Interview 2: Matúš Kostolný and visit to U.S. Embassy

Visiting the Daily N

By Wednesday, our class had heard from multiple speakers who all mentioned the issue of ownership in Slovakia’s media system. Though we  deal with the same sort of issues back in America, rarely do we see someone with as much journalistic integrity as Matúš Kostolný.

Kostolný, a former editor at Slovakia’s leading newspaper (SME), left his post this past October, along with 60% of the staff. All of these journalists voiced their discontent with the new owner, a company called Penta. Based on Penta’s history, Kostolný and his colleagues worried that SME would now begin to censor its stories because of its new owner.

Now, Kostolný and 45 other former SME employees have started a new operation, the Daily N. The letter N stands for “independent paper” in Slovak–something Kostolný, his staff and the rest of the Slovakian media are fighting for.

SME was created much in the way that the Daily N is now beginning. In the early 90s, a bunch of journalists walked out of what was then Slovakia’s leading newspaper (Smena). One of Kostolný’s colleagues who left Smena had his car burned as was beaten in the streets. However, with Penta now holding on to SME, Kostolný fears that the same bravery and integrity will no longer be brought to its news stories.

“I saw it as proof that there are real people in this country willing to fight for their freedom,” said Kostolný, reflecting on SME’s creation.

Now, Kostolný’s creation of the Daily N is inspiring the next generation of journalists, namely the ones he brought with him from SME.

While talking with the class, he explained that the Daily N will not be for breaking news, but rather for discussion and dissection of news–something he didn’t feel was happening at SME. He hopes this will also attract readers and investors who will give his project a chance.

Like Slovakia, we too face the same ownership issues. Although news needs to be covered, it also needs to be paid for. Many believe consumers should be the ones to pay the high price, or investors or the government. Either way, someone needs to be a stakeholder in media companies–but we’re left wondering how much influence these stakeholders should have in the way we present the news. Can a media outlet be truly independent from its owners? Only time will tell.

@j_pargament

@j_pargament

Matus

@briannabytes

The newsroom of Projekt N, a new independent publication with a killer layout and backstory #merrillabroad. - @lblasey

The newsroom of Projekt N, a new independent publication with a killer layout and backstory #merrillabroad. – @lblasey

Trip to U.S. Embassy in Bratislava, Slovakia 

After a brisk walk from the hotel to Old Town, our class arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Bratislava to meet with Deputy Chief of Mission Norman Thatcher Scharpf and Deputy Public Affairs Officer Stephanie Fitzmaurice. A tedious security check left some of us anxious without our iPhones when we arrive inside a conference room to meet with the pair, but we carried on without them.

Scharpf was candid in our round-table discussion, and he told us about the political and economic climate of Slovakia, especially as it pertains to journalistic freedoms. Like some of the other professionals our class has interviewed, Scharpf said a major problem was an inefficient and ineffective judicial system. Through this judiciary, journalists are prosecuted for defamation, sometimes criminally, and few people have faith in its overall effectiveness. Additionally, media ownership issues continue to challenge the notion of a truly independent press, he said.

Print media is being increasingly bought out by vested business interests,” Scharpf said.

Journalism is also not a highly sought-after profession, Scharpf added, because many talented writers travel elsewhere to participate in more robust media landscapes.

As a whole, Scharpf said Slovakia suffers from a lack of full democracy, despite its “remarkable” strikes toward democratization in just 25 years.

Fizmaurice, who interacts with Slovak journalists seeking statements in her role as public affairs officer, follows Slovak news closely to keep tabs on the issues concerning the population. She said Slovakia is ranked 20th in the world in terms of press freedom, and 80 percent of Slovaks have access to the Internet, and about 12 percent of the population receives their news online. More than 50 percent of Slovaks receive their news from television programming, and more educated Slovaks tend to consume their news through print media, she said.

Social media is becoming increasingly important for news consumption in Slovakia, she said — there are 2 million active Facebook users in Slovakia, which has a population of 5 million.

It wasn’t all good news. Fitzmaurice said Slovak journalists often reprint statements from the Embassy almost verbatim and in their entirety, which concerned us. Fitzmaurice and Scharpf both mentioned the investigative press lacks vitality and legitimacy. Fitzmaurice said the Embassy is considering investigative journalism grants to help train investigative journalists in the country.

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