22 Editors-in-Chief of Slovene media outlets co-signed a public letter condemning the attacks, scapegoating and intimidation directed at media outlets during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Working with the Društvo Novinarjev Slovenije (DNS), as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response, ECPMF has republished the letter in the original Slovene and an English translation. For more information please click here.
English Language version (see below for original Slovene language version)
We will not yield to pressure
As editors of major Slovenian media, we are addressing this letter to the Slovenian public because we are aware of the momentousness and the critical nature of the moment in which we find ourselves as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic. All of us, be it doctors, healthcare staff, politicians and other decision-makers, or journalists and editors, are in the midst of the worst global health, social and economic crisis of our generation. In truth, it comes down to each and every one of us, us as a society. The fight against the virus and “victory” over what only months ago seemed like an unimaginable chapter from a history book or a sci-fi story better left on the big screen, can only be achieved as a collective effort by the entire society. This is both our joint responsibility and a trial testing our ability to make rational decisions, show solidarity, tolerance and patience, and our ability for respectful dialogue. If ever, now is the time when we have to be able to reflect upon ourselves, otherwise the consequences will be terrifying, causing irreparable damage for generations to come.
The media, journalists and editors, and other creators of media content are aware of our role and our responsibility in this deep and brutal crisis and continue to do our job with this awareness. We are certain that in the course of the past months, readers, listeners and viewers have been able to gain a comprehensive picture of the developments related to Covid-19 through a variety of media channels, content formats and genres. First of all, let us underline that no matter the extraordinary times we live in, the media remains accountable to the public: by asking questions, even though they may be uncomfortable for those in power, we are obligated to publish comprehensive and relevant information, put developments into broader context, and explain the context itself. To do this, we look for answers from experts and insist on corroboration in line with professional standards in the face of a stampede of false theories and dangerously oversimplified interpretations which have no scientific merit. The only thing that counts for us is the truth. We raise awareness and we educate, but at the same time we do not keep quiet about dubious actions by those in power. We are doing our job and we are confident that we have done it well and to the best of our abilities in the past months.
We are aware that in many ways we could not prepare completely for the situation we find ourselves in, because this situation has no parallel in modern time. We are aware that the situation demands extraordinary and often exceptionally painful measures that affect, in ways previously unimaginable, our lives and even encroach on the achievements of civilisation, the rights and freedoms of democracy. It is true that many countries around the world are taking unpleasant decisions. Slovenia is no exception in that. But it is often an exception in something we are very worried about and something we cannot accept as a part of “the new normal”: in the standard of communication with citizens, both direct or through various media and other channels, in attacks against the media and journalists, their discreditation and demonisation, in ascribing non-existing ulterior motives to them, and in pushing them into the ring of political battle. We reject this.
Instead of looking for scapegoats – in recent weeks the media in particular has been intensely targeted with false accusations – those in power in similar democracies than ours justify their steps, decisions and measures mostly consistently, comprehensively and with tolerance, helping people make sense of them. In few countries have governments intervened as intensively as in Slovenia in fields that have nothing to do with fighting this crisis, despite the declarative focus on this very crisis. And not only that, there are few other countries in the EU where journalists are subjected to direct lying, insinuations, manipulations and insults from those in power, starting with the top of the government, to the degree this is the case in Slovenia. We believe that these incidents have exceeded the limits of what is acceptable and do not benefit anybody, except perhaps those with very particular political interests. Such incidents are documented and all representative and relevant international organisations dealing with the protection of free and independent journalism, one of the key achievements of independent Slovenia, have been notified about them.
The consequences of the settling of scores with the media are destructive for society at large. Such an atmosphere hampers the functioning of institutions and individuals, and also has a significant effect on the lives of the citizens. The media have entered the crisis with a backpack full of problems from the past, including a long period of sustained non-strategic and irresponsible media ownership, outdated media legislation that does not have a comparison at EU level, and problems with funding and staffing. In this situation, the pressure from the authorities most of us face weekly, if not daily, is an additional burden that hampers good journalism. We do not shy away from criticism, not even sharp criticism, and we do not deny making mistakes.
The crisis has laid bare many things but even more so, it has demonstrated the undisputed fact that citizens need good journalism and, judging by surveys, are consuming it voraciously. Without high-quality media services, the knowledge and understanding of the virus among the public, and the awareness of the dangers it brings, would be significantly poorer. Neither this crisis nor anything else may be used as a pretence for attempts to impose harmful changes to the media legislation and attempts at political interference in the independence of media organisations.
We will not yield to pressure. We will not bend our truthful stance or our obligation to the public. The energy and time those in power are expending to discredit journalists and exert pressure on the media would be better spent managing this crisis better. This should be the objective for the government. And it is in the interest of all of us as a society.