Incoming populist Slovak premier Robert Fico has suspended press permits for what he has described as “enemy media”, sparking a new row with the country's progressive President Zuzana Caputova.
Fico, leader of the leftist Smer party, has ordered a review of press permits to the office of the government for journalists from the liberal dailies SME and DennikN, online news outlet Aktuality.sk, and television station Markiza.
These outlets “openly adhere to hatred and enemy stance towards Smer and spread these trends with pleasure,” Fico alleged, adding that pending the review, the outlets are “unwelcome guests at the office of the government”.
Caputova was quick to criticise Fico, writing on her Facebook that it is “part of [the] media’s work to criticise politicians,” and she also rejected the sowing of division in society by branding media as “enemy ones” or “friendly ones”.
“It may be uncomfortable to us politicians. But the significance of [the] media surpasses this discomfort, and for democracy, it is irreplaceable,” Caputova continued. She called the media “a bloodline of democracy”.
Fico’s comments also caused outrage among journalists and were slammed by the Aktuality.sk editor-in-chief Peter Bardy, who said that Robert Fico “leads a personal war with journalists”.
Bardy also stated that Fico did not forget about journalist Jan Kuciak of Aktuality.sk, who conducted investigations of his previous government and was then murdered along with his fiancé Martina Kusnirova in 2018, sparking the largest mass protests in Slovakia’s history, bringing down Fico’s previous cabinet.
Fico’s cabinet is “coward-like and revengeful, and so is looking for an internal enemy,” Bardy wrote on his Facebook page.
Editor-in-chief of SME Beata Balogova also referred to Fico’s actions as “a revenge for articles which at the time [of his previous cabinet] revealed how together with his people he [Fico] was building the foundation of the mafia state”.
Fico “wants to prevent further articles which will reveal how his construction site progresses,” Balogova went on, and stressed that the European Parliament and the EU should be “seriously concerned” if they care about the freedom of the press.
Fico’s controversial move comes just days after his government cabinet signalled legislative changes that could cut financing of NGOs.
The new government of Sme, the centre-left Hlas party, and the far right Slovak Nationalist Party approved its cabinet programme on November 13. Its plans include raising taxes, including a new banking tax, to fund spending plans such as a 13th monthly pension and mortgage subsidies. It plans to hold a vote of confidence on November 14.
It pledged that “the government shall follow the slogan ‘Slovakia in the first place,’ which means being solidary, responsible and predictable in foreign policy with attention paid to national interests of the Slovak republic”.
The government reiterated that EU membership is indispensable. It wants to pursue a peaceful EU, an equal partnership between the EU and the USA and respect for individual EU member states.
It rejects any mandatory migration quotas and the abolishing of the veto rights in decision-making requiring all member states.
It wants to observe Nato obligations and pursue economic diplomacy, stating that “a basic task of defining and systematic development of the participation of Slovak business entities on European and global markets.”
The Smer-led government wants to pursue peace plans regarding Ukraine. It reiterated Slovakia would stop providing military aid to Ukraine but would continue providing humanitarian aid. Last week, the new cabinet axed the latest round of military aid to Ukraine, but Fico stated he won't prevent domestic companies from manufacturing and exporting weapons and ammunition.
Fico formed a coalition after Smer won the September 30 snap vote ahead of liberal Progressive Slovakia (PS). The campaign was criticised as aggressive and included widespread circulation of disinformation as well as deep fake videos targeting PS leader Michal Simecka.
Both Smer and Hlas were suspended from the European grouping of Socialists for joining forces with SNS and for their stance over Ukraine. Smer and SNS leaders have adopted Kremlin propaganda, referring to Russia’s war in Ukraine as a conflict started by “Ukrainian fascists” in 2014.