Slovakia: A lack of media diversity

In Slovakia the few papers that are published nationwide dominate the political discourse. Television and radio play only a minor role and the Internet offers only limited options. The country suffers from a lack of media diversity as a result.

Slovakian newspapers (© picture-alliance/dpa)
Slovakian newspapers (© picture-alliance/dpa)
One day in October 2014, the liberal daily Sme published a huge photo on its front page showing its own newsroom devoid of editors. The photo was symbolic, since one of the former owners, the German Rheinische Post, had just indirectly sold its 50 percent stake in the newspaper to Penta, an investment group that was allegedly involved in the country's biggest ever corruption scandal. Sme's editors had played a key role in uncovering the scandal.

Sme's chief editor and about half its other editors refused to work for Penta, fearing this would compromise their status as independent reporters – hence the photo of the empty newsroom. The journalists in question subsequently founded a new independent newspaper, Dennik N, which appeared for the first time on 1 January 2015. As part owner of Sme the Rheinische Post had never tried to influence the paper's political content and the company withdrew for purely economic reasons.

Given the decisive role Slovakia's few national newspapers play in shaping political opinion, this was a major blow. For many years now Sme has been the true opposition to the left-wing populist government of Prime Minister Robert Fico. In fact the relationship is so strained that at press conferences Fico refuses on principle to answer any questions posed by Sme. At one point Fico's governing party managed to get a law passed that journalists feared would allow the government to publish its counter-position in the press on a daily basis. The law prompted protests from international journalists' organisations, although ultimately it failed to have the feared effect.

The electronic media are comparatively weak in Slovakia: public radio and television are close to the government and have little power to pursue independent journalism. The same goes for the private channel Info-TV-Kanal TA3. The news programmes of the largest private TV stations Markiza and Joj are dominated by tabloid stories.

Both Sme und Pravda have suffered falling circulations and a loss of income as a result of the crisis in the newspaper sector. Together with other media they have tried to counter this trend by introducing paywalls for the commentaries in their Internet editions, charging a nationally agreed standard price. Pravda abandoned this practice again in 2014. Both newspapers' Internet editions have high user figures, but Sme is clearly ahead.

Political blogs continue to play only a minor role in Slovakia. This no doubt has to do with the growing disillusionment with politics.

Press Freedom Rating:
Reporters Without Borders: 17th place (2017)
Freedom House: 38th place – status: free (2016)

Updated: May 2017
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