On January 30, 2013, “Vest” daily launched a poll on its website, asking the readers to vote “Which TV personality should interview Gruevski while wearing no panties”. The daily explained that its editorial office was inspired by the “Serbian show in which a show host, with extremely revealing cleavage and wearing no underwear interviewed the Prime Minister of Serbia Ivica Dačić”. On January 31, 2013, the editorial office decided to cancel the poll and remove it from the daily’s website.
Both the poll and the subsequent cancellation attracted the interest of many a media, internet portals, social networking sites, individuals and organisations, as well as reaction by the Government. We can easily group the reactions into two groups. On one hand, we have the media, the organisations and individuals who believe that “Vest” cancelled the poll after some pressure by the Government. On the other hand, we have the media, the organisations and individuals who believe that the poll was retracted to protect the dignity of women.
In general, all reactions were rather short (with exception of the reaction published on the website of Sitel TV) while the protagonists of the affair didn’t engage in any substantial discussion or attempt to promote such a debate in the public. Essentially, they all limited their coverage to presentation of values-based positions or presentation of the factual situation, relying on a single source (the first on the press-release issued by “Vest”, and the latter on an article published on the “Denešen vesnik” portal).
What was missing from the media coverage?
1. The Media Provided One-sided View of the Situation
They either talk about pressures on “Vest” the led to the poll being cancelled (obviously insinuating that the pressure came from the Government, being an external pressure strong enough to push the editorial office to make that decision), or about violation of the dignity of women and gender-based discrimination. The media didn’t juxtoppose the two possibilities and each individual media presented only that side of the story it aimed to emphasize.
Thus, the citizens were not only denied the complete information, but any attempt at analysis that would present arguments in favour of one side or the other was avoided.
2. The Media didn’t offer analysis of the situation
There was no proper analysis of the reasons that led to the appearance of such a poll (the analysis of the context) and the manner in which it was conducted; there was no analysis of the reasons for the cancellation of the poll or the consequences of the existence of this type of polls or their cancellation under external pressure.
Namely, should we accept that the poll was inspired by the trap set by the team of “Mission Impossible” for the prime minister of Serbia Ivica Dačić, the questions that the journalists have to ask are: what is the message that such a poll sends and to whom?
Since it refers to an eventual interview of PM Nikola Gruevski, we could assume that the message was sent to him. If that was the case, and in view of the source of inspiration for the poll, we could assume, with great certainty, the existence of a direct link with the messages sent by Serbian journalists who criticize the lack of a more selective approach by their politicians (and especially the prime minister) of the programmes in which thez are prepared to appear, the journalists to whom they will give interviews and on whose shows they will appear.
Such an approach would open to the journalists a wide space for analysis of the question: does the selection of “friendly” journalists becomes the key criteria for the prime minister and the majority of highest officials of the current Government, which overrules the qualities of a journalist/show, the messages sent by those journalists and shows and the content generally associated toa the given journalist/show.
The idea to have the prime minister interviewed by a journalist that wears no underwear (seen and characterized by some media as morally scandalous) can be put in the context of the programmes which the prime minister usually favours for his appearances. This form of analysis can lead to an understanding of the idea as a crticism of the prime minister who, with his participation in those programmes de facto supports the other contents they air (as illustrated bythis video, or this video).
3. The Media Don’t Promote Debate
Undoubtedly, it is a controversial event that raises questions about dignity, right to privacy, sexism and even discrimination. Some media claimed that such a poll constitutes, by default, a violation of the dignity of women, discrmination, or, as MP Liljana Popovska said:
“It is a direct insult against all women, a classic case of sexism… They have been dehumanized, their dignity destroyed, and used as instrument for small political gains…”
also this by professor Biljana Vankovska:
“I wonder when did one’s private parts became a topic of public debate. “Vest’s” move is unbecoming and indicent, especially when it places in a spot-light a whole group of women. It’s a disgrace. We seem to be seen either as housewives dreaming of police battons, or as entertainment for the politicians”.
The recognition and identification of gender discrimination is in itself a complex matter and such a poll can be used to open a great variety of questions – whether there was sexual harrasment in this particular case or not – bu also questions on female sexuality and the reasons for denying it and its objective influence in public life, as well as questions about the boundaries of the conservative set of values that the government can use to stimulate relations of public virtue and private vice.
If the female attributes of the female TV personalities are knowingly used for a simulation devised to get some information about the prime minister (what are his reactions to provocative and unorthodox situations, what is is views on practicing of moral values, how he copes with crisis situations), that we can hardly speak of any discrimination in this case. Namely, it has been established that sex and sexuality have played important roles in a series of scandals tied to high ranking officials and the citizens have the right to get the first-hand information when it refers to the prime minister of the country.
The false fight waged on behalf of human rights can be as dangerous (and sometimes even more dangerous) than its absence. Quite often, the fight for human rights is used as a smokescreen for the fight for traditional values in a society, which include suppression of female sexuality, modest women that respect traditional morals instead of brave and independent women that make their own choices. The question is, do we protect the dignity of women or their traditional position and status.
The organisation Article 19 has adopted a clear position that:
“…Instead of restrictions, open debate is essential to combating negative stereotypes of individuals and groups and exposing the harm created by prejudice“.
4. The Media don’t conduct cross-referrence between this situation and similar past and current situations
The absence of analysis and debate prevents us from cross-referrencing the data from past similar situations and assessment of views from the aspect of their original/real message placed in the context of previous messages and reactions they provoked.
For example, we didn’t see any substantial reaction or expression of outrage in the media to the sexual harrasment that Milenko Nedelkovski, host of a programme aired on Kanal 5 TV, directed against journalist Meri Jordanovska or the similar case of sexual harrasment of journalist Jordanka Ivanovska. Especially striking is the fact that back then, there was no reaction by the media that in the current case of “Vest’s” poll saw gender discrimination, sexual harrasment and violation of the dignity of women.
A serious analysis based on such a cross-referrencing can offer an answer if we truly have here a violation/defense of the dignity of the female journalists or it was an attempt to protect the prime minister, which would certainly shed a new light on the issue of freedom of information and its restrictions.
Of course, a cross-referrence exercise could bring about possible ties with the recent apology offered by the editor-in-chief of “Utrinski vesnik” daily Sonja Kramarska, and the openly homophobic views of the editor-in-chief of “Večer” daily Ivona Talevska.
The translation of this text is taken from One World SEE.
This analysis was created within the framework of the USAID Media Strengthening in Macedonia Project – Media Fact-Checking Service Component, implemented by Metamorphosis. The analysis is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of its author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Metamorphosis, USAID or the United States Government. For more information on the work of USAID in Macedonia please visit its website (http://macedonia.usaid.gov) and Facebook page (www.facebook.com/USAIDMacedonia).