Those of us familiar with American politics may criticize the conduct of the media, generally dubbed ‘the press’ over its failure to keep the Bush Administration accountable over the past seven years. This criticism comes from a deep memory of the specific relationship the press has had with public officials, specifically presidents. Whether it be the dogged interview style of a female reporter that kept Mr Van Buren in the Potomac River naked until he answered her questions or an exasperated Mr Grant commentating on the number of press and office-seekers hanging out in the Willard Hotel lobby that gave a title to a new group of Washington insiders. It could be the friendly and almost equal exchange of favors and information that characterized the Roosevelt cousins or the media inspired, media driven Camelot era.
From Watergate, a new golden age began, and though charmed for eight years by Reagan the press never lost sight of its role within the public discourse, acting as advocate and at times mediator. It is this history and the similar histories of western European democracies in England and France and Germany that has inspired the press in former communist countries. If the model cannot be followed in content then the hope often is to replicate in at least style. Unfortunately, in Slovakia, even this has proved elusive since the new government took office in May 2006. Reviled at best, locked-out in typical ‘Soviet’ style at worst, the Slovak press and Slovak government have a horrible relationship.
This relationship between the government and the Slovak media grew even more tense last week. At a meeting in Veľký Krtíš on April 22, Prime Minister Robert Fico did not even try to hide his disappointment with the media's conduct. Spurning all questions, instead he spoke to what he saw as media bias. This is a mantra often tried by politicians around the globe and its moderate success has made such repeated efforts possible. The difference last week is in how Mr Fico treats the press. Unlike Mr Blair’s bright smile or Mr Bush’s nicknames given to the American press corps that follow him Mr Fico actions indicate clear disdain. You know you are on the s#*t list if Mr Bush revokes the nickname or worse calls you by an expletive. Losing access to Whitehall is Blair’s equivalent. Mr Fico does not even bother with a list.
For Slovakia to evolve in its democratic experiment all elements need to function. This includes dialogue between the executive and the fourth branch of government, the press. Mr Fico likes to tout his populist credentials, it is important for him to remember that the people also hear his message by reading newspapers and watching television.