Although the authorities attempt to improve press freedom and bring justice for the 2018 assassination of the investigative journalist Jan Kuciak, progress has been slow and journalists work in a hostile atmosphere. Both public and private media remain vulnerable to interests unrelated to journalism.
The most influential media outlet is the private TV Markíza whose editorial independence has been preserved despite its change in ownership in 2020. The public broadcaster RTVS has kept a strong position on the market despite its vulnerability to interests unrelated to its public service mission, which has led to the departure of many journalists over the past five years. The country has a strong tradition of investigative journalism present in several newspapers and online outlets.
The government’s current ambitious plans to improve press freedom and media independence – following the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak in 2018 – are being implemented into specific measures at too slow of a pace due to internal conflicts within the ruling majority. While attacks by members of the government on the media have diminished, the opposition, and in particular former Prime Minister Robert Fico, have gone so far as making baseless accusations to criminalise investigative journalists.
Slovak journalists have traditionally benefitted from a strong Freedom of Information Act and case law that defend their rights. After taking power in 2020, the current government promised new laws to improve the protection of journalists and their sources, to strengthen the editorial and financial independence of public broadcasting, to increase the transparency of media ownership and funding, and to reduce prison sentences for defamation. Their adoption has been, however, progressing slowly.
The editorial independence of the major media outlets is compromised: several private outlets are owned by a small group of oligarchs and the public broadcaster RTVS depends on ad-hoc funding from the government due to insufficient audiovisual licence fees. At the same time, some of the smaller private media thrive thanks to support from their audience and digital subscribing models. In general, however, the small market and the rise of digital platforms render the funding of quality news a big challenge.
While the Slovak society is largely conservative, the media are, for the most part, liberal, which is a source of tension. Journalists, especially women, are criticised and sometimes attacked online for covering issues such as gender or sexual harassment. Encouraged by verbal attacks by some opposition leaders, the opponents of government measures to fight the Covid-19 pandemic or corruption have insulted or harassed journalists during protests or on social media. The hostile atmosphere contrasts with the widespread public support for journalists after Jan Kuciak’s assassination.
The 2018 assassination of the investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova 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 is not resolved either. In addition to frequent online attacks, Slovak journalists have been subjected to physical violence during protests against Covid-19 related restrictions.