outlets that shamelessly declare themselves the defenders of the rule of law and democracy.

Both TV companies with the largest amount of taxpayer money and a monopoly in the advertising pie and, consequently, the highest number of viewers, also employ many capable, professional, and ethical journalists and associates, but they cannot truly shine among all of the inciting editing and managing. An atmosphere of intolerance and hatred is being created by a small circle of editors, who share family and capital connections to the pillars of the deep state, and a few average and below-average journalists on call, who would have never even become reporters from the food market in a normal media house.

The rich history of the emergence of totalitarian regimes, from fascist to National Socialist, communist, Islamist, to post-communist hybrids (Solzhenitsyn), is a warning sign to all those who are clever and can recognise the signs of danger: a. a media monopoly that allows for the creation of double standards of state bodies (for example: the laundering of 1 billion euros for a totalitarian regime in a state-owned bank is not investigated or sanctioned, but the chairman of the parliamentary committee that discovered it is questioned); b. portraying a false image of the situation in a country where others are framed for their actions and intentions; c. attacking and discrediting anything that allows the democratically elected authorities any kind of media, diplomatic or public defence and urging the attacked not to defend themselves; d. creating a state of emergency at any cost.

In particular, point c. is crucial for them. In simplified language, it could also be paraphrased with the following phrase: “Drop your weapon, and we will treat you better.” Or: “Do not send official dispatches, and we will not have any problems. Do not appoint your supervisor to the RTV council, even though it belongs to you by law, because a media pogrom will follow. Stop tweeting, and no one will attack you.” Really?

History relentlessly teaches us that the result is usually the opposite. Totalitarianists has always disarmed their opponents first and then shot them. In the media and in reality. First things first, second things seconds. First, the discreditation, then the liquidation. If necessary, also physical. You may not even notice while sitting in the lukewarm water, that death threats and calls for murder at the left-wing rallies are treated as something “normal,” even self-evident, by the RTV Slovenija, POP TV, and other “media” from the same group. In doing so, many essentially well-meaning and God-fearing individuals are helping them, but they do not want to expose themselves publicly and seek excuses for their lack of courage on both sides. Until they find themselves in the wheels of the system, which is what happens to everyone who wants to do honest work for the common good, sooner or later. So do not wait, the time is now. The fire under the cauldron is burning strongly.

And they are actually “cooking” you up, not the Government. We are in a pandemic. Due to the extremely responsible behaviour of the vast majority of the population, the sacrificial work of doctors and nurses, and the urgent reactions of the Government, Slovenia was successful in behaving responsibly. But a handful of irresponsible people can endanger everyone else. In addition, the next, much bigger crisis wave is inevitably coming. Recession. Only by working together can we prevent its most devastating consequences. Slovenia can do it, but not if it is divided.

Therefore, an active effort is necessary for the common good, and a strong voice, a voice without the false “political correctness,” the voice of each individual speaking against incitement, the creating of an additional state of emergency, and irresponsible conduct.

Janez Janša