Slovakia

last updated: May 29, 2020
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RSF ranking: 33rd out of 180 (RSF, 2020)
Population: 5.5m (Worldometer, 2020)
Percentage in the capital: 8% (435k; World Population Review, 2020)
GDP: 105.9bn (The World Bank, 2020b)
EU member: since 1 May, 2004 (EUROPA, 2020)
Official language: Slovak (EUROPA, 2020)
Press council: Tlačovo-digitálna rada Slovenskej republiky (The Print-Digital Council of the Slovak Republic)

Press freedom environment: Freedom House classes Slovakia as a “free” country with a total score of 88 out of 100 (Freedom House, 2019). This score is split 36/52 for political rights and for civil liberties (Ibid.). At the time of writing, Freedom House did not have a “narrative report” for 2020, and the most recent one is from 2019. This report showed that although government and transitions between parties run smoothly, there is rising hostility towards foreigners, political corruption, and discrimination against the country’s Roma population (Ibid.). The report cited several events from 2018, starting with the assassination of journalist Ján Kuciak and his partner, after he had been investigating alleged links between Italian organised crime and the Slovak Prime Minister (Ibid.; see also: Walker, 2020). As a consequence, the country saw the largest peaceful demonstrations in recent memory, with calls for top officials to step down (Ibid.). In the “Civil Liberties” section of the report called “Freedom of Expression and Belief”, the report made reference to Ján Kuciak’s assassination, which caused Prime Minister Robert Fico to eventually resign and over 500 journalists to come together to protest Robert Fico’s attacks on the media, which he had been engaging in throughout his political career (Ibid.). Media ownership concentration was also cited as a concern, and the independence of the public broadcaster RTVS was also questioned after reporters were made redundant or left voluntarily in 2018 after alleged political pressure from editors (Ibid.).

Media landscape

The Reporters Without Borders report for 2019 focused on Slovakia’s political climate, which includes heavy levels of corruption and crime. The death of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak has resulted in the arrest and trials of the suspected assassins, and connections between businessman Marian Kočner, as well as members of the judiciary and government (RSF, 2020). The report mentioned that Marian Kočner was already monitoring some 36 journalists through the use of law enforcement databases (Ibid.). The previous Prime Minister Robert Fico and colleagues within his party (Smer-SD) are known to attack newsworkers and the media “using an anti-media rhetoric that is reproduced in certain media and, above all on websites specializing in disinformation” (Ibid.). Media in Slovakia have been bought up by wealthy businessmen, and as above the independence of the public broadcaster RTVS was called into question with employees in senior positions maintaining close ties to the “ultra-nationalist” SNS party, causing many reporters to leave and be replaced with younger journalists who are sympathetic to the SNS party (Ibid.).

The 2019 Reuters Digital News Report also discussed the case of Ján Kuciak. Protests across the country resulted in several key officials stepping down: the Prime Minister, Interior Minister, and Chief of Police (Smith, 2019). As a result of the protests and public support of journalists, an investigative journalism centre was set up in Kuciak’s name, which was an initiative through the international Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (Ibid.). Trust in in news and news brands remains low, and it is a problem that is spurred on by politicians and accusations of “fake news” between mainstream and alt-medias (Ibid.). The summary here is “a generalised mistrust towards public information sources might best characterise broader public attitudes towards the media” (Ibid.). Social media are also a source of disinformation, where a PR agency created fake accounts and comments to support politicians, where Facebook did not react to reports of hate speech or faked accounts, and where neither Facebook nor Google has domestic partners to fact-check sites and posts (Ibid.). Problems with the public broadcaster, RTVS, were also mentioned in the report, as well as the two leading parties, Smer-SD and the Slovak Nationalists introducing policy that would work against the media (Ibid.). Examples here are bringing back a clause to the Press Law that gives politicians more right to reply, an issue that dates back to 2008 and 2011 where restrictions on press freedom were critiqued by international bodies, allocating more responsibility to the media for their online content, and making the “press and digital council” state-run instead of industry-run (Ibid.). There are changes in media ownership, with Swiss-German Ringier Axel Springer selling its print brands in its portfolio to buyers in Slovakia but keeping its online brands, and Bauer Media selling its magazines; which “completes a remarkable U-turn in a sector which, for 20 years, was dominated by foreign capital” (Ibid.). Podcasts have increased in popularity, with 17,000 listeners to the daily SME’s Dobré ráno, and 10,000 listeners to the weekly Denník N’s “Newsfilter”; podcasts are produced by news magazines, commercial radio stations, the state news agency, and “pure players” (Ibid.).

