More than 160 Slovak journalists have released an open letter criticising the RTVS public radio and television broadcaster for the atmosphere in it and for recent controversial departures of reporters who criticised the RTVS management.
RTVS director Jaroslav Reznik dismissed the criticism.
The letter reacts to the RTVS’s decision not to extend the work contracts of four external reporters and to the notices that other reporters handed in.
“The new RTVS management has been deliberately bullying, oppressing and getting rid of experienced journalists who significantly contributed to renewing people’s confidence in public media in recent years,” journalists from a number of Slovak media outlets wrote in the open letter.
They wrote about a hardline regime in the RTVS, launched by people whose career is connected with political marketing rather than the journalistic profession.
Censorship is starting to appear in the RTVS broadcasts, they wrote.
Free media are a fundamental instrument of public control and the silencing of journalists and their replacement with servile propagandists is the first step within the introduction of dictatorships and totalitarian regimes, the journalists wrote.
Reznik said the editors could work freely and no political power interfered in the broadcasting. “As long as I am here, no other power will interfere in the broadcasting either,” he told the parliamentary committee for culture and the media.
Reznik said the previous management sacked staff, too, and 145 editors left the RTVS in 2013-17.
Former culture minister Marek Madaric (ruling Smer-Social Democracy) criticised Reznik for appointing former spokespersons of politicians to senior posts in the RTVS. He said the departure of experienced employees was a bad signal.
Reacting to the situation on social networks, Slovak President Andrej Kiska said he was watching the developments with concern.
“Censorship mentioned by journalists, the sacking of journalists for having expressed their opinion, this is inadmissible. The RTVS must not become a lackey of politicians. It is important to loudly and publicly discuss the developments in this institution,” Kiska wrote.
Attacks on journalists and downplaying their work have been common in Slovakia for many years, Kiska said.
The free and independent media are an important and indispensable condition of democracy, and the February murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee is a wound that can never heal, Kiska said, referring to the double murder that provoked mass anti-government protests in the country and toppled Robert Fico (Smer-SD) as prime minister, and that still remains unsolved.
Kiska mentioned a fresh world press freedom index in which Slovakia’s ranking was ten positions worse than last year.
In April, almost 60 journalists wrote an open letter in protest against the situation in the RTVS’s news department and against the RTVS’s new style. Reznik then labelled the critics as the radical young core of the news department and about 30 RTVS journalists wrote that their work was free.
Last week, the RTVS management did not extend the contracts of four external reporters who signed the critical open letter in April.
Several journalists left the RTVS on their own in protest against the situation.
Slovak parliament installed Reznik, former director of the Slovak press agency (TASR), as RTVS head by votes of the government coalition last year.