Attacks on the Press 1999: Slovakia

Slovak media function in an increasingly competitive market that has forced many newspapers and broadcasters out of business. Slovakia’s economic difficulties have put pressure on the advertising market, which is dominated by national dailies and magazines. The editorial policies of most media outlets are largely independent of the government and individual political parties, although business interests have significant editorial influence.

The ruling Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK), a four-party coalition that came to power in September 1998, managed to hold together despite internal policy disputes during the course of the year. Under Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurindas, the SDK implemented a series of unpopular belt-tightening measures that drove unemployment to the highest levels in eastern Europe. Meanwhile, the coalition forged closer relations with western Europe in December, when the European Union (EU) agreed to consider Slovakia and five other countries for EU membership.

Slovak democracy got a strong boost with May’s presidential election, won by Rudolf Schuster, who defeated former prime minister Vladimir Meciar. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) gave the election positive overall marks and noted in particular that public television gave candidates a fair airing of their views. Voters “could form their own opinion from information provided by a broad spectrum of media at both local and national levels,” said the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. OSCE monitors also noted a few violations, however, including a televised election-eve address by Prime Minister Dzurindas; Slovakia’s election rules call for a 48-hour quiet period before balloting.

As recently as 1996, Slovak media faced systematic repression; that year, CPJ put Meciar, then prime minister, on its list of the 10 worst enemies of the press. But the press has become significantly freer under SDK rule. According to a September statement by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, “there is a high degree of pluralism in the [Slovak] press and the electronic media.”

There was also a certain amount of state harassment directed at opposition media voices, however. In February, CPJ asked Prime Minister Dzurindas to look into cases of Slovak TV journalists who had apparently been fired and otherwise mistreated because of their political affiliation with Meciar’s Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). In June, Jaroslav Reznik, editor of the opposition daily Slovenska Republika, which is owned and operated by the HZDS, was charged with publishing state secrets under Article 107 of the country’s penal code. The charges were dropped as part of a general amnesty that President Schuster declared after the election.

In September, President Schuster filed a defamation suit against Ales Kratky, a journalist for the Czech daily Mlada Fronta Dnes, who had criticized Schuster in print for including former members of the Czechoslovak secret police in his cabinet. The president dropped the lawsuit several months later, in apparent response to heavy criticism in the Slovak and Czech press.