Newspapers and market

The Media Landscapes entry for Slovakia provides insight into the media context from 2016, but due to recent political developments, that analysis is not included here. The report, however, does provide background information on the Slovakian media market. Key newspaper titles inlcude Katolícke noviny (Catholic, weekly), and tabloids Nový Čas (New Time) and Plus Jeden Deň (One More Day; Školkay, 2017). Nový Čas (New Time) had a parent newspaper, Čas, which had communist party connections, was owned by Ringier Axel Springer and is apolitical (Ibid.). Plus Jeden Deň (One More Day) is owned by Penta (Ibid.). The quality press includes titles such as Pravda (Truth), Sme (We Are), Denník N (Daily N) and business/economic daily Hospodárske noviny (Economy Newspaper; Ibid.). Pravda (Truth), is a “liberal left” or “centre-left” newspaper and was once the official newspaper of Slovakia’s communist party and is owned by Florena; which has ties to the populist party Smer-SD and is otherwise only involved in real estate (Ibid.). Sme (We Are) is a “liberal right” or “centre-right” newspaper co-owned by Penta, and was accused by then-Prime Minister Robert Fico as being “anti-government” (Ibid.). Denník N (Daily N) is a sister newspaper to Sme, also owned by Penta (Ibid.). Penta has expanded into the Czech Republik and has recently acquired several other companies: Trend Holding (weekly Trend and Medialne.sk), Spoločnosť 7 Plus including tabloid Plus Jeden Deň, weekly Plus 7 dní, and Aktualne.sk (Ibid.). Hospodárske noviny (Economy Newspaper) once served Czechoslovakia and now provides financial news (Ibid.). It is described as a centrist newspaper, with slight centre-right leanings in its business news; and is owned by Czech businessman and politician Andrej Babiš (Ibid.). Other titles include Denník Šport (Daily Sport) and Hungarian-language Új Szó (New Word; serving the Hungarian minority in Slovakia), Korzár (city newpaper for Košice), and Prešovský večerník (city newspaper for Prešov; Školkay, 2017).

Audience news consumption

The 2019 Reuters Digital News Report combines results of weekly usage across television, radio, and print, as well as online in Slovakia (Newman et al., 2019: 107). Surprisingly, the public broadcaster RTVS is not at the top of the list; the top positions are held by TV Markíza (59%) for tv, radio, and print, and topky.sk (45%) for online (Ibid.). In terms of the top four newspapers, Sme (daily) was at 28% for online and 15% for print, Nový Čas (tabloid) was at 27% for online and 26% for print, Pravda (Berliner, daily) was at 19% for online and 13% for print, and unspecified regional and local newspapers were at 12% for print with no stats for online, and Denník N (daily) was at 13% for online and no stats for print (Ibid.). The report shows a combination of news brands, with a strong presence of online-online news outlets on the online side of brands accessed on a weekly basis.

Public service media

The public broadcaster, RTVS, does not have any pages available in English on its website (RTVS, 2020). A cursory examination of its “about us” pages and history showed that some of parts had not been updated since the mid-2000s or early 2010s; other sources should be referenced to expand this.

Public trust in the press and media

According to the 2019 Digital News Report, overall trust in Slovakian news was at 33%, with Slovakia ranking 30th out of the 38 countries in the study (Newman et al., 2019: 107). The most trusted sources of news are TA3 (commercial broadcaster), and RTVS (public broadcaster), and the least trusted are topky.sk (online news) and Nový Čas (tabloid; Ibid.). On a scale of 1-10, the most trusted brands for news is commercial broadcaster TA3 (7.03), and the top five newspapers following these are Hospodárske noviny (financial news; 6.55), Pravda (Berliner, daily; 6.17), Sme (daily; 5.91), Denník N (daily; 5.52), and Nový Čas (tabloid; 4.91; Ibid.).

In 2016, 1,023 Slovakian participants took part in Special Eurobarometer 452, titled Media pluralism and democracy (Eurobarometer, 2016). Here, 75% of participants thought that the national media represented a “diversity of views and opinions”, and 48% thought that the media were “free from political or commercial pressure” (Eurobarometer, 2016: factsheet for Slovakia). Likewise, 50% thought that public broadcasting services were free from political influence (Ibid.). General trust in media was at 60% (Ibid.), reliability in television was at 64%, radio at 71%, and newspapers (both print and online) at 57%; however, trust in social media platforms was lower at 40% (Ibid.). A low number of participants were aware of regulatory bodies at 20%, with 50% thinking that they were free from political or commercial influence (Ibid.). In the study, 16% of Slovakian respondents thought that journalists, bloggers, and social media users were the targets of hate speech and abuse (Ibid.).

Online only/digital entrants

In terms of online-only brands, the Reuters Digital News Report for 2019 lists the following as the most-used sources of news “used last week”: topky.sk (45%), aktuality.sk (43%), noviny.sk (20%), pluska.sk (18%), zive.sk (8%), and webnoviny.sk (7%; Newman et al., 2019: 107). In terms of digital entrants that publish longform news stories, none were found via a Google search, however, the daily Denník N was founded as an independent alternative to daily newspapers (Sharp, 2017).

Current studies and context

Recent data on risks to media pluralism in Slovakia points back to 2016, showing that Slovakia has mixed rankings with “medium risk” to market plurality (44%), social inclusiveness (48%) and political independence (45%), and “low risk” to basic protection (24%; Sampor, 2018: 4-11). The report highlighted the following in its conclusion regarding each category (Ibid.: 12): that the findings predate the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and the sentencing of Lukáš Milan (for defamation crimes), the need for independent safeguards to prevent state involvement in local media, the need for independence of the public broadcaster, media literacy and recognition of minorities and women, however, there were positives with “media and electoral process regulations, and in relatively new regulations regarding access to the media for people with disabilities”.

