International Press Institute: New leadership at Slovak public broadcaster raises independence concerns

October 3, 2017

Amid signs that public media in neighbouring Poland and Hungary increasingly serve as the promotional arm of their respective governments, recent changes to the leadership of Radio Television Slovakia (RTVS) are prompting concerns that things could take a turn for the worse here, too.

In the wake of a politically charged selection process, Jaroslav Rezník took over as general director of RTVS in August. Rezník’s turn-of-the-century tenure heading Slovak Radio as an appointee of the semi-authoritarian strongman premier Vladimír Mečiar and continued close ties with the conservative nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS) are viewed as particular cause for concern. He takes over for Václav Mika, who was eligible for a second five-year term and is widely credited with setting RTVS on a positive course as both ratings and public confidence in the news gathering operation showed a marked increase during his tenure.

“When you look at how the news became more objective and trustworthy under Mika, there was no real reason to change – on the contrary,” Rasťo Kužel, of the Bratislava-based media monitoring NGO Memo 98, said. “Rezník has a track record as a ‘yes’ man.”

Public television and radio face stiff competition from the private sector in Slovakia, including the 24-hour television news channel TA3, but are among the most highly trusted sources of information in the country in opinion polls. By mid-September, Rezník was already making his presence felt as he replaced the head of RTVS’s news operation.

“Rezník has been a boss in the media sphere on and off for 20 years, but he still does not understand that news should be independent,” Miroslava Kernová, editor-in-chief of the media news website Omediach.com and one of many prominent Rezník critics, said.

Rezník obtained the job through a June majority vote in parliament. While both Prime Minister Robert Fico’s ruling Smer party and SNS backed him from the start, the government’s third coalition partner, the centre-right Most-Híd, showed a surprise change of heart in voting for Rezník.

“The best ex-thieves are said to make the best property guards,” Most-Híd chairman Béla Bugár told the Sme daily at the time…