The Slovenia Times

Media matters



There have been promising moves by both politicians and law enforcement bodies when it comes ridding the country of corruption. And last month there were three high profile meetings held within a two week period, all devoted to discussing how to reduce corruption and strengthen the rule of law. The American Chamber of Commerce's monthly breakfast meeting - with the topic of the rule of law and transparency in business - drew high profile speakers in the shape of Anton Zalar, the minister of justice, and Goran Klemenčič, the head of anticorruption commission.

The general agreement seems to be that Slovenia has the right laws to ensure opportunities for all, whether businesses or individuals. The problem lies in the implementation of these laws and, furthermore, in the speed of making legislative changes when they prove necessary. Klemenčič cites an example from another country - the UK scandal over MPs' expenses - to highlight how far Slovenia still has to go. When it was revealed that UK MPs were using the flexible expenses system to pay for everything from their chimney sweeps to their kitchen equipment, there was a national outcry. The legislation was more or less immediately changed and the courts quickly swung into action and prosecuted some of the worst offenders. It is difficult to imagine such a speedy response in Slovenia.

It is interesting and important to note that the expenses scandal came to light after intensive investigation by the British media. This is another area in which Slovenia is lacking: this is a nation without a powerful and forceful media to hold the country's leaders to account. A foreign diplomat here in Slovenia sums it up perfectly when he says that: "Luckily for politicians, the media in Slovenia suffers from Attention Deficit Disorder".

Quite true. Look at the Gregor Golobič affair. Or the many Katarina Kresal affairs. Both individuals have been allowed to pursue their political careers without being forced to fully deal with the consequences of their conduct (in the case of Golobič) or to satisfactorily answer to allegations of corruption (Kresal). Had such cases occurred in Britain, the media would not have rested until every possible angle had been investigated. In Slovenia, respected daily publications simply let such matters drop - and that's the reason why we have a national media which is not taken seriously.

It is both reassuring and somewhat depressing to realise that it wasn't always this way. To a great extent, it was thanks to the media in Slovenia - Mladina in particular - that corruption in the Yugoslav army was exposed at the end of eighties. That was a revelation which ultimately led to Slovenia gaining independence.

But it seems that the media too might have made a new year's resolution. In the past couple of months, there have been some triumphs - Simona Dimic resigned as Borut Pahor's chief of cabinet after the media started poking into her "private" affairs; Petrol boss Aleksander Svetelšek did the same when his group's handling of its exposure to insolvent builder SCT was revealed; and then there was the case of the local government and regional development minister Henrik Gjerkes who stood down after the press revealed his arrest for drunk driving.

All this is encouraging and shows the media is not totally without influence. But the rule of media must be the same as the rule of law - the press must apply the same principles to the investigation and reporting of every story, regardless of who is involved. January has seen a new-found dedication to these two key rules of civil society. Let us now hope it is not merely a passing new year's fad.



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