Charles University, Prague
Journalism and the media not only made the news, they were the news in 2018, as the full repercussions from the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée were played out in the judicial and political systems and in street protests.
The violent death of the young journalist, whose work focused on corrupt links between business and politics, continued to resonate in all spheres of Slovak public life. A wave of street protests ‘for a decent Slovakia’ prompted the resignation of the Prime Minister, Interior Minister, and Chief of Police. Then a series of leaks from the investigation kept journalism in the public eye, when it emerged that Marian Kočner, a businessman charged with commissioning the murder, had employed private detectives to gather information not just on Kuciak but on several other journalists whose investigations threatened his interests.
If this made many journalists feel angry and vulnerable, the protests demonstrated the commitment of civil society to a free and critical media. Tributes to prominent investigative journalists were repeatedly made from the podiums of the demonstrations. A centre for investigative journalism affiliated to the international Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project was later founded in Kuciak’s name.1
Our data do not, however, indicate an upsurge in public trust in news overall (down 1% and comparatively low) or in trust towards particular brands (also slightly down). This may reflect the unceasing flurry of accusations about fake news and disinformation between ‘mainstream’ and ‘alternative’ platforms, fuelled by politicians. A generalised mistrust towards public information sources might best characterise broader public attitudes towards the media.
Two cases illustrate the prevalence of disinformation in social media. One was the exposure of a PR agency which was running campaigns for politicians and commercial firms based on creating false social media accounts and discussion contributions.2 Another was the repeated failure of Facebook to remove posts and suspend accounts when alerted about hate speech and false identities. A bone of contention for local media is that neither Facebook nor Google has a fact-checking partner for Slovakia, limiting people’s opportunities to reliably assess reports of ‘fake news’ sites and posts.
Tensions continued between staff and management at the public service broadcaster RTVS amid concerns about the ability or will of top management to shield programme-makers from political pressure. More than a dozen staff have resigned from news and current affairs complaining of a poisonous working atmosphere.
Representatives of two of the governing parties, Smer-Social Democracy and the Slovak Nationalists, have repeatedly presented proposals that many see as hostile to the media. These have included reintroducing a clause in the Press Law to give politicians a broader right to reply (as was the case between 2008 and 2011, when Slovakia was criticised by international bodies for restrictions on press freedom), stiffer legislation on the responsibility of media for the content of online discussions, and replacing the industry-run press and digital council with a state-run body, which critics say would severely curtail professional self-regulation.
In the context of continued decline in print advertising revenues (according to Unimedia’s forecast for 2019 the printed sector’s share of advertising will fall to 8% against 34% for online), the German-Swiss media group Ringier Axel Springer sold its remaining printed titles (notably the leading daily Nový Čas) to Slovak buyers, retaining only its online brands, such as aktuality.sk. With the withdrawal, too, of Bauer Media, which had owned several magazines, this completes a remarkable U-turn in a sector which, for 20 years, was dominated by foreign capital.
Podcasts are a strong growth area for news consumption in Slovakia, after strategic investment by news media in the format. Currently the most popular is SME’s Dobré ráno daily podcast, which attracts on average 17,000 listeners, about two-thirds the level of the newspaper’s print sales. Second is Denník N’s weekday podcast Newsfilter, which had almost 10,000 downloads per day by February 2019, more than double print circulation. Third is aktuality.sk’s Nahlas. Podcasts are produced by many of the country’s news magazines, pure players, commercial radio stations, and even the state news agency. The Apple podcast app is the most popular means of reception, even though more Slovaks have Android operating systems on mobile phones.3
TV and online news remain the most popular sources of news in Slovakia, with usage of print newspapers among the lowest in our survey. Smartphone use is growing but many people still access news using a laptop or desktop computer.
Trust in the news overall remains amongst the lowest in our 38-country survey, though trust in specific news brands is higher. Those that featured in last year’s sample show slightly lower levels of trust, but the order is identical, with the rolling news channel TA3 regarded for the second year running as the most trusted source and popular tabloid Nový Čas as least trusted.
- https://spectator.sme.sk/c/22024637/new-investigative-centre-will-seek-cooperation-among-media.html ↩
- It was eventually expelled from the national association of public relations for breaching its ethical codes (https://dennikn.sk/minuta/1360244/). ↩
- https://podcasty.sme.sk/c/22024994/podcasty-v-roku-2018-statistiky-a-grafy-pocuvanosti.html ↩