Slovakia: Six parties respond positively to RSF’s pre-electoral appeal for protection of journalists

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) hails the commitment of several Slovak political parties including a frontrunner in the polls to strengthen media freedom in response to its call launched ahead of the parliamentary election. The organisation regrets the lack of reply from former prime minister Robert Fico and will double its vigilance if his party enters the government.

Progressive Slovakia (PS) of the candidate for prime minister Michal Simecka, Hlas-SD of the former prime minister Peter Pellegrini, OLaNO of the ex-premier Igor Matovic and three other parties running in the parliamentary election on 30 September have responded favourably to RSF’s appeal to improve protection of journalists. On 6 September, the organisation called on the parties supporting the country’s EU membership to commit to implementing the recommendations on safety of journalists and against gag lawsuits adopted by the European Commission respectively in 2021 and 2022. Among others, Smer-SSD of the former prime minister Robert Fico (2012-2020) did not respond to the organisation’s call for a campaign pledge.

“We hail the commitments of several parties to improve press freedom which create a basis for effective measures to support trustworthy media and fight against disinformation after the election. We regret that the party of former premier Robert Fico did not respond to our call and we will double our vigilance in case it enters the government, standing ready to take action on the national and international level.

Pavol Szalai
Head of the EU-Balkans Desk at RSF

PS, which currently heads the pre-electoral polls together with Smer-SSD, “is very glad to join the appeal”, according to a member of the presidency of the party, Zora Jaurova. She added that RSF’s call “fully corresponds” with PS’s campaign manifesto.

Lubica Lassakova, former culture minister and member of the presidency of Hlas-SD, created after the split of Smer-SSD in 2020, wrote to RSF that the need for “protection of the exercise of journalism is self-evident”. Stressing the “necessary relationship between journalistic freedom and journalistic responsibility”, she believes that “the future government will have to treat the issue together with the expert community and all stakeholders”.

“The political movement OLaNO is unambiguously in favour of supporting independent journalism and against gag lawsuits”, its spokesperson told RSF. Matus Bystriansky claimed that “no one before us did as much for the safety of journalists as we did by adopting media legislation and cooperating with the Dutch Embassy and the (Investigative) Centre of Jan Kuciak”, pointing to the progress of Slovakia from 35th to 17th place in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index in the last four years. OLaNO led the government from March 2020 to May 2023.

In March this year, the Investigative Centre of Jan Kuciak, which is an independent media and NGO set up in the name of the journalist assassinated in 2018, launched a new mechanism for the safety of journalists with the support of the Embassy of the Netherlands in Slovakia and RSF, and in cooperation with the authorities. Slovakia is, however, far from fully implementing the EU recommendations on safety of journalists. As for the gag lawsuits (SLAPPs), they are facilitated by the continued criminalisation of defamation, punishable by up to eight years in prison. 

The Democrats, created by the former politicians of OLaNO including the ex-premier Eduard Heger, “positively perceive RSF’s appeal and commit willingly to implementing (both) recommendations of the European Commission”, according to a member of the party’s presidency, Kristian Cekovsky. He stressed that the Democrats’ electoral manifesto contains most of the measures demanded by the EU such as better protection of journalists, reducing the political influence exercised on the public broadcaster RTVS and mitigating the penal responsibility of defamation. 

Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), which ruled with OLaNO from 2020 to 2023, responded to RSF only on the issue of SLAPPs. “The party as a whole supports the fight against gag lawsuits aiming to silence journalists”, legal expert and member of parliament for SaS, Alojz Baranik, told RSF. The relevant EU recommendation is, according to him, the “minimal standard” for action. 

Finally, the Christian-Democrat Movement (KDH), “fully agrees with rules for protection of media freedom and pluralism and will make sure they are respected”, its spokesperson Lenka Halamova wrote to RSF promising to “preserve a high level of political culture and communication towards all including the media”.

Smer-SDD and Slovak National Party, which ruled together between 2016 and 2020, as well as the movement We are a family, which was a junior member of the coalition in power from 2020 to 2023, failed to reply to RSF even after repeated email requests.

All political parties and movements mentioned in this press release enjoy various support in the pre-electoral polls ranging from approximately 3 and 20 percent, while the threshold to enter the parliament is 5 percent.

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