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Well-known journalists are calling on their colleagues: The role of the media is crucial in the current situation before we enter the red phase!

“The role of the media is crucial in the current situation before we enter the red phase. Warn properly, give weight to the fact that the number of infections with the virus is on the rise, that more and more people are getting sick. It is crucial to urge people to respect the measures and follow them. This is the only way how we can prevent the worst,” Boris Tomašič, the director of Nova24TV warned, adding that now is really not the time for political battles. “Right now, we have to beat the second wave, and then we can move on.” Peter Jančič, the editor-in-chief of the Siol.net web portal; Jože Biščak, editor-in-chief of Demokracija; Tino Mamić, one of the founders and president of the Association of Journalists and Publicists; Aljuš Pertinač, host of the show Faktor and columnist at Požareport, and retired journalist and long-time editor Vinko Vasle, all agreed that the mainstream media, namely, RTV and POP TV, are using the epidemic for their political fight against the current government.

It is becoming clearer every day that we are very close to the adoption of additional anti-corona measures, for which we all hoped we could avoid this time around. The number of infected people is growing uncontrollably, and we are running out of hospital beds. At a press conference on Tuesday, Prime Minister Janez Janša presented an action plan for the second wave of the virus. This week, the second package of the measures, which are part of the orange phase, will be introduced; such as limiting the number of tables in restaurants, mandatory use of disinfectants in common areas, and restrictions on the gathering of up to ten people, as well as limiting the number of people in closed public spaces. If the measures of the second package will not work and the number of infections will continue to rise, the measures in the third part of the orange package will have to be implemented. This would mean the closing of individual municipalities or regions, the closing of fitness centres, the closing of bars, and the banning of all public events – in short, nothing pleasant. With all of this, we would expect the people to finally stand together and at least try to make sure that these stricter measures do not have to be introduced. Of course, the support of the media would also be more than welcome with all of this, but they are obviously more concerned with playing political games and harassing the current government, rather than encouraging the public to respect the measures. However, the collateral damage in all of this are not only the consequences of the measures that will affect the people in many ways, but also the consequences on human health.

Certain media outlet’s battles with the current government seem to be escalating at the same pace as the number of COVID-19 infections. Moreover, the media outlets seem to have sided with the individuals or “influencers” who call for non-compliance with the measures, aimed at curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus. Instead of informing, raising awareness and urging people to put on a mask in accordance with the recommendations, disinfect their hands and download the application, they invited Zlatko to the studio, who made fun of the measures and masks, and even performed on the stage of the RTV studio. After all, the public television, which we all pay for, did not even broadcast the conference, at which Prime Minister Janša presented the new measures that will be implemented, and the plan for a possible deterioration of the situation. We talked about the situation with some media experts and editors of various media outlets, as we were interested in their opinion on the situation.

The media taking part in political conflicts
The editor-in-chief of the Siol.net web portal, Peter Jančič, confirmed that the role of the media in dealing with the epidemic is very important, but in recent months, the media have largely reflected the political divisions and took part in the political conflicts. The host of the show Kdo vam laže? (Who is Lying to You?), Boris Tomašič, agrees with Jančič, adding that the media prefer to partake in the political games, instead of trying to prevent the spread of the virus. “Unfortunately, I find that most of the media, especially those that have the most influence, namely RTV, which is financed with our money, and POP TV, behave in the opposite way,” Tomašič commented on the situation. In addition, Jančič said that he had already warned several times in the past, “that it is dangerous for the community that a major political conflict, related to the issue of public health and dealing with the epidemic, is currently happening, which can have bad consequences for the community.” He added that the mass protests of the groups who sympathise with the opposition, who are also very much against the government measures, show how strongly the media, which should otherwise be impartial, inflated this conflict.

“I myself hope that the politicians and the largest media outlets have enough wisdom to stop the political confrontations happening alongside the dilemmas of dealing with the epidemic, because the consequences can be severe and long-lasting,” Jančič added. Tomašič also pointed out that the opposition is behaving similarly – instead of uniting and acting together in the fight against the virus, which can threaten the entire country, they are currently looking for a new prime minister. “At the moment, the COVID crisis, the upcoming declaration of the epidemic and everything that follows it, is undoubtedly so important that we should all be on the same side and somehow work together in the right direction, so that the worst does not happen. But they are just poor, lousy politicians, they just cannot change. Here, I am mainly referring to the quartet of the politicians who convened a press conference on Thursday and proposed Jože P. Damijan as the prime minister-designate – a man who resigned from his post as the minister after three months. So, to put it simply, they are trying to find someone who will be able to give up even better than Šarec,” Tomašič hinted at one of his favourite intellectuals in his famous style.

