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The Slovak democracy must not be dismantled in silence 

26 March 2024
The Slovak democracy must not be dismantled in silence 
Cilla Benkö

Writing in the Swedish newspaper Expressen, Swedish Radio Director General and EBU Vice President Cilla Benkö discusses the challenges to independent media in Slovakia and the threat to democracy.

Dismantling a democracy can happen swiftly and independent media are often the first target. In Slovakia, the Putin-friendly and openly anti-journalist Prime Minister Robert Fico is currently attempting to gain control over the public service company RTVS and shut down parts of the country’s judiciary. It is crucial that the international community does not allow this to happen in silence.

About a year ago, I was in Slovakia’s capital, Bratislava, on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day in May. I was invited by the Swedish embassies in the region as part of a Central European tour to highlight the importance of media freedom for healthy democratic societies.

I visited the public service broadcaster RTVS (Radio and Television of Slovakia), I spoke at a press freedom conference, and I met with representatives from several commercial Slovak media outlets. Most importantly, I listened to what researchers, media executives, and journalists had to say about the state of affairs in the country.

The murders of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée had brought the issue of journalist safety in Slovakia to the forefront in 2018. Back then, six years ago, thousands of Slovaks took to the streets to express their discontent. Judges and police chiefs were forced to resign, together with the sitting government led by Prime Minister Robert Fico. A new government promised to improve working conditions for journalists and take a tough stance against corruption. The country also climbed in Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index.

However, over time, the interest of both politicians and the general public faded. A year ago, I encountered testimony of a renewed hostile climate toward journalists, marked by hate speech, threats, and direct political interference. Public service broadcaster RTVS faced particular pressure. The commercial media shared how they had chosen to consciously become completely independent of public funding and secured their own financial flows through, for example, reader revenues.

As the upcoming election approached, a palpable sense of concern hung in the air, and unfortunately, that concern proved to be well-founded.Just a few days after my visit the government resigned, and last autumn populist Robert Fico was re-elected as prime minister. Since taking office, the situation for journalism in the country has significantly deteriorated. Independent media outlets and journalists have been verbally attacked as well as denied interviews and access to the government office. The already underfunded RTVS has faced further budget cuts.

In February, the government pushed through a proposal to shut down a special prosecutor’s office, that focused on corruption cases. Additionally, in early March, the government announced a new law on public media that would give greater political control over the public service broadcaster RTVS.

This development has sparked large-scale protests among thousands of Slovaks, who have once again taken to the streets. Several international media freedom organizations, including the EBU, the International Press Institute (IPI), and Reporters Without Borders (RWB), are now demanding that the proposed legislation be scrapped and urging the European Union to take action.

The proposed legislation, which Fico’s government aims to expedite, contradicts key aspects of the EU’s recently adopted Media Freedom Act. EU Commissioner Vera Jourová has also openly expressed her concerns about the situation in Slovakia.

The loud international opposition is crucial. It is essential that many of us observe, understand, and raise our voices against what is happening. Moreover, the broader public needs to be aware of how much can change in just a year and how quickly something that takes time to build can be torn down. What reality awaits RTVS colleagues, commercial media, and ultimately the population in the EU country of Slovakia, who risk being deprived of the free information and scrutiny of power they are entitled to? 

Democracies must not be dismantled in silence—the price is too high.


Cilla Benkö, Vice- President of the EBU and Director General of Swedish Radio 

Relevant links and documents

Written by

Cilla Benkö Lamborn

Director General