Sme: Television is more important to politics than you think

May 11, 2018

Things are obvious enough that we can just state it clearly. The politically compromised, professionally unqualified management of Radio Television Slovakia (RTVS) is firing journalists who resist converting public service media into the propaganda arm of an unpopular government. There is no doubt about this anymore, it’s not one or two incidents, it’s a clear — and unfortunately familiar — pattern.

While the situation for public media in Hungary and Poland is by many measures worse, at least the respective ruling parties, Fidesz and PiS, are actually popular. The jokers running the Slovak government — behind the scenes and otherwise — are not. This means there is not even a facade of democratic legitimacy for the decisions being made. In more bad news, the potential consequences a politically compromised RTVS are likely worse than you think too.

For all the talk of social media as the key tool of 21st century political communication, television remains the most important channel for reaching mass audiences. This is true in Russia, where 54 percent of 18-24 year olds, and 72 percent of the overall population—use state television as their main source of news. In the United States, local television is still the news platform with the widest reach among adults. It’s also true in Slovakia, where 79 percent of people get their news from television, according to a study by Oxford University’s Reuters Institute.

In fact, more Slovaks access TV JOJ, Markiza, RTVS and TA3 at least once per week than any single web site. While TV JOJ and Markiza remain the most popular, nearly the same amount of people report using RTVS at least three days per week (40 percent as compared to 45 percent and 42 percent, respectively). In short, you may have already considered television to be an important political communication tool, but it is even more important than you think, and RTVS is also more important than you think.

While pretty much everybody watches television, older people are more likely to use it as their primary — perhaps even their only — source of news. This makes controlling messages on television particularly for parties like Smer and SNS, the people now corrupting RTVS, because the disproportionately rely on older voters. Amid falling poll numbers, mounting scandals and regular street demonstrations there is little doubt they hope to use this channel to implement one of the most classic (and desperate ) of political campaign tactics — confusing and scaring old people. In fact, they have no choice but to do so.

It’s hard to see a way to stop the perversion of RTVS this without a new government. Until Most-Hid decide that protecting public media is more important than — maybe — getting 5 percent in some future election, this government will continue.

In the meantime, you might want to bring grandma and grandpa a magazine or newspaper the next time you visit.