Slovakia: insults against journalists from the highest ranks

The double murder of the investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancé in February 2018 was an unprecedented attack on press freedom in Slovakia. It shocked the nation and triggered the biggest mass protests since 1989, ultimately forcing the resignation of Prime Minister Robert Fico. Further consequences seem unlikely, however.

A photograph of the murdered journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova, who was also murdered.
A photograph of the murdered journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova, who was also murdered.
Kuciak had been researching the influence of the Italian mafia on decisions made in the highest political circles, and was following a trail leading to the office of Prime Minister Fico. It is widely believed that it was this investigation that sealed his fate.

Things had not been easy for critical journalists based in Slovakia during the era of Prime Minister Vladimir Mečiar in the 1990s. But at least no journalists were murdered. Under Fico their working conditions deteriorated considerably, also because the newspapers took on the role of the political opposition. Fico was also known to refer to journalists as "dirty anti-Slovak prostitutes" with whom he would deal very differently were he not in politics.

To make matters worse, journalists’ working conditions started deteriorating rapidly in 2014 as a result of newspapers changing owners. In a symbolic gesture, one day in October of that year the liberal daily Sme appeared with an extra-large front-page picture showing its newsroom devoid of editing staff. The German co-owner of the publishing house, the Rheinische Post, had just sold its 50 percent stake in the paper to the investment group Penta, which was allegedly involved in the country's largest ever corruption scandal. The Sme editors were among those who had done much of the investigative work on the case.

The editor-in-chief and about half of the editors who were against the idea of working for Penta founded the new independent newspaper Dennik N, which first appeared on January 1, 2015. This was a significant turning point for the country’s newspaper landscape because the few national papers are crucial to forming political opinion.

The country’s digital media are comparatively weak, with public radio and television broadcasters closely linked to the government. The same applies to the public TV news channel TA3. The news programmes of the major private TV stations Markiza and Joj deal mostly with tabloid issues.

The daily newspapers Sme and Pravda have struggled through the newspaper crisis with declining circulation figures and revenue losses. Along with other media they responded to the crisis in 2011 by setting up a nationwide standard payment model for the commentary pieces in their online editions. Pravda renounced this model in 2014. Both online editions attract high numbers of visitors, but Sme is clearly in the lead at present.

Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders):
Rank 27 (2018)

Last updated: May 2018
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