Attrition and censorship
After the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak, all parties in Slovakia backed freedom of the press. However, the pressure on public broadcasters is increasing. After a wave of dismissals, several editors have thrown their work down in protest.
The video on Facebook looks professional. No wonder, twelve of the best-known employees of the Slovak Public Broadcasting Corporation have shot it together:
“They know us. We have been designing the news for years. We worked on a project we believed in. And we were proud to be a part of it.”
A kind of attrition policy
But that’s in the past. The editors have jointly terminated their contracts with the public radio and television station RTVS. They accuse their leadership of censorship and political influence.
“The new CEO and his management succeed in destroying our work and destroying our team.”
When four of her colleagues have to leave at the same time, Zuzana Kovacic-Hanzelova becomes too much. She is one of the twelve critical voices. For six years she worked as a presenter and reporter for the television news.
“We constantly have conflicts with new recruits who have previously worked as spokespersons for political parties or institutions. Then the investigative television programme ‘Reporter’ was abolished and I was cancelled from a business trip to Prague.”
She does not mention any evidence of concrete interventions in her work. No, reports are not collected, the pressure is more subtle these days. A balanced presentation would be discussed for hours. A kind of attrition tactic.
Intendant denies the accusations
The director Jaroslav Reznik had declared last summer during his election that he wanted to give the broadcaster back its role as a carrier of diversity of opinion. He denies all accusations.
“Our editors have themselves confirmed several times that they work freely, without restrictions or political interference. I therefore reject the assertion that there is normalisation here”.
Slovaks describe the state reprisals after the bloody end of the Prague Spring in 1968 as normalisation. Critics on the radio feel reminded of this. Their open letter was signed by more than 200 journalists – including many from newspapers, magazines and agencies.
For the “Anti-Charta” only a communication problem
But there is also a kind of anti-charter: a second open letter signed by some 60 editors. They do not see the freedom of the press in danger.
“The current situation is no different from the past. Every new management has dismissed people and hired its own. Some have left voluntarily.”
Lydia Kokavcova has been editor of the programme “Reporter” for more than ten years. She speaks rather of a communication problem. Her magazine is to be broadcast again in autumn – even with more employees. Mass layoffs and changes have indeed taken place again and again in recent years. Especially during a major reform of public law seven years ago. More than 200 employees were dismissed. However, as part of a drastic austerity program due to low ratings.
Autocensorship is more dangerous than open intervention
Since then, the director has been elected by parliament. The former Minister of Culture, Marek Madaric, is certainly part of the current problem. He resigned shortly after the murder of the journalist.
“Much of the blame lies with politicians. Politicians who have long accused the RTVS of being critical of the government, not of public law”.
Robert Fico, for example. The long-time prime minister of the social democratic Smer has described journalists as “dirty, anti-Slovak prostitutes”. Even after his withdrawal three weeks after the murder of Jan Kuciak, he still pulls the strings in the background as party leader. But unlike during his reign Slovakia is now discussing the relationship between its politicians and the media, says political scientist Pavol Babos.
It doesn’t have to be the case that the parliamentary president of the nationalist party calls the director every other day and explains what he imagines, because the director himself knows who elected him.
And the new radio and television editors, in turn, would know who hired them. Babos considers such autocensorship to be even more dangerous than open intervention. But at least now there is finally a discussion about the coverage of the public media in Slovakia. No longer only about minority languages, children’s programmes and advertising – as was often the case before the murder of Jan Kuciak. The public has been shaken up.
Slovakia is a Central European country that emerged from the division of Czechoslovakia in 1992/1993. Slovakia has been a member of NATO since 29 March 2004 and a member of the European Union since 1 May 2004. The transformation from a planned to a market economy can be regarded as completed. Economic growth is currently among the highest in Central Europe, while nominal wage levels are among the lowest in Central Europe. The economy is strongly export-oriented.