“The role of the media is crucial in the current situation before the epidemic is re-declared. Proper warnings, giving weight to the fact that the virus is on the rise, that more and more people are infected. It is crucial to urge people to respect the implemented measures. With this, we can prevent the worst, ”warned Boris Tomašič, director of Nova24TV, adding that now is really not the right time for political battles. “We have to beat this second wave now in order to move on later.” The mainstream media, especially RTV and POP TV, are using the epidemic for a political fight against the government, Peter Jančič, editor-in-chief of the Siol.net portal, Jože Biščak, editor of Demokracija, Tino Mamić, president of the Association of Journalists and Publicists, Faktor and columnist at Požareport Aljuš Pertinač and retired journalist and longtime editor Vinko Vasle, point out.
It is becoming increasingly clear that we are on the verge of adoption of anti-coronavirus measures, which we all hoped could be avoided this time. The numbers of infected people are growing uncontrollably, and hospital beds are already running out. At a press conference on Tuesday, Prime Minister Janez Janša presented an action plan for dealing with the second wave of the virus. This week, the second package of measures that are part of the orange phase are starting to be implemented, such as limitations on 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 limitations on the number of people gathering in indoor public spaces. If the measures in the second package do not work and the number of infections continues to increase, measures in the third package of the orange phase will have to be implemented. This means the closure of individual municipalities and regions, the closure of fitness centres, the closure of bars, the banning of all public events – all in all, nothing pleasant. Considering this, we would expect people would finally unite and at least try to ensure that these stricter measures are not needed. Of course, the support of the media would also be more than appreciated, but they are obviously more inclined to play political games and harass the current government than to encourage the public to respect the measures. Collateral damage in all this, however, are not only the consequences of measures that people will feel in many ways, but also the health of the population.
It seems that the battle of certain media house with the current government is escalating at the same pace as the number of COVID-19 infections. Moreover, they appear to have sided with those individuals or “influencers” who call for non-compliance with measures aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus. Instead of informing, raising awareness and urging people to wear masks in accordance with the recommendations, disinfect their hands and download the application, they invite Zlatko to the studio, who makes fun of the measures and masks and even performs on the stage of the RTV studio. After all, public television, which we all pay for, did not even broadcast the conference at which Prime Minister Janša presented the new measures and the plan in the case of a possible deterioration of the situation. We talked about the situation with some media experts and editors of various media houses as we were interested in their opinion on the situation.
The media as an actor in political conflicts
The editor-in-chief of the Siol.net 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 political divisions and acted as actors in political conflicts. The host of the show Who’s Lying to You, Boris Tomašič, agrees with him, adding that the media prefer to deal with 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 from our money, and Pop TV, behave in the opposition to this,” Tomašič commented. In addition, Jančič said that he had warned several times in the past, “that it is dangerous for the society that a major political conflict takes place on the issue of public health and dealing with the epidemic, which can have bad consequences for everyone.” He added that the mass protests of opposition groups, which oppose the government’s actions, show how strongly the media, which should be impartial, inflates this conflict.
“I myself hope that politicians and the largest media houses will be able to have enough wisdom to stop the political confrontation with the dilemmas of dealing with the epidemic, because the consequences can be severe and long-term,” Jančič added. Tomašič pointed out that the opposition is behaving similarly, now, instead of uniting and acting together in the fight against the virus – which is threatening the entire country/world – is looking for a new prime minister. “At the moment, the COVID-19 crisis, the upcoming re-declaration of the epidemic in Slovenia and everything that follows with it, is undoubtedly so important that we should all take the same side and somehow work together to prevent the worst from happening. But they are just poor politicians, they cannot get out of their skin. Here I am referring mainly to the quartet, which is convening a press conference today and proposing Jože P. Damijan as a formateur, a man who resigned as minister after three months. So, I will say, in the style of my show, that they are trying to appoint as the Prime Minister someone who throws in the towel even better than Šarec, ”Tomašič hinted at one of his favourite “intellectuals”.
COVID-19 is not the flu and the media must report the facts
“About ten percent of the world population still believes that the Earth is flat. And there is practically no cure for such nonsense, because being stupid or a fool is a part of human freedoms, ”explained Jože Biščak, editor of the magazine Demokracija and president of the Slovenian Association of Patriotic Journalists. “Given that the constitution guarantees everyone the freedom of speech, everyone can think whatever they want about COVID-19 and freely disseminate their ideas and views, including conspiracy theories. This also applies to the media, which, however, must report facts, “he added. Although we do not know much about this virus, we have learned a lot since the spring. We know that this is not just a form of the flu, we know that it is spreading rapidly and we also know that it leaves patients with much more fatal, long-term consequences than the common flu.
The fact is that the only effective measure against the spread of the virus has so far proved to be strict restrictive measures – from social distancing to wearing masks. These are facts that must be emphasised by the media, especially the state-owned media. “But instead, RTV Slovenia literally advertises people who oppose to wearing masks, ignore measures to curb the spread of the virus and believe that COVID-19 is a global conspiracy to suppress freedom,” Biščak justifiably adds. Tomašič certainly agrees with him, believing that “given the rapid spread of the virus, Slovenia might find itself in the situation when it does not have enough hospital beds, when medical facilities run out, when there may be a total ban on movement, due to some COVID-19 idiots who, with the help of RTV, promote not wearing masks and non-compliance with regulations.” This needs to be stopped, he concluded.
The media is hoping for a change of government and more money
Aljuš Pertinač, a political scientist and the host of the Faktor show, wrote, partly in the 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 characterised by unclear and unstable ownership, dubious business models that, according to market principles, do not allow survival, and above all, the poor social position of journalists. All this was especially affected 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 a battle with the current government as the government halted the payment of 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 crisis are allegedly expecting that a possible change of government could lead to a budgetary solution to 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 portal Tino Mamić commented that it is inadmissible for the opposition to turn the pandemic 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 people freedom, but to curb the second wave of the COVID-19 spread and prevent an even more devastating third wave that is coming. Moreover, Slovenia has rather mild measures compared to other countries, so it is ridiculous to listen to those who accuse the centre-right government of Janez Janša of establishing a kind of dictatorship, “commented the editor of Demokracija. Mamič added that if in Slovenia the virus is spreading faster than in Croatia, something else is to blame, namely, the behaviour of the people. If the opposition mocks health measures day by day, this has a great effect on the million Slovenes who vote for the left. But then Marjan Šarec blames Janez Janša for the epidemic.”
The irresponsible propaganda of RTV and POP TV is an attack on common sense
The situation was also assessed by journalist Vinko Vasle, who said it is serious, both in Slovenia and elsewhere in the world. “The current irresponsible anti-propaganda, especially by RTV SLO and Pop TV, represents an attack on common sense, absolute irresponsibility, bordering on criminal conduct. In doing so, they abuse and use some celebrities such as rapper Zlatko, although they should ignore such anti-masks proponents.” He also reminded that these media are involved in the political chain of overthrowing the government, which would be completely legitimate if there was no epidemic, but at the moment it is just a malicious “anti-Janša hysteria”.
Extreme measures can only be avoided by joint measures
Even if some people refuse to 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 them that it makes sense to strictly follow the measures and thus limit the spread of infections. If for no other reason, then at least so that we do not witness closed bars, gyms, restricted movement, maybe even a “lockdown” during the winter. Extreme measures will unpleasantly affect everyone, even those who may never feel the virus on their own skin. If some are capable of only selfish and unsympathetic thinking, it is still incomprehensible that they cannot even master basic mathematics. Mathematics calculates that they will be better off by abiding the current measures than dealing with 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.