Opposition attacks Slovak government plan to reconstruct public broadcasters

Opposition attacks Slovak government plan to reconstruct public broadcasters
RSTV had (marginally) the most objective TV news, according to a recent survey by MEDIAN. / bne IntelliNews
By Albin Sybera March 13, 2024

Slovak public broadcaster RTVS is to be reconstructed, according to the new legislative proposal of the left-right cabinet of populist Prime Minister Robert Fico.

The proposal is criticised by the opposition , liberal media, and journalists, who view it as a step towards establishing a state media under the control of Fico’s Smer party.

“It is a politicising of public media”, RTVS’ sitting CEO, Lubos Machaj, stated, adding that the legislative proposal is the culmination of the cabinet's rhetoric against public media.

“Robert Fico and his [culture] minister [Martina] Simkovicova want to capture RTVS exactly at the time when the EU is adopting legislation which protects independent media,” commented Michal Simecka, chairman of the opposition leading Progressive Slovakia.

“It will be obligatory for Slovakia to transpose these European rules into national legislation. And Fico’s 'experienced politicians' are today proposing something which is in brutal conflict with these,” Simecka continued.

The new law abandons the previous plans declared by Fico’s cabinet to split up the RTVS into TV and radio institutions. Instead a new Slovak television and radio is to be set up in place of RTVS and will be referred to as a “public, national, independent, information, culture and education institution which offers services to the public in the area of television and radio broadcasting”.

A new seven-member Council of Slovak Television and Radio is to be set up and will comprise three nominees from the Ministry of Culture and four nominees from the parliament, who will have the power to appoint and eject the media management.

Fico’s cabinet took power in October and swiftly began changing staff at public institutions and ministries. It also reoriented Slovak foreign policy from a staunch backer of Ukraine into one calling for peace talks with the Kremlin.

Last month, the Constitutional Court put a partial check on the sweeping set of changes to the criminal code and the country’s judiciary, which prompted Fico to call for the ejection of the constitutional court chairman, Igor Fiacan. Similarly as with the judicial overhaul, Fico’s cabinet is pushing the new media legislation through the parliament in an express, shortened legislative procedure.

Simkovicova, who has been critical of RTVS since taking over the ministry, said she is to hold a press conference on the new media law on Thursday, March 14. “First, we need to change the RTVS management,” Simkovicova stated last week.

Simkovicova was nominated to the cabinet by the far-right SNS party and previously worked as a host at Television Slovan, spreading disinformation such as the alleged existence of chemtrails in the skies and doubting the existence of COVID-19.

“The minister has not communicated any concrete objections to me. I am preparing a press conference for Thursday. I am curious whether any concrete objections will be voiced there,” Machaj told Slovak media.

Fico has also been smearing RTVS reporters on his social media for giving him critical questions during press conferences, such as at the press conference after the V4 summit in Prague.  

“If before the elections we promised to bring order, then at RTVS it is necessary to bring about one earlier, as the biased media picture, which it creates, often does not even walk near the reality,” Fico declared on his Facebook page on March 12.

Fico’s cabinet’s media changes also come amid reports that the largest commercial television, TV Markiza of Czech PPF Group, is scaling down politics in news amid staff changes in the news department.