SAT, 28 DEC 1996 20:41:47 GMT
Crisis of Printed Media
Two weeks ago in Slovenia, daily of right orientation called Slovenec ceased to exist. Social Democratic and minority oriented Republika is also in a crisis. On that occasion, Marjan Sedmak, President of the Slovenian journalists' association concludes that Slovenian media scene is underdeveloped, that there not enough journals and that the state, although warned by comparative analyses with high developed countries, does not show much interest. -----------------------------------------------------------
AIM Ljubljana, 17 December, 1996
On the already scarcely populated Slovenian media scene, the first cold days brought the first victim: Slovenec, which was expected to be a journal of the conservative wing of Slovenian policy, ceased to exist. Five dailies remained in the market which are published by four companies, and one of which has similar problems to those Slovenec used to have. It is Republika founded at the time when at least a part of the Slovenian policy was still seriously taking the determinant about the integral Slovenian space, about involvement of the minority (in Austria and Italy) in political and social processes of the parent nation and about integrative role of Slovenia along the axes East-West and North-South.
That is how nowadays in Slovenia the process started, which was marked by Polish communication expert Karol Jakubowicz several years ago in countries richer with media. In the beginning of the nineties he keenly observed that even in a democracy, only traditional media are successful. The recipe for their survival is simple: all they had to do was cross the road to the other side (meaning, they have just changed the ideological colours and party fidelity) and change the inscription (which is best illustrated by the change of the slogan on the front page of Slovenian greatest daily Delo: instead of "Proletarians of all Countries, Unite!" they switched to: "Independent Journal for Independent Slovenia"). In the meantime, with some difficulties, these big newspapers were privatized, but the employees have the major share of ownership. Advantages which these journals procured for themselves as heralds either of main or local party political elites, were unattainable for new journals. They were already well-established and had their readers, distribution, tradition, organized automatism, documentation - in other words, everything that makes appearance of a journal every day possible; their cadre was also preserved, and there is no derision in this statement on account of opportunism of journalists.
Yugoslav media were the most liberal of all in the communist world; among them the Slovenian were by far the most liberal. That is why it is no wonder that the threat of Janez Jansa who in 1989, after the victory of Demos in the first democratic elections, announced "swan's death" to many journalists, remained without any reactions. Apart from ironic ones. It is a known fact that the highest posts in editorial staffs of Slovenian printed media are still held by chiefs whose promotion was approved by the council for the press of the long departed Socialist Alliance of the Working People of Yugoslavia.
Only a single new journal after 1989 found its place in the new plural market. It is Slovenske novice, the first Slovenian tabloid and the first sample of Slovenian yellow press. More than the fact that there was a gap in the market which needed to be filled by such a product - Slovenske novice, according to the latest data are the daily with the highest circulation - the fact that the tabloid was initiated by a publishing company which had the best personnel, technical equipment, financial foundations, organization and distribution in Slovenia contributed to its success. It is the company which was already publishing the mediocre Slovenian daily Delo, which is still trying to remain a "quality newspaper". The secret of success is in the fact that Slovenske novice started to be published as a side product of Delo and that for a long time it was, therefore, published without special editorial and other expenses. Nowadays, Slovenske novice are making a pure profit.
How is it possible that the structure of printed media which met the needs of a single-party system can be good enough for the structure of a multi-party democracy, and ideological as well as political pluralism? The most concise reply to that question is: market rules. Slovenian market is small and underdeveloped. Due to this limitation it was so far not interesting for world and European media concerns. Here, nothing happened like what happened in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, where - both in the printed and broadcasting media - quickly and with great force foreign capital was invested. Two thirds of Czech printed media are in German hands, and German concerns took hold of Hungarian regional journals as well. The good side of the small Slovenian space is that Slovenian media in the initial period of democracy have remained Slovenian. The bad side is constant restoration of a monopolistic or oligarchic situation. Five Slovenian dailies are published by four publishing companies and to only one of these four - Delo - belongs half of the sold circulation. Although there are no exact data, according to some assessments, it can be claimed that half of the income from advertising also belongs to Delo. Even in rich and pluralist European democracies, such a situation would be cause for sounding alarm.
A state which wishes to have an organized media space must have an agreed media policy. When Austria was preparing the project of Der Standard, it started quite realistically. The journal is expected to begin covering its expenses only after seven years of publication, and its initial capital was not guaranteed only by the owner, but also by the state. In 1994, Austria spent almost three hundred million schillings, or almost 40 million German marks for subsidizing plurality of media. In Sweden, where average circulation of dailies amounts to about 24 thousand copies, the Government is annually giving 400 million crowns as subsidies for plurality of media, and it should be stressed that it is doing this because it is aware of the significance of plural offer of media for healthy democratic relations. Even Italy which is in this respect considered to be a "sloppy" state, is subsidizing the press, although between 80 and 90 dailies are published in Italy.
One would expect that a state in which five, six dailies at its best times, are published, would give its utmost to help the press. But, that is not the case. If the Slovenian Government - which primarily refers to its liberal (LDS) part - can at all be said to have stuck to the extremist liberal principle of "laisser faire, laisser passer", it is certainly in the sphere of the media. If you would happen to ask a Slovenian Government official what is the Slovenian media policy, he would certainly respond with a question: What is that? When the Association of Journalists of Slovenia and the author of this text in 1993 set out to prepare draft legislature on media (Law on Public Media and Law on Public Institute of RTV Slovenia were published in April 1994 and according to their quality were comparable with the best samples of European legislature in the sphere), the draft included provisions for pluralism of media. The very title illustrates this because the draft was titled not the law on public media but the Law on Right of Publicity. The draft included negative (limitation of ownership shares, limitation of foreign capital, limitation of mutual connections between printed and broadcasting media) as well as positive, which means passive (lowering of burden of taxation) and active (covering of printing expenses of new media, subsidies for plurality of printed media) anti-monopolistic measures. When the legislative procedure ended, however, the Law on Public Media included only negative anti-monopolistic measures, that is - bans. And these measures are questionable too, because there is no agency in Slovenia which would react if development of media space would turn into a direction contrary to the provisions and spirit of the law.
It was impossible to convince the Government - despite warnings of the Association of Journalists of Slovenia - to reconsider the issue. It was not moved even by arguments that Slovenia was an undeveloped country concerning the media among other because in it only about one thousand people were actively engaged in journalism. This means - one in two thousand inhabitants, as opposed to Germany where this ratio is one in a thousand, or Scandinavian countries where one in 700 or even 500 inhabitants is engaged in journalism. This shows that in Slovenia journalism still resembles good old socialistic keeping minutes and not good journalism. After Slovenec disappeared, which due to its expressed anti-communism and revanchism, was not to the liking of a great majority of the people, which in a democratic country cannot be a reason for shutting down of a paper, the Slovenian media scene is becoming a "deja vu": it is beginning to look very much like the one once created for its purposes by the Socialist Alliance of the Working People.
Marjan Sedmak, AIM (the author is the President of the Association of Journalists of Slovenia)