Hailed as heroes, smeared as prostitutes – Press freedom in Slovakia still going strong

Written by Carl Edholm – Press freedom in Slovakia is declining, but the result from the European elections shows that it could still be alive and well within the country.

As the last votes are counted. the initial result from the Slovakian EU-election, shows that the European-friendly coalition of “Progressive Slovakia” and “Together – Civic Democracy,” are the winners. 20 percent of the population voted and it is the highest turnout since the country joined the European Union.

According to Slovak journalist Martin Turček, the election is important for journalism. “The EU can probably not assure real press freedom in all of its member states right now, but it is a motivating factor. For journalism in general, the EU means a lot in Slovakia. And the meaning/symbol of it for journalists is not so far from what it is for of regular citizens – more opportunities, more freedom to travel, living in a larger world basically.”

Since 2018, Slovakia has fallen from 27 to 35 in the world press freedom index. The murder of the investigative journalist Jan Kuciak in February 2018, who revealed the Calabrian mafia´s connection to the Slovak government, are one of the main reasons. In late 2018, a document was also revealed, describing the new rules at the state-broadcasting company RTVS. According to the document, reporters were not allowed to quote other media sources. The criticism was dismissed as misinterpretation, but according to critics it was a form of censorship.

According to Reporters without borders the media ownership in Slovakia is also slowly being taken over by oligarchs and financial groups such as Penta, which was part of a corruption scandal a few years ago. Politicians continue to harass media and in one of the most extreme examples, the former prime minister Robert Fico in 2016, called journalists “filthy, anti-Slovak prostitutes.”

According to Martin Turček, who worked with Jan Kuciak, there has been a change in attitude within the public and the media since the murder of his colleague.“ Some of us have since become a little motivated, and some of us even more motivated when it comes to tackling and uncover corruption. Some commentators are more harsh and outspoken against the government, because you can actually connect the deeds of the government indirectly to the murder, since the corruption actually led to the murder of Jan. There has also been a change in public support. Peoples view of journalism has changed a lot, a little too much sometimes – journalists right now are pictured as heroes.”

The turnout of this years EU-election is the highest since Slovakia joined the European Union. According to Martin the media played an important role. “Definitely! The discourse has changed significantly since the extremist neo-nazi party “Kotleba-ĽSNS”, joined the parliament, the biggest part of this change is due to the media. I think the biggest influence on the turnout is exactly this – people are more motivated to tackle extremism.”

Though turnout is higher in Slovakia, the electoral participation is still far off from many other EU-countries. Even though the media is actively highlighting corruption and extremism, inside and outside the government; translating the European Union to the public is still a difficult task. “The EU plays a very important role, but because people can not see it directly, its difficult to persuade them, that it changed their lives. It seems that not even the media, influencers and comedians, can really motivate people to take action beyond a certain point. The cliche of people feeling that the EU is not very close to them, is probably more true than I would’ve thought,” says Martin.