The public broadcaster RTVS in Slovakia is in danger of losing its independence

Please find below a statement from AEJ International about media freedom in Slovakia:

The Association of European Journalists (AEJ International) expresses its deep concern about the development of the media landscape in Slovakia. For several months now, government officials, led by Slovak prime minister Robert Fico, have not only been selecting which media outlets they are and are not willing to communicate with, but have also been attacking concrete journalists who are doing work for the public.

It is suspected that the behaviour of a number of politicians in the ruling coalition is motivated by personal causes that the attacked journalists have reported on, rather than by the public interest. In our point of view, this also violates the public’s constitutional right of access to information and threatens the constitutional right to freedom of expression.

For several months we have been tracking the efforts of the ruling coalition to turn the public broadcaster Radio and Television of Slovakia (RTVS) into a state media house in the hands of ruling coalition politicians. The latest proposal of the Minister of Culture Martina Šimkovičová is clearly aimed at the purposeful replacement of RTVS director Ľuboš Machaj.

This is proven by the fact that it is only a formal (pretended) abolition of RTVS and its replacement by a “new” entity with an almost identical name, Slovak Television and Radio, which will, however, be a direct successor to RTVS. We consider such changes to the law in a key public service medium to be a threat to democracy. Renaming a company and replacing it with a similar name are more familiar from the environment of companies involved in unfair economic activity than from the environment of a transparent public service in one of the Member States of the European Union.

We would like to remind you that politicians of the parties of the ruling coalition in Slovakia make no secret of the purpose and goals of the legislative change. From the position of AEJ Int., we see the new law as a direct threat to the interests of the public and its right to an independent and strong public service media.

The proposed new principles for the election of members of the controlling bodies of the advocated Slovak Television and Radio arm politicians with a tool to control the programming and its content. The draft law also mentions a new programme board that will oversee Slovak Television and Radio programmes that are broadcast in the ‘public interest’, which can also be described as a normalisation of the public service in the sense of the Czechoslovak political tradition prior to 1989.

It is the politicians of the coalition from the Slovak National Party and Smer-SD party who directly and publicly repeatedly label specific journalists and specific RTVS programmes that they do not like. We are therefore also concerned that, once they take control of television, the accounts of specific politicians will be settled with specific journalists.

Andrej Danko, the SNS chairman and candidate for President of the Slovak Republic, has said that he does not like, for example, the only investigative programme, Reporters. The programme also recently covered the cases of senior Slovak National Party officials. Prime Minister Robert Fico and other representatives of the Smer-SD party have not spared personal and public criticism against journalists of other RTVS programmes, including the moderators of political debates and its foreign correspondents.

On the basis of the above, we express our solidarity with the Slovak media, with the journalists of RTVS and with the Slovak public. It is not in the public interest for RTVS to become a subordinate organ of the Government and Parliament.

Isaia Tsaousidou, President of AEJ Int.

Kyriakos Pierides, Media Freedom Representative of AEJ Int.

Ivan Brada, President of AEJ Slovak Section,

Tibor Macak, Vice President of AEJ Int.

Július Lorincz, former President of AEJ Slovak Section

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