Attacks on the Press 2001: Slovakia

As Slovakia adopts political reforms aimed at European Union membership, the government remains slow to change press laws and revamp the state-run media. Criminal libel cases against journalists and political influence over media outlets also hindered the Slovak press in 2001.

Politicians continue to influence the editorial policies of Slovak Television (STV) and Slovak Radio (SRO) through the governing STV and SRO councils, whose members they appoint. Officials also control membership on the Broadcasting and Retransmission Council, which regulates the broadcast media. Political manipulation tends to be most blatant during election campaigns, when lawmakers pressure STV to broadcast their speeches, according to local media expert Andrej Skolkay. Other, more subtle forms of pressure, such as phone calls to editors, are also common.

Strong disagreements between the current government and the Parliament over state media reform and, particularly, the degree of autonomy that government-run media outlets should have, stalled crucial reforms this year. Lawmakers failed to strengthen financial oversight of STV and SRO, which both suffered from significant mismanagement and accumulated a massive debt of 927 million korunas (US$19 million) in 2001. Slovakia’s state privatization agency, the National Property Fund, was forced to bail out both stations in July.

Reflecting a broader pattern of discrimination against the country’s Roma minority, few Romany journalists served on state media editorial boards. On November 13, some 50 Romany associations called for Romany journalists to be appointed to the boards, in part, to ensure that state media present more objective information about issues affecting the Romany community, the CTK news agency reported.

In June, President Rudolf Schuster filed a defamation suit against Ales Kratky, a reporter for the Bratislava daily Novy Cas, after Kratky wrote that the president’s state of the union address indicated that Schuster showed a “mental incapacity to lead the country.” Kratky faces up to two years in prison if convicted. His case was still pending at press time.

Meanwhile, some politicians use their financial resources to influence the editorial policies of independent media outlets. In some cases, media executives become actively involved in politics. Media tycoon Pavol Rusko, chairman of Markiza TV, the country’s most popular private television station, has used his station to promote the New Citizens’ Alliance, a political party he created in May 2001.