The International Press Institute (IPI) and its affiliate, the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), today expressed concern at apparent attempts by members of Slovakia’s ruling SMER-SD party to dismiss the head of the public service Radio and Television of Slovakia (RTVS).
On June 12, the Slovak TASR news agency reported that the chair of the Slovakian Parliamentary Committee for Culture and Media (CCM), Dušan Jarjabek, tabled a proposal to dismiss RTVS Director General Miloslava Zemková.
Today, the speaker of Parliament Pavol Paska (SMER-SD) told journalist he was determined to include the proposal to dismiss Zemková on the agenda of the third parliamentary session that started today, as soon as he received the approved resolution for Zemková’s dismissal from the Parliamentary Committee for Culture and Media.
The main reason for Zemková’s dismissal, according to the proposal, is her announcement of a business tender to rent out premises owned by RTVS without informing the RTVS Council, the broadcaster’s governing body. Dušan Jarjabek, MP of the ruling Smer political party, argued that this was in breach of the Act on Radio and Television Slovakia (RTVS), as the tender was announced on April 3 and the RTVS Council only found out later.
However, IPI’s sources in Slovakia said the RTVS Act does not regulate the obligation of the Director General to inform the RTVS Council in advance on announced business tenders.
Furthermore, information about the announced public tender regarding the media complex premises lease was reportedly brought to the attention of the Council in its April session. During that session, the Council adopted the Resolution No. 40/2012, which states that the “RTVS Council takes into consideration the information about the public tender announcement regarding a building/media complex premises lease for the purposes of fulfilment of the RTVS tasks stipulated by the Act No. 532/2010 Coll. on Radio and Television Slovakia and assigns M. Kollár and M. Jesenka as RTVS Council deputies for Selection Committee with an observer status.”
Commenting on developments at RTVS, IPI Executive Board Vice-Chair Pavol Mudry said he felt “sorry that once again political interests may be the real reason behind key policy decisions that affect Slovakia’s public radio and television.”
Mudry added that such suspicions arose as a consequence of the fact that “the official reason provided for the change is really unclear and was not even approved by the RTVS control body.”
In a June 15 letter addressed to Zemková, the director general of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), Ingrid Deltenre, said it was “alarming “to hear that Zemková had been subjected to “enormous political and media pressure” to resign as director general of RTVS.
“Such pressure is totally contrary to the principle that true public service broadcasters must be independent of political influence,” Deltenre said in her letter. “It also appears quite clear that those attempting to remove you are not even playing by the rules.”
Denník SME, one of Slovakia’s most widely-read mainstream broadsheets, reported that Zemková sought an interim judgment at a district court to block her dismissal. Zemková also reportedly said that she had requested three independent legal opinions, all of which confirmed that she had not legally erred.
In an interview with Denník SME, she said that there must be some other reason for her firing since the “way and speed with which the dismissal is taking place indicates as much”.
“It is vital that strong mechanisms be in place to ensure the independence of public service broadcasters from political parties,” IPI Deputy Director Anthony Mills said. “The widespread perception that representatives of the government or the opposition are seeking to influence the decision-making structure of the public service broadcaster compromises the credibility of one of the most important sources of information in a democratic country, with grave consequences for people’s ability to access independent information.”
The IPI Vienna Declaration on Public Broadcasting, adopted by the participants of the IPI European Media Symposium, “From State-Controlled Broadcasting to Public Broadcasting,” held in Vienna, Austria, in September 1993, called for “constitutional and statutory measures to remove the governing and managing bodies of public broadcasters from everyday politics”. It continues: “Leading positions in the media should be open to men and women of achievement, regardless of their political affiliations. Only such openness can create an environment of diversity and high quality.”
The South and East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) supports this statement.