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Slovakia government tries to take control of state TV and radio

FILE - People take part in a protest organised by the Slovakian opposition parties in Bratislava, Wednesday, March. 27, 2024.
FILE - People take part in a protest organised by the Slovakian opposition parties in Bratislava, Wednesday, March. 27, 2024. Copyright Pavol Zachar/Tlacova agentura SR
Copyright Pavol Zachar/Tlacova agentura SR
By Daniel Bellamy with AP
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Brussels fears the move could result in the country's rulers taking full control of the public broadcaster.

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Slovakia’s government has approved a controversial overhaul of state TV and radio.

Populist Prime Minister Robert Fico said the changes were needed because the public broadcaster - known as RTVS - is politically biased. It “is in conflict with the Slovak government,” he claimed.  

The proposed changes would mean RTVA will be replaced by a new organisation.

Slovakia's parliament, where Fico’s coalition government has a majority, is expected to approve the changes in June.

The takeover plan was drafted by Culture Minister Martina Šimkovičová, who represents the Slovak National Party, an ultra-nationalist member of the coalition government. She has worked for an internet television outlet known for spreading disinformation.

Šimkovičová said the current broadcaster gives space only to mainstream views and censors the rest. The broadcaster has denied the claim.

Under her plan, the new broadcaster — Slovak television and radio (STVR) — will have a director selected by a council whose nine members will be nominated by the Culture Ministry and Parliament. The current director has a parliamentary mandate until 2027.

Last month thousands rallied in the capital Bratislava to condemn the plan, which has been widely criticised by journalists, the opposition, international media organisations and the European Commission.

Radio Slovakia International announced state TV and radio employees were organising a "Black Thursday" protest.

According to Reporters Without Borders, a media pressure group, the government's bill defies a report on the rule of law in Slovakia adopted by the European Commission in 2023. 

The report asks the government to “continue with the process of strengthening the rules and mechanisms to enhance the independent governance and editorial independence" of its broadcast media. 

Known for his tirades against journalists, Fico recently labelled a major television network, two national newspapers and an online news website his enemies.

Fico’s leftist Smer party won on a pro-Russian and anti-American platform.

Critics worry Slovakia under Fico will abandon its pro-Western course and follow the direction of Hungary under populist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

The new government immediately halted any arms deliveries to Ukraine.

Thousands have repeatedly taken to the streets across Slovakia recently to rally against Fico’s pro-Russian policies and plans to amend the penal code and cancel a top prosecution dealing with corruption.

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