Masaryk University, Czech Republic
The media environment is characterised by strong privately owned TV and newspapers, including a vigorous tabloid sector. Relationships between the media and the government of Robert Fico have become increasingly strained over the last year.
Long-established TV stations Markiza and Joj are the market leaders offline but the main public broadcaster (RTVS) is also a key source of news through its two television networks and nine radio stations. All the major newspapers are privately owned, with the best-selling daily the tabloid Novy Cas (27% weekly reach in our survey).
Slovakia has a constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press, but although the media have been able to present diverse views and opinions, defamation is a criminal offence, which is punishable by imprisonment of up to eight years, making it the highest penalty in the European Union.1 These laws have been tested in a series of rows between the government and the media (especially the private media). The Prime Minister, Robert Fico, has brought libel suits against several newspapers which have been critical of the government. In early 2017 he accused the media of publishing critical and biased information about the government and leading pro-opposition campaigns. Fico has also refused to communicate with or answer questions from particular media outlets and has launched verbal attacks on the media during press conferences. In November 2016, he called reporters ‘dirty, anti-Slovak prostitutes’.2 This denigration of the media may be further undermining trust in the press and in politics more generally.
More recently, Robert Fico has turned his attention to the public broadcaster (RTVS) which he has also accused of supporting the opposition. He has demanded a change of leadership at the top, with current head Václav Mika, in the firing line.3
But concerns about editorial freedom do not just relate to pressure from politicians. With the exception of the public broadcaster (RTVS) and the news agency (TASR), major media outlets (both newspapers and TV stations) are owned or co-owned by foreign companies. The lack of transparency and cross-platform ownership of media outlets remain a concern for independent observers. Additionally a large number of media outlets are now controlled directly or indirectly by local businessmen behind two Slovak financial groups, Penta and J&T, which has also led to public debate about the risks to media freedom.
After Penta gained a large stake in the daily SME in 2014, a number of editors, including the editor-in-chief, left the newspaper and established a new independent daily, Denník N. Senior editors were concerned that these financial groups might exert political and economic influence on editorial coverage.
In terms of online media, the leading outlets are digital-born news portals. Topky.sk is owned by Slovak Telecom and is highly rated in our survey for news that amuses and entertains. Aktuality.sk is a more serious publication owned by Ringier Axel Springer. Unusually, the public broadcaster RTVS does not operate a news website, although there are no formal restrictions on this. In the last year it has launched a smartphone app that allows access to broadcast programmes.
All other traditional media have an online presence and leading print titles are trying to monetise their content. Slovakia is home to Piano Media, which in 2011 enabled the first national paywall for online news media, allowing readers to pay a flat fee for weekly, monthly, or yearly access to premium content across a range of websites. However, over time, a number of publishers left the system seeking greater flexibility and the national paywall experiment ended in the last year.
Although Piano is considered to have taught many people to pay for news, our survey shows that only a minority (12%) subscribe to this or other pay solutions in Slovakia, a percentage that is close to the European average. Piano Media continues however and has gone on to be one of Slovakia’s best-known companies, acquiring US-based Press+ to become the world’s biggest supplier of paywall solutions.
Facebook is the most widely used social network in Slovakia, but it also has a homegrown community site called Pokec.sk, which is popular for news.
Trust in the media has been in general rather low in Slovakia, but the perception of independent journalists has been recently declining even more. It has been affected particularly by the debate on the media ownership of Slovak news outlets by financial groups. The mainstream media are considered biased and the popularity of ‘alternative’ media has been on the rise.
- Freedom House, Slovakia (2015): https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2015/slovakia ↩
- Ryan Heath, Robert Fico Calls Reporters ‘Dirty, Anti-Slovak Prostitutes’. Politico (23 Nov. 2016): http://www.politico.eu/article/robert-fico-calls-reporters-dirty-anti-slovak-prostitutes-foreign ↩
- Fico Criticises Media Again. The Slovak Spectator (4 Apr. 2017): https://spectator.sme.sk/c/20500911/fico-criticises-media-again.html ↩