In terms of the current RSF rankings, Slovakia is ranked as 33rd (out of 180) on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, a rise from 35th in 2019 (RSF, 2020). According to the 2019 Digital News Report, overall trust in Slovakian news was at 33%, with Slovakia ranking 30th out of the 38 countries in the study (Newman et al., 2019: 107). Internet penetration is at 85% for Slovakia (Ibid.: 106).

Regulatory environment

The Media Landscapes report for Slovakia, dating back to 2017, cites four key legislative items with regard to media: Act No. 308/2000 on Broadcasting and Retransmission from 14 September 2000 (amended), the Act on Digital Broadcasting No. 220/2007 Z.z. (amended), the Act No. 167/2008 on Periodical Press, and News Agency Services (Press Act) from 9 April 2008 (amended; Školkay, 2017).

The Council for Broadcasting and Retransmission is an “is an administrative body which executes state regulation in the field of radio and TV broadcasting, retransmission and on-demand audiovisual [sic] media services” (RVR, 2020a), and it’s mission statement is as follows:

The mission of the Council is to enforce the public interest in the exercise of the right to information, freedom of expression, and the rights of access to cultural values and education, and to perform state regulation in the areas of broadcasting, retransmission and the provision of on-demand audiovisual [sic] media services. The Council ensures the maintenance of plurality of information in the news programmes of public service broadcasters and licensed broadcasters. It also supervises compliance with legislation regulating broadcasting, retransmission, and the provision of on demand audiovisual [sic] media services, and performs state administration in the area of broadcasting, retransmission and the provision of on-demand audiovisual [sic] media services in the scope provided for by the Act on Broadcasting and Retransmission (ABR). (RVR, 2020b)

The press council

The Press Council of the Slovak Republic is now known as the Press-Digital Council of the Slovak Republic, and is the “executive body” of the Association for the Protection of Journalistic Ethics (AONE; Slovenský syndikát novinárov, 2020). As a self-regulatory body, the council “adresses [sic] complaints about the possible violation of journalistic ethics, as well as motions concerning restraining the journalists’ access to information” (Ibid.). It has nine members that are “figures of the public, cultural and social life that are not actively working as journalists or publishers and do not represent any political party” (Ibid.). The website shows three organisations that are a part of AONE: the Slovak Syndicate of Journalists, the Print Publishers Association, and IAB Slovakia (Ibid.).

Recent press council report/cases

The annual reports are only available in Slovakian.

Other bodies and codes of ethics

Key organisations here are the Slovak Syndicate of Journalists (SSN), the Slovak Section of Association of European Journalists (SSAEJ) and the Slovak Association of Journalists (SAN; Školkay, 2017). A search for codes of ethics for each organisation referred back to the press council (SSN), or none were listed (SSAEJ and SAN).

Journalism culture

The Media Landscapes report for Slovakia makes note that “we know very little about the journalists themselves” (Školkay, 2017). There is not a chapter on Slovakia in the book, The Global Journalist in the 21st Century; also, Slovakia is the only country in the DFoP study to not be included in the Worlds of Journalism study, and Slovakia is not included in the MEDIAACT project. A brief literature search yielded studies on: the use of media as a means for elite-to-elite communication (Örnebring, 2012), the role of investigative journalism (Stetka and Örnebring, 2013), challenges to journalism (Tušer and Hudíková, 2018), the role of legislation in journalism (Belakova, 2013), and studies on council newspapers and how they relate to regulation policy (Lenka Waschkova, 2015).

Other information

Governing framework
Parliamentary democratic republic (EUROPA, 2020)

Parliament
The National Council

Seats in parliament
150 (Czech News Agency, 2020)

Last election
2020 (Politico, 2020)

Seats held by women
20% (The World Bank, 2020a)

Coalition government
OLaNO, We Are Family movement (Sme Rodina), the Freedom and Solidarity party (SaS), and the For the People party (Za ľudí); (Czech News Agency, 2020)

Populist party
Smer (Shotter, 2020)

Origins of key minority groups
Moravians, Roma, Rutherans, Jews (Minority Rights, 2020)

Constitutional text on freedom of speech/expression/the press

  • The freedom of speech and the right to information are guaranteed.
  • Everyone has the right to express his views in word, writing, print, picture, or other means as well as the right to freely seek out, receive, and spread ideas and information without regard for state borders. The issuing of press is not subject to approval procedures. Enterprise in the fields of radio and television may be subject to the awarding of an approval from the state. The conditions shall be laid down by law.
  • The freedom of speech and the right to seek out and disseminate information may be restricted by law, if such a measure is necessary in a democratic society to protect the rights and freedoms of others, state security, public order, or public health and morals.

Media model (Hallin and Mancini, 2004: 67)
not applied

Key events
click here for the BBC’s recent articles on Slovakia.
click here for The Guardian’s recent articles on Slovakia.

Bibliography

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