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Slovakia: Media freedom groups urge MPs to oppose cuts to RTVS budget

ECPMF

14 December 2023

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The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) today joins Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and other media freedom groups in writing to the Slovak President and members of the National Council to oppose plans to slash the budget of the public broadcaster RTVS and split it into two separate entities.

President of the Slovak Republic Zuzana Čaputová

Chairpersons of the parliamentary clubs of the National Council of the Slovak Republic 

Presidency of the Committee for Culture and Media of the National Council
of the Slovak Republic 

Copy: Minister of Culture of the Slovak Republic Martina Šimkovičová

 

13 December 2023

 

Dear Madam President,

Dear Members of the National Council of the Slovak Republic,

 

The undersigned press freedom and journalists’ organisations express their serious concern about the plan of the Slovak government to cut the funding of the public broadcaster RTVS by 30% and to divide the media into two separate entities. Slashing the budget undermines  sustainability of RTVS’s funding and represents a risk for the public media’s independence, threatening media freedom in Slovakia. We therefore ask you to reject the drastic drop and to adopt – after an in-depth consultation with RTVS – only such a funding and organisational model which guarantees sustainable funding and independence of the public service media.

 

In December 2022, the former government abolished the license fees and in June 2023 the parliament replaced them with direct annual funding from the state budget calculated as a percentage of GDP. A reasonable amount of funding – 0.17% of GDP – was eventually approved by the parliament. The former government also executed a partial reform of the election of the leadership of RTVS with a positive impact on its independence.

 

At its session on 4 December 2023, the new cabinet approved the 2024 state budget which sets the public broadcaster funding at “at least” 0.12%. The unexpected decrease of RTVS’s annual funding by the state from the planned 186 millions euros (0.17% of GDP) to 131 millions euros (0.12% of GDP) creates a pressure on the public media to seek extra subsidies at risk of concessions on its independence. Moreover, by accusing RTVS of bias and promising to “go after” its director general, Prime Minister Robert Fico has already declared his intention to impose control over RTVS.

 

We fear that reduction of the broadcaster’s state funding by 55 millions, (30%), without any prior consultation, nor opportunity to make the necessary cost saving plans is designed to send RTVS into a crisis.

 

We are also concerned that the promise to divide RTVS into separate radio and television companies, which is inscribed in the government’s programme without any credible justification and which would effectively mean changing the media’s leadership, is not meant to be just an organisational measure.

 

The measures fall short of European standards outlined in  by the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. Recommendation CM/Rec(2012)1 of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, states that the public service media’s funding model “cannot be used to exert editorial influence or threaten institutional autonomy.” Furthermore, the recommendation stipulates that “the process for deciding the level of funding should not be able to interfere with the public service media’s editorial autonomy.” The European Parliament’s 2021 resolution calls on EU member states to “ensure stable, open, transparent, sustainable and adequate funding for public service media on a multi-annual basis in order to guarantee their independence from governmental, political and market pressures and thus ensure the diverse European media landscape.”

 

Dear Madam President,

Dear Members of the National Council of the Slovak Republic,

 

In 2023, Slovakia was ranked 17th out of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index which hailed the change of election mode of RTVS’s director general. While expressing its concern in terms of sustainable funding, the European Commission’s 2023 rule-of-law report welcomed the enhancement of the governance of the public service media. An international media freedom mission to Bratislava in February 2023, joined by our organisations, also welcomed recent progress in improving the quality and independence of the broadcaster.

 

The changes planned by the current Slovak government would undermine the press freedom progress made so far. We therefore ask you to resolutely reject the decrease of RTVS’s funding by 30%, to engage in a comprehensive consultation with the public service media on its future funding and organisational model, and to only approve a system which would guarantee sustainable funding and independence of the public broadcaster.

 

By doing so, you would support RTVS’s role in freely and independently broadcasting trustworthy information to citizens as well as help ensure Slovakia meets European standards of public service media. Our organisations stand ready to provide their international expertise in this effort essential for Slovak democracy.

 

Respectfully,

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

International Press Institute (IPI)

European Broadcasting Union (EBU)

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

Free Press Unlimited (FPU)

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