Power and common people should walk on the same side of the street

Dnevnik Daily, February 14, 2010

By Spas Spasov

The initials A.P. and the nickname “The Tractor” made their first appearance in the news in the early hours of February 10th. A question mark was put after the initials taken from the Ministry of Interior’s press release implying they might stand for Alexey Petrov. From start to end – it all sounded like a quotation. Outside the quotation marks there was nothing but some background information on this most of intriguing of detainees.

Even the pets of the Dambovtsi brothers – the tigers and the leopard – could fit within the quotation marks, as well as the story about the nude stripper who jumped down two storeys at the sight of the SWAT officers, but luckily fell on the croupier. In this unprecedented situation even the prime-minister confessed he needed time to understand how come while chasing its enemies the state was faced with itself just around the corner.

That was only one of many absurdities. Falling victim to their inherited and forced paralysis, the media did the only thing possible – to repeat and cover. Instead of adding, explaining and guessing.

Dark temptations

All the stories about reporters of big world-famous media arriving at the scene before the police are just so trivial. Remembering these stories on days like February 10th though is only edifying. The role of investigative criminal journalism is to get to the fact before, or at least, together with the investigators.

Just because investigative criminal journalism is not obliged to conform to official setting. It is often a stand-in, but most of all it is a safeguard that all the people vested in power act in line with logic, rules and laws and that everything they say is the truth and nothing but the truth. Furthermore, it has to provide for, encourage and guarantee the freedom of investigating journalists. Firstly, because they add value to its image. Secondly, because the monopole over information has always had its dark temptations.

With the paradox called “Octopus”, however, the media simply reproduced the surprise of the state. The media raised the same question as the state: “Now what?” Because, as unbelievable as it may sound, the arrest of Alexey Petrov and company rendered hundreds of newspaper pages, as many commentaries, television and radio reportages in the last few years meaningless.

The state itself with its entire allegedly stringent and orderly security system, the faces of news presenters without whom no news could have happened these last several years, and even some prestigious companies holding a serious market share were faced with the need to explain how they were not what they actually were. Or vice versa.

Good news and bad news

Whatever we may say now, the story about Alexey Petrov’s arrest and the confessions of all involved following his arrest, help draw up the definitive conclusion that the comfort zone wherein we’ve been living “in fear” is about to undergo a change. Possibly, a dramatic change. Regardless of its delayed denouement, it seems to be positive rather than negative for breaking the status quo irreversibly. The story, however, also has a second perspective.

Tradition has it that following the spectacular launch of the operation, the media were used in their sole capacity as speaking trumpets. Others were used as advocates. Those media which claimed no connections whatsoever to either SANS, or the underground, or Alexey Petrov himself, took over the role of prophets (asking questions about the arrest of Alexey Petrov a week before), and of defenders who were the first to spread the word about his alibi claiming he had worked for the state (which was also the main argument of SANS’ former consultant before the court two days later – editor’s note). Those who accused the state of being dirty from the inside only a week ago turned out to be the universal defenders of the same revolting sensation.

But even this story can be edifying.

A spot on the stand

Two days in a row all television channels covered the news related to the Traktor’s arrest, showing the same video. “Police! Hands behind your back! Behind your back, I said! Move slowly towards me!…Is there anyone else in the house?” We heard those lines several hundred times. And the viewings online of naked strippers lying on the floor must have broken the record.

The issue about the operation’s preparation and techniques was not followed-up. Let’s put aside the comment that the “staged” publicity of the “loyal citizen’s” arrest seems to collide with the statutory presumption of his innocence. More importantly, for decades on end the power in its most concrete manifestations has failed or has been unwilling to shed away the habit of controlled information “leak”. Thus the power is now standing the risk of compromising the notion of publicity – a tool it will be needing ever more often. For the sole purpose of distinguishing itself from its own shadow.

This inherited lack of proactive media deprived the Minister of the Interior of the chance to avail of the public energy of satisfied citizens rather than being left with the applause of a shocked audience. Borisov’s words “This is a war! Whoever holds …“ would not have been unfinished if the energy of people convinced that everything happened because the tolerance line had been trespassed and because of the pressure they had exercised had been there.

And this is important, because only this way the power and common people will have the privilege of walking on the same side of the street.

This text in Bulgarian  – (Dnevnik Daily).