Thousands Protest in Slovakia Against Government Plan to Control Media

Thousands of Slovaks protested in Bratislava's Freedom Square against the government's plan to overhaul public radio and television services, citing concerns over press freedom and government control. The proposed changes would replace the current public broadcaster with a new organization, sparking widespread criticism.

Nitish Verma
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Thousands Protest in Slovakia AgainstGovernment Plan to Control Media

Thousands Protest in Slovakia AgainstGovernment Plan to Control Media

Thousands of Slovaks gathered in Bratislava's Freedom Square on Thursday to protest the public broadcaster's plan to overhaul the country's public radio and television services. Critics argue the proposed changes would result in the government taking full control of the media, sparking concerns about the erosion of press freedom in Slovakia.

Why this matters: The proposed changes have far-reaching implications for democratic values and the rule of law in Slovakia, and could set a worrying precedent for other European countries. If implemented, the government's plan could lead to a decline in media independence and a rise in authoritarianism in the region.

The protest, organized by the opposition party Progressive Slovakia, comes in response to a measure approved by the coalition government of Prime Minister Robert Fico on April 24. The article is expected to be approved by Parliament in June, where Fico's coalition holds a majority. President Zuzana Čaputová, local journalists, international media organizations, and the European Commission have all widely criticized the proposed changes.

Under the government's plan, the current public broadcaster RTVS would be replaced by a new organization called Slovak Television and Radio (STVR). The director of STVR would be selected by a council whose nine members would be nominated by the Culture Ministry and Parliament, raising concerns about potential political influence over the media outlet.

Michal Šimečka, head of Progressive Slovakia, addressed the crowd at the protest, warning of the dire consequences if the government's plan is implemented. "The Slovak democracy needs a strong and independent RTVS and its employees need your support," Šimečka said. He cautioned that if Fico taking, people, changes, it would be a "decisive step on the way towards Orbán and Putin," referring to the authoritarian leaders of Hungary and Russia.

Zora Jaurová, a lawmaker for Progressive Slovakia, echoed Šimečka's concerns, stating that the government fails to grasp the fundamental role of public broadcasting in safeguarding democratic values. "They don't understand that the essence of public broadcasting is to protect democracy, the rule of law and freedom," Jaurová said.

The controversial plan was drafted by Culture Minister Martina Šimkovičová, who represents the ultra-nationalist Slovak National Party. Šimkovičová claims that the current broadcaster censors non-mainstream views, an accusation firmly denied by RTVS.

The protest in Bratislava is not an isolated incident, as thousands of Slovaks have repeatedly rallied in the capital and across the country to voice their opposition to Prime Minister Fico's policies. Fico's leftist Smer (Direction) party won the September 30 parliamentary elections on a pro-Russian and anti-American platform, raising concerns that Slovakia may abandon its pro-Western course and follow the path of Hungary under populist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

As Slovakia stands at a critical juncture, the outcome of the proposed media overhaul will have far-reaching implications for the nation's democratic future. The international community will be closely monitoring the developments in June when Parliament is expected to vote on the measure. For now, the public in Bratislava's Freedom Square serve as a powerful testimony that the fight for press freedom and democracy in Slovakia is far from over.

Key Takeaways

  • Thousands protest in Bratislava against government's plan to overhaul public radio and TV.
  • Plan would give government control over media, sparking press freedom concerns.
  • New broadcaster, STVR, would be led by director chosen by government-nominated council.
  • Critics warn of authoritarianism and erosion of democratic values in Slovakia.
  • Parliament to vote on measure in June, with international community watching closely.