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Wednesday, October 5, 2022

The illusion of (non-)normalcy – who are the constructors of the Slovenian media reality?

By: Gašper Blažič

When I listened to the Radio GaGa show here and there during my student days, I sometimes shuddered when the technician in the mentioned show was able to simulate the real feeling of some special situation through the soundtrack. Even wars if need be. Of course, it was known that it was a show that produced content of “do what you please”, but some listener could take the matter too seriously and empty half of the local store. And if, for example, in the middle of the last century, when one radio station was mainly listened to (and even that through the medium waves), radio could afford such a scheme, it could probably really trigger a mass response from people who would believe that there truly is a war.

For example, in 1948, the writer Vitomil Zupan tried something similar with an otherwise seemingly innocent prank that he made to Dušan Pirjevec-Ahac over the phone: Swiss radio reported that Tito had resigned and that the Russians had already invaded Yugoslavia. The disinformation then travelled through Lado Kozak to some influential people, and the “April Fool’s joke” spread so much that it took quite some time before they realised that it was all a fabrication. But times were serious – after all, it was the information bureau year of 1948 – and Zupan paid for his prank with seven years in prison and the loss of civil rights. The comrades were relieved, saying that what this literary ascender, who had even won the Prešeren Prize the year before, had invented, was not true. But in reality, they trembled for many decades after that – in 1956, Soviet troops intervened first in Hungary, and in 1968 in the then Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.

I doubt that nowadays any of the media that would dare to simulate a (fake) military attack on the homeland would survive at all. Media technology is much more developed (this allows more opportunities for spreading fake news), but on the other hand, the competition is much greater. At first glance, such a development seems to have overtaken the old centres of power. Nevertheless, we should not underestimate the decades-long indoctrination and negative personnel selection, especially in the most influential media houses, from RTV Slovenia through Pro Plus (Pop TV, Kanal A) all the way to STA and newspaper companies, which are mostly (privately) operated by tycoons dependent on the political underworld – be it Stojan Petrič (Delo), Uroš Hakl (Večer) or Martin Odlazek (radio station network, Salomon group, etc.). And of course this is also evident in media event processing technology. The very name “medium” means that it is a mediator – because the audience cannot be informed directly, the media do so through information channels such as radio and TV frequencies, the Internet and the press. But even before the information goes into circulation, they are of course refined, designed, and above all processed in such a way that they will construct exactly the kind of reality that the owner or the “background subscriber” wants. For the addressees of information most often represent a rather passive audience, behaving according to the scheme of mass psychology. The experience in the field of psychological propaganda, which, for example Milan Kučan has, therefore come in very handy.

And anyone who knows the Slovenian media at least a little can quickly perceive that about 80 percent of all information provided is actually of interest to the nomenclature, which roughly corresponds to the reproduction of the old elite, as sociologist prof. dr. Frane Adam pointed out about two decades ago. Alternative media, including the media you are just reading, have twenty percent of influence at the most. It is true that some events, such as the election of the new director general of RTVS, raise some hopes regarding the balance in the national RTV institution, but it may happen that the court will intervene and decide in favour of the center of power, which has happened before in the past. All this means that we are now in a situation where the vast majority of the media is convincing us that we are in a state of abnormality due to the current government, and we can only break the Gordian knot by overthrowing the Janša government.

Let’s take a closer look. Most of the media have recently placed great emphasis on reporting on the great dissatisfaction with the government, which is supposed to completely paralyse society with its measures against covid19. For example, in education, where it is supposedly unnecessarily insisting on testing teachers, and in distance education in regions that are problematic according to the epidemiological picture. The government is also allegedly to blame for interfering with the enrolment ratios at universities, thereby interfering with the autonomy of the higher education space and, as some say, is reviving targeted education from the dead. As a result, not only university rectors are angry, but also student representatives, who understand this act as political interference in the profession. And to speak of the devil: student officials, who have so much to say over the government’s supposedly brutal interference in the higher education system, seem to remember very well that this happened every time the “right wing government” was in power. If we assume that these officials are on average 25 years old (and were born approximately in 1995 or 1996), then as primary school students they already had to follow political events very closely during the first Janša’s government (2004-2008). And they were relieved to enrol in a high school of their choice in 2010.

And if we are a little cynical: this student youth, who is ringing the bell because of the supposedly barbaric actions of the Janša’s government, probably also remembers very well the rudeness in 2000 that the then six months long Bajuk’s government afforded: namely, the latter reduced the price of petroleum products and thus, according to the interpretation of Pop TV, strongly endangered the public finance stability of Slovenia, because, think about it, it reduced excise duties on petroleum products. I assume that then preschool children (today students) remember this outrageous government rudeness very well.

Now you will probably understand what it means to live in an atmosphere where the illusion of abnormality prevails. But this is just one of two faces of the same Janus head. The other face is an illusion of normalcy in a situation that is in fact abnormal and are reminiscent of a fairy tale about the emperor’s new clothes. Let’s remember, for example, the Šareč’s government. If we collect all its scandals and media coverage of them at that time and compare them with current events, we can see what the difference is. Can you imagine what would happen if the current Prime Minister Janez Janša would publicly wag his finger at the biggest companies and let them know that he will not tolerate their advertising, e.g. in Delo and/or Dnevnik newspapers? This would certainly be a scandal that would resonate throughout Europe. When Marjan Šarec did something similar in the role of Prime Minister, nothing had happened except a few protests. Even more: the holders of “media freedom” gathered in the Slovenian Journalists’ Association applauded Šareč’s words. Because they consider themselves progressives who can arbitrarily decide which media content is hostile, and they consider everyone else idiots. Šarec’s “expiration date” expired a year ago (and I personally do not believe that he threw in the towel, I would say that someone knocked it out of his hands) and today he is not an influential factor, so the influential factor remains “uncles” who appointed him and also removed him. And even the current formal opposition, especially the KUL alliance, is in fact a kind of “executive world” of rulers from the land of shadows, who are responsible for creating virtual reality or the illusion of abnormality, where the discussion of Kordiš’s mischievous behaviour is only a side issue.

Apparently, the famous French thinker Jean Baudrillard was right, who during his lifetime – he died in 2007 – was very critical of the media construction of reality and wrote in 1991 that “in the realm of images there are no criteria for true and false – we experience everything like a recording book”. It seems as if the modern media world has in some way fulfilled Nietzsche’s longings for an exodus from previous moral systems, which only knew how to create an “equalisation of personal incomes”. However, contrary to Nietzsche’s expectations, the media, with their construction of reality, help to create personal “mediocrities”, i.e. a kind of passive average people who get all the “information” they need served on a silver platter. But if some invisible center of power with the media creates a problem that does not actually exist (according to Baudrillard, a “virtual world of war with the appearance of the unreal” – which otherwise refers to the media construction of the 1991 Gulf War), then that can only mean one thing: personal weakness to face someone on the other side evenly in a democratic society. On the other hand, it is also the weakness of the opponent, who here and there, for some short-term benefit, prefers to adapt to the current situation and does not dare to enter the game as a moral winner (which has recently actually happened in parliament).

And that is also why we are actually condemned that the illusion of (non-)normalcy will continue in the future. Until someone strikes with a hammer on the machine that produces these virtual images of (non-)normalcy…

Gašper Blažič (1979), a university graduate theologian, is a journalist for the weekly Demokracija, a publicist and political commentator who has so far published the books “Stavke, ki je iztirila rdeči režim (The Strike That Derailed the Red Regime)” (co-authored with Slavko Kmetič) and “Slovenija, vtan’ (Slovenia, Rise)”.


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