Slovakia: public media under pressure again

Under normal circumstances, Slovakia would have had every reason to celebrate the start of 2023. The young democratic state is marking its 30th anniversary and the media had already prepared special articles and programmes to honour the occasion. But no one in the country is in the mood for political celebrations right now.

During Robert Fico's time in government Slovak media were forced into the role of the opposition.
During Robert Fico's time in government Slovak media were forced into the role of the opposition.
Shortly before Christmas, the conservative government lost a vote of no confidence in parliament. Led by Prime Minister Igor Matovič, the pro-European government had begun its mandate in spring 2020 with an impressive three-fifths supermajority. It ended the era of Robert Fico, who had headed the government three times and was accused of growing involvement in mafia structures. The low point of his time in office came with the murders of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová in February 2018. Kuciak had been hot on the trail of Fico and the country's powerful oligarchs for some time when he was killed.

The assassination, a tragedy without precedent in Slovakia and a direct attack on democracy and press freedom, marked the starting point for mass protests and a 180-degree turnaround in the country's politics. Zuzana Čaputová, a former lawyer and newcomer to politics who is still very popular today was elected president, and the conservatives celebrated the victory of the Matovič government. But it wasn't long before that government also collapsed, torn apart by personal animosities as well as disagreements over substantive issues.

Media could be forced to play the role of political opposition again

Now major newspapers like Sme and Pravda, as well as the prestigious news portal, could be forced back into the role of the political opposition which they had already played in the Fico era. Nevertheless, even the prospect of a Fico comeback appears to be less shocking to the media than the current situation.

Fico makes no secret of the fact that he sees Viktor Orbán as a role model. He is unlikely to take any action towards putting behind bars the mastermind of the journalist's murder, who has yet to be convicted. Moreover, Fico has sided with Putin in the war against Ukraine. Despite all its squabbling, the previous government had clearly backed the EU's course, as well as aid for hundreds of thousands of war refugees. All this could be reversed under a new Fico government. If that came to pass, the media would face challenges of a very different kind.

The public television and radio broadcasters – which operate jointly under the abbreviation RTVS – are likely to see their status decline even further in this political confrontation. In the course of the negotiations on the 2023 budget, the government that was voted out of office in December had unexpectedly announced that it would "revolutionise" the financing of RTVS.

Under the proposed reform, the public broadcasters would no longer be financed by licence fees (and advertising), but by the state, which would mean that parliament would stipulate their budget. This would put RTVS in an unprecedented position of dependency on the political leadership. The chairman of the RTVS Council, Igor Gallo, described the undebated plans to abolish the licence fee model as a "political adventure" that could lead to the public broadcasters being dominated by the political powers, in line with the Hungarian model.

In a first reaction to the planned reform, Reporters Without Borders called on the government to find "a long-term funding solution free from political pressure". The NGO stressed that "Slovakia, as a country that is a paradise for misinformation and where some media are influenced by oligarchs, needs strong and independent public media. RTVS must not become a victim of political deals." In Slovakia, not only the country's political future but also that of its media is uncertain right now.

World Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders): Rank 17 (2023)

Last updated: December 2022
Media search

Media from Slovakia at euro|topics

Media search