Investigative reporter Ján Kuciak’s murder in February 2018 triggered an unprecedented political earthquake in Slovakia and sent shockwaves through the international community. Kuciak had being doing research for the Aktuality.sk website on alleged links between the Italian mafia and Smer-SD (the left-populist party that heads the ruling coalition), and the alleged embezzlement of EU funds. In an unfinished article published after his death, he accused Prime Minister Robert Fico of direct involvement. The culture and interior ministers were forced to resign and—after major street protests—Fico himself had to follow suit. Like other Slovak politicians, Fico was given to virulent attacks on the media. In November 2016, he described journalists as “filthy anti-Slovak prostitutes” and accused them of trying to damage Slovakia’s EU presidency when asked about alleged procurement irregularities linked to the presidency. In the absence of strong institutions that could protect them, Slovakia’s journalists are increasingly exposed to all kinds of harassment, intimidation, and abuse. Kuciak’s murder has revived questions about the unexplained disappearances of two journalists, one in 2008 and the other in 2015, and has put the issue of journalists’ safety back on the agenda. In recent years, Slovak media that were previously owned by leading international media companies have been acquired by local oligarchs whose main business interests lie outside journalism. RTVS, the public radio and TV broadcaster that had become a symbol of journalistic integrity in recent years, is now also threatened. Its director-general since August 2017 suspended the country’s only investigative TV program after it ran a story critical of a junior party in the ruling coalition to which he is linked. The right of reply to critical media coverage that politicians were granted by a 2007 media law was limited in a 2011 amendment, but defamation is still punishable by up to eight years in prison under a criminal code provision that politicians continue to use to bring complaints against individual journalists and media outlets.
17 in 2017
15.51 in 2017