The government has partially succeeded in improving press freedom and rendering justice for the 2018 murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak. However, progress has been slow and journalists continue to work in a hostile work environment. Both public and privately owned media remain vulnerable to interests unrelated to journalism.
The most influential media outlet is the privately owned TV Markíza, whose editorial independence has been preserved despite a change in ownership in 2020. The public broadcaster RTVS has maintained strong ratings despite having been underfunded for years and vulnerable to political influence. The country has a strong tradition of investigative journalism present in several newspapers and online outlets.
The government’s ambitious plans to improve press freedom and media independence – following the shock due to the 2018 murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak – have only resulted in partial specific measures due to internal conflicts within the ruling coalition. Former prime ministers Igor Matovic and Robert Fico have been among the sources of political attacks on the media, with the latter going so far as to launch baseless accusations of criminal activity against investigative journalists.
Slovak journalists have benefitted from case law for the defense of their rights. After the 2020 elections, parliament passed legislation to improve the protection of journalistic sources and access to public information, as well as to increase transparency of media ownership and funding. But defamation is still punishable by imprisonment.
Various factors undermine the mainstream media’s editorial independence. A small group of oligarchs own several major outlets while the public broadcaster RTVS’s funding remains vulnerable to political influence. A number of smaller privately owned media outlets are growing thanks to the support of their audience and the digital subscription model. Nonetheless, the limited size of this market and the rise of digital platforms hamper the funding of quality news reporting.
While Slovak society is largely conservative, the media are, for the most part, liberal-leaning, which causes tension. Journalists, especially women, are criticised and sometimes attacked online for covering gender-related issues or sexual harassment. Encouraged by verbal attacks from some opposition leaders, opponents of the government’s anti-corruption measures or support for Ukraine have insulted or harassed journalists during protests or on social media.
The double murder of investigative reporter Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova in 2018 was a tragic turning point. Although two of the perpetrators and an intermediary have been convicted, the trial of the alleged instigator, Marian Kocner, and his accomplice is still ongoing. The illegal surveillance of Jan Kuciak and 30 other journalists before his murder has not been resolved. A new, RSF-supported platform aims to track attacks against journalists and help the victims.