Personal revenge as motivation for the destruction of RTVS
The new government is making rapid and fundamental changes in various key areas. Some changes have also been made in the case of RTVS. In particular, there is a significant change in the level of funding – downwards, of course. Further changes are still being debated at the political level. It concerns the possible division of RTVS into two original components, as well as an increase in the share of external advertising and, possibly, the return of so-called contracts with the state. Contracts with the state helped to finance programmes that seemed necessary from the point of view of public authorities. Most of them were useful educational and cultural programmes, but after the change in RTVS funding, it would not make much sense to provide such a specific system of additional funding at the same time.
How can we evaluate these three fundamental areas of change?
First of all, the vagueness, factual unjustification, as well as the overall context and speed of these and other changes suggest that their details and possible impacts are not very well thought-out. It is clear that the priority is change itself. This ultimately suggests that the official reasons for change are pretexts. This is also proven by the sad and ridiculous claim of SNS chairman Andrej Danko that he cares about the dignified conditions of editors, which he illustrated on the (undocumented) state of toilets in RTVS. Even if the state of toilets is as mentioned by chairperson Danko, it is obvious that reducing the budget or dividing the organization can hardly be seen as an ideal solution to improve the state of social facilities in RTVS or the overall social status of RTVS employees. This is an absurd argument.
In the eyes of recipients, RTVS is credible
RTVS has been achieving decent results in recent years and has been one of the most trusted media organizations. RTVS was second with a 54% trust level after the first TA3 with a 56% trust level among all 15 selected media, according to Digital News Report 2023. Also interesting were the low levels of distrust in the RTVS brand, where RTVS was the second among televisions with the lowest level of distrust (25%) after the first TA3 with 23% distrust. There can be no doubt that RTVS has done very well in eyes of the public.
Real reasons for change
If these are pretexts for changes, what are the real reasons for change? And will it be a change for the better? As already mentioned, all the circumstances indicate that the real reasons justifying the need for rapid change differ from those officially presented. In other words, the changes are politically pragmatically expedient. Political pragmatic expediency in this case does not mean the general benefit or benefit of as many as possible, but the concrete benefit of certain politicians and with them affiliated political parties, and viewers and listeners. In numerical terms, this is 25% of citizens. This number also includes viewers and listeners, who may always be dissatisfied with the content of RTVS, and perhaps other media.
What is RTVS guilty of?
We see that revenge and fear (dozens of already convicted state officials) are a strong motivation for several representatives of the new government. If we recall that a year ago, on the anniversary of 17 November, RTVS broadcast Robert Fico’s one-hour speech at the party assembly at noon, after which personal consequences were subsequently drawn within RTVS, one reason for revenge is offered. It is a paradox that the then dismissed Mária Hlucháňová is now entrusted with the management of the News and current affairs sections of RTVS from the New Year. Another paradox is that the well-known journalist Marek Vagovič did not agree with RTVS on further cooperation around the same time, a year ago. Vagović, author of several books critical of Robert Fico’s policies, would hardly be called a „pro-government“ journalist then or now.
It is also a paradox that even under the director of Jaroslav Reznik, RTVS was criticized for not adequately reporting on Danko’s phone call with the then accused, now convicted Alena Zsuzsová. RTVS also rejected criticism that it was positive and purposeful informed about the official visits of Alexander Danko as Speaker of Parliament abroad.
That was probably a long time ago because, as the Standard online newspaper pointed out, Tomáš Taraba wrote on Facebook in August 2023 that the SNS planned to „put order“ with RTVS after the elections. At the same time, the SNS wanted to dismiss the „Oľanák footmen“ who were allegedly elected to the institution. The reason, according to Tomas Taraba, was the alleged misuse of television to pay off political debts to those who got them there. Taraba meant that „the 2% Heger, who has no chance of getting into parliament, had the privilege of speaking in the in the main discussion programme of RTVS with the leader of polls Robert Fico (Smer-SD). This is what it looks like when RTVS management abuses television.…“, wrote Taraba then.
Around the same time, Tomáš Taraba declined an invitation to participate in the RTVS debate on the grounds that it was an attempt by RTVS to disturb the opposition. He told newspaper Plus Jeden Denne Day that „It absolutely confirmed to me that it was wired to get there, to compromise me with those banners they had prepared there. RTVS has been proving for three and a half years that it is not a public service media because it has not invited me for three and a half years…“ In facct, tThe intention of the of the political debate was for politicians from the same spectrum to discuss with each other.
Revenge rhetorically superimposed on care of social standards of RTVS employees
It is clear that revenge, or correction of a subjective unjustified feeling of past grievances, leads the coalition to unthought-out changes in RTVS. The fears that were associated with the cancellation of payments for RTVS viewing are being fulfilled. Although, as I wrote at the time, the change in funding itself may not have led to negative results, there was no long-term, ideally constitutionally or independent foundation, guaranteed guarantees of RTVS funding. Therefore, revenge, together with a sense of perceived grievance, allows the coalition to make changes in RTVS. Motivation is not RTVS failing as a public service media. Revenge, or the redress of an alleged wrong, without the presence of an impartial arbitrator (judge), is inherently a sign of lawlessness. We can see that vindictive and self-centered politicians, under fabricated pretexts without deeper rational analysis and without an idea of positive goals not only for themselves, but especially for the public, plan to destroy, or at least damage, a fairly well-functioning public service institution. As if there wasn’t enough work in other areas.
The author is director of the non-profit research organization School of Communication and Media