Slovakia’s public broadcaster's news chiefs dismissed after airing one-hour long opposition speech

Slovakia’s public broadcaster's news chiefs dismissed after airing one-hour long opposition speech
Opposition leader Robert Fico’s speeches are a blend of misinformation about COVID-19, pro-Russian stances and alarmist messages about the security situation in Slovakia. / bne IntelliNews
By Albin Sybera November 21, 2022

News director Maria Hluchanova and three other managers at Slovak Radio and Television (RTVS) have been dismissed after the RTVS 24 TV news channel livestreamed an hour-long speech of ex-premier Robert Fico from the party meeting of his Smer-SD on the national holiday on November 17 without informing the public broadcaster's director-general.  

Hluchanova was dismissed on November 18 after RTVS chief Lubos Machaj met the management of the RTVS news section. “After getting acquainted with the circumstances and analysis of the situation […] Maria Hluchanova is leaving the director position of news and journalism at RTVS”, Stanislav Cacko of the press relations department at RTVS was quoted as saying by local news server

Opposition leader Fico’s speech was a blend of misinformation about COVID-19, pro-Russian stances and alarmist messages about the security situation in Slovakia. The leftwing populist, who has shifted to the far right in many of his positions, also presented his party’s position on not prioritising “homosexuals adopting children or people changing their gender”, and accused Slovak President Zuzana Caputova of allegedly trying to drag Slovakia into World War III following the landing of missile fragments on Polish territory which killed two people last week.

Machaj regretted that such a speech made at a party meeting appeared on the public broadcaster on the national holiday commemorating the toppling of communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989 and student anti-Nazi protests in 1939.

“First and foremost no political party should receive space at RTVS on such a holiday”, Machaj stated and added that at this time public broadcasting needs to be a space for airing “commemorations of democratic effects and achievements of the [1989] Velvet Revolution, which I deem especially important at this time”. Machaj also said that neither he nor other RTVS management members had any prior knowledge of the airing Fico’s speech.

Fico slammed RTVS management decision on his Facebook profile. “There is no greater spitting at the national holiday of freedom and democracy than firing of journalists over letting a speech by opposition politicians go on air”, he posted in response.

Fico has been systematically building upon some of the key narratives appearing on Slovak disinformation websites including the notion that freedom of speech is allegedly under threat in Slovakia, and that it is, in fact, his Smer-SD which is a staunch defender of freedoms secured after the November 1989 political turmoil. However, the current government and international media organisations argue that when Fico was in power until 2018, the public broadcaster was heavily biased towards his government.

In his November 17 party speech he also accused Caputova and Prime Minister Eduard Heger’s cabinet of censoring media and curtailing freedom of speech. As a result “alternative media are more popular, which are also more reliable and attractive for a large portion of Slovak public”, Fico said and called on owners of “main media” to pay attention to this.

According to the recent poll conducted for RTVS, Smer-SD would obtain 14.2%,  trailing behind another opposition party Hlas-SD of Fico’s former party colleague Peter Pellegrini with 18.6%. A November poll by Focus puts Smer-SD at 15.6% while the ruling OLaNO, led by Finance Minister Igor Matovic, would just cross the 5% threshhold needed to enter the parliament with 7%.

Much of the OLaNO electorate appears to have shifted to the non-parliamentary Progressive Slovakia (10.2%) following the OLaNO leader’s role in the recent coalition crisis or his controversial remarks against media, which were widely ciriticised by international media organisatoins. OLaNO’s former key coalition ally libertarian SaS sits at 8.1% and the far right Republika formation at 7%.

A recent survey on the Velvet Revolution showed that the percentage of Slovaks who view the 1989 political changes positively dropped below 50% from 58% last year. “The fact that the proportion of people with a favourable attitude towards the Velvet Revolution has fallen below 50% for the first time since 2014 reflects the extremely unfavourbaly socio-political claimate in Slovakia”, said Zora Butorova of the Institute of Public Affairs which conducted the survey.