|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.