Covid is not just some flu and the media must report on facts
“You know how it is, about ten percent of people still believe that the Earth is a flat plate. And there is practically no cure for such nonsense, because being stupid or stupid is part of human freedom,” explained Jože Biščak, editor of the magazine Demokracija and president of the Slovenian Association of Patriotic Journalists. “Given that the constitution guarantees everyone the right to freedom of expression, this means that anyone can think whatever they want about the COVID-19 virus and freely disseminate their ideas and views, including conspiracy theories, if they wish so. This also applies to the media, which, however, must report mainly on the facts,” he added. Although we do not know much about this virus, we have already learned a lot from spring until now. We know that this is not just a form of the flu, we know that it spreads very quickly, and we also know that it leaves patients with far more fatal, long-term consequences than the common flu.

It is also a fact that strict restrictive measures – from social distancing to wearing masks – have so far proved to be the only effective measures against the spread of the coronavirus. These are facts that should be emphasized by the media, especially the state-owned media. “And not, for example, RTV Slovenia literally advertising people who oppose the wearing of masks, ignore measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus, and believe that COVID-19 is a global conspiracy to suppress freedom,” Biščak was justifiably critical. Tomašič certainly agrees with him, as he believes that “given the rapid spread of the virus, we may quickly find ourselves in a situation where we have run out of hospital beds, when medical facilities run out, there may be a total ban on movement, due to some COVID idiots who, with the help of RTV, promote the non-wearing of masks and non-compliance with regulations.” That needs to end, he added.

The media is hoping for a change of government and more money
Aljuš Pertinač, a political scientist and host of the Faktor show, wrote, in part in defence of the media that the media in Slovenia, especially the print media and the Pro Plus media house, were particularly affected by the corona crisis. “Previously, they were characterized by unclear and unstable ownership, dubious business models that, according to the principles of the market, do not allow survival, and above all, the poor social position of journalists. All this was worsened by the corona crisis, given the drastic decline of up to 75% in advertising and lower sales,” he explained. He added that the media was led to an open fight with the current government by the fact that the current government stopped the payment of the already signed contracts for co-financing the media from the budget of the Ministry of Culture, which pushed many dominant media to the brink of survival. The media affected by the circus supposedly expect that a possible change of government could lead to a budgetary solution of some misguided business models and editorial policies.

Now is not the time to undermine the government
However, on the other hand, historian, professor and editor of the Vipavska.eu web portal Tino Mamić commented that it was inadmissible for the opposition to turn the disease into politics. It is understandable that the media are fighting for their own survival in a given situation, but this is by no means the right time to undermine the government and negatively influence the public opinion and behaviour. “The government’s actions are not meant to deny the freedoms of the people, but rather, they present the simple fact of trying to curb the spread of infections in the second wave and prevent an even more devastating third wave, that is sure to come. And one more thing. Slovenia has rather mild measures compared to other countries, so it is ridiculous to listen to those who keep accusing the centre-right government of Janez Janša of establishing a kind of dictatorship,” is what the editor of Demokracija said, to which Mamič added that “if the corona is spreading faster here than it is in Croatia, something else is therefore to blame, that is, the behaviour of the people. If the opposition mocks the health measures day by day, this greatly affects at least a million Slovenes who vote for the left. And then Marjan Šarec blames Janez Janša for the epidemic.”

The irresponsible propaganda of RTV and POP TV – an attack on common sense
Journalist Vinko Vasle also assessed the situation. He said that these were serious times, both in Slovenia, as well as elsewhere in the world. “The current irresponsible anti-propaganda, especially by RTV SLO and Pop TV, represents a full-on attack on common sense; absolute irresponsibility, bordering on criminal conduct. They are also and using some celebrities such as rapper Zlatko, even though they should be ignoring anti-masquerades like him.” He also reminded everyone that these media outlets are involved in the political chain of overthrowing the government, which would this all just boils down to the malicious “anti-Janša hysteria.”

We can only avoid extreme measures by working together
Even if some people do not believe in the existence of the virus or think that nothing bad can happen to them, they could still have at least a little common sense, which would dictate to them that it makes sense to strictly follow the measures and thus limit the spread of the number of infections. If for no other reason, then at least so that we don’t have to close the bars, close gyms, restrict movement, or maybe even have a “lockdown” over the winter. Extreme measures will unpleasantly affect any individual, even those who may never get the virus themselves. And while some are only capable of mere selfish and unsympathetic thinking, it is still incomprehensible that they cannot even master basic mathematics. There is no math which would calculate and prove to them that they would still be much better off following the current measures, rather than having to live through a complete collapse of the system, which would lead to a whole bunch of other consequences that virtually no one will be able to escape.

Sara Bertoncelj