As of December 31, 1998

In September, Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar and the ruling Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) lost the general elections to a four-party coalition government headed by Mikulas Dzurinda of the center-right Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK). Dzurinda's government, which has made admittance to NATO and the European Union a priority, faces a daunting list of tasks: cleaning up the destructive effects of the Meciar-era kleptocracy while reforming the constitution and electoral laws, guaranteeing fuller independence of the judiciary, and pushing forward economic reform. The SDK government appointed a new director of Slovak State Television (STV), who replaced pro-Meciar editors and programs.

Before the elections, the HZDS government continued to keep a firm hold on the two channels of the national STV and to demonstrate openly, especially during the election period, its dislike for the independent media. Reporters from independent media outlets were denied access to government documents, briefings, and parliamentary discussions.

Threats and violence toward independent journalists increased with the approach of the September elections. During this time, Andrei Hric, director of the independent Bratislava-based Radio Twist, received anonymous death threats for his exposure of government corruption. And Karol Lovas, a reporter with the station, whose investigative coverage of the government led to the resignation of a Meciar spokesman, was the target of a smear campaign.

In May, Meciar's government passed amendments to the election law, which heavily restricted non-state media's campaign coverage. Article 23(1) allowed only state-funded media to broadcast reports of political activity during the 30-day official campaign period. Article 23(5) banned the publication of pre-election opinion polls for 14 days before the election.

During the run-up to the elections, the private HZDS-affiliated company Gamatex acquired the pro-opposition private television network Markiza TV. The new owners immediately fired the station's director and the news editor. This purge of pro-opposition journalists and the speed with which the sale moved through bureaucratic channels prompted opposition leaders and supporters to suspect that Meciar had engineered the acquisition to redirect Markiza TV's editorial policies. The station broadcast demonstrations protesting the change of ownership and the firings within the 30-day campaign period when independent media were banned from covering election-related activities. In response, the Council on Radio and Television fined the station 3.5 million Slovak crowns (US$120,000) and ordered it to announce three times a day that it had violated the law.

Investigative reporters writing on shady privatization deals and corrupt government officials continued to face intimidation and violence. In August, police stopped Vladimir Bacisin, an investigative reporter for the independent business daily Narodna Obroda, after he had jaywalked across a street in downtown Bratislava.

After demanding Bacisin's identification, they beat him and subsequently detained him overnight. Bacisin believes the abuse was in reprisal for his investigation of illegal practices by VUB Investment Holding and Slovenska Poistovna, private companies with close links to the Meciar coalition.

Attacks on the Press in Slovakia in 1998

08/19/98Vladimir Bacisin, Narodna ObrodaAttacked, Harassed, Legal Action

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.