Igor Mihaljević, journalist, ZTZ Media (formerly of RT Vojvodina): Grow a spine and stay firm

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Text: Žikica Milošević

Igor Mihaljević, one of the “sharpest knives in the drawer” of Serbian journalism, was silently dismissed from RT Vojvodina, but didn’t give up. Instead, he launched his own media house, ZTZ Media, abbreviated from Znaš ti zašto (You know why!), which is active online. Here we discuss journalism with attitude, here and now.

After all the events of the last year, what is the future of free journalism in Serbia and the region?
If the term “free journalism” means “quality”, the future is grey. We will have bright spots in a sea of ​​darkness, so, citizen, please swim on and thank the internet for that. The countries of the former Yugoslavia (and I dub them like this on purpose, because I despise the false toponym “The Region”) are not politically literate, nor media literate, nor computer literate; nor do they possess the necessary material and intellectual infrastructure for this process to be accelerated in a tolerable long-term period. This perfectly suits the authorities in the former Yugoslavia (and their partners in crime: big business, criminal groups, marketers of ideas without core beliefs and religious communities, of course), and it is to be expected that they aren’t trying to improve it. Uneducated and uninformed citizens are the easiest to rule. I wish my colleagues would grow a spine overnight and start doing their jobs as befits the role; to start hanging up first before their commanders, but I’m ultra-sceptical. We are the plundered poor; people lie to survive.

 

With the flood of “fake news” and the pressure of corporations and politicians etc., what is the future of free thought anywhere in the world?

I am convinced that free thought will survive through the efforts of individuals (united around the same idea or not) who have created a social authority with many years of high-quality work. I am inclined to accept the intense individualisation of the planet, and I would suggest the audience to follow people or media in whom they can confide. Importantly, follow the journalists who are monitored by your opponents and help them. I have no more illusions: media houses that have an advertising sector are not, and cannot be, “free”. If your survival depends on the goodwill and quality of the State, companies and political parties, and you start to measure what you say in order to avoid advertisements being pulled as a result of negative articles or because you have a small circulation/viewership, don’t engage in this business – get into marketing or PR instead. The money’s better and you’ll live longer.

 

Like back in the 1930s and ‘40s, we have the two options: neoliberalist globalisation of capitalism that works for capitalists and populist illiberal authoritarians. Is there any hope for a “third way”; true democracy and capitalism with a human face?

No and no. “True democracy” is a process, not a state; fighting during peacetime. It is like happiness: it does not exist in a permanent form and is manifested to us as a periodic and problematic explosion of euphoria, followed by longer intervals of emotional truce. “True democracy” is the teaching of young and old how to read the news, how to recognise a demagogue, why voting is important, and that many people gave their lives so that we could today vote and be elected as equals; reminding neighbours not to throw rubbish on the streets and painting over swastikas in doorways. Perhaps most importantly, it is about providing examples that freedom means absolutely nothing without an assumed responsibility for an idea, word and deed. This is abused terribly. People think that democracy is the right to think, say and do anything, but they bear no burden of criticism. “Capitalism with a human face”… I choked and smiled at the same time. To expect the market to act in a humane, dignified and moral way, to reward the worthy and capable, but also to punish the lazy, stupid, or those who are simply unlucky, is a naivety; as though you could beg a lion for mercy because you make regular donations to the “Save the wild cats” association. This has been noted by all successful capitalist European countries, which are living in a variation on pseudo-socialism or social democracy. The state, i.e. we who pay taxes, cannot rely on the market as the absolute arbiter of the distribution of happiness and justice, concepts artificially created by human hands once we realised they were not part of the grand design of the universe.

 

You established ZTZ Media in response to what happened to you and others in the past year. Does the future of small, independent media houses lie in the internet?

The future is, as I said, in media without advertising … none whatsoever. It doesn’t matter whether they are big or small, on paper, in the ether or on the net. What is exclusively important is the quality of work, transparency of operations and editorial policy, and their availability to the common man. You can go to Media X to be received as a human, be listened to and for your story to be explored if it is worthy of public attention.

Does urban, civic-minded, multinational, multifaceted r’n’r culture threaten the complicity of corporations, politicians and chauvinists? Somehow it is the most under attack everywhere, along with the media.

It hardly threatens them at all, because we do a terrible job. I’m afraid that the members of these cultures became estranged from the average man and treat him as less valuable, which is why the average man would rather flee to camps where they lie to him pleasantly and treat him like a king of the cosmos. People are perishable, even the smart ones fall into this trap, so I would not prematurely condemn anyone. It is not just the rednecks who voted for Trump, on the contrary.

Future plans?

Easy question: increasing the volume of readers and their donations, inserting new forms of information and entertainment on site, and purchasing technical equipment that enables sound and video production.

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