Direct political pressure on journalists has declined significantly since Meciar left office in late 1998, but the lack of a clear policy on media reform has limited the independence of journalists, particularly in the state-run media.
A draft Law on State and Public Employees, for example, initially described journalists and other staff of Slovak Television (STV), Slovak Radio (SR), and the state news agency TASR as subject to the same restrictions as other state employees. Later versions referred to the television and radio networks as public institutions, insulating them somewhat from government pressure, but left the status of TASR employees unclear. Parliament had not yet voted on the bill at year's end, according to local media expert Andrej Skolkay.
On May 17, Parliament passed a Freedom of Information Law that guarantees public access to all unclassified official information. This makes it easier for the independent press to monitor rampant corruption and cronyism in the public sector.
However, several court cases highlighted the significant legal constraints under which Slovak journalists still labor. On March 7, the Second Regional Court in Bratislava sentenced weekly Zmena editor Vladimir Mohorita to four months in prison for "publicly defaming the country and its officials." The charge was brought by Deputy Prime Minister Pal Czaky, who alleged that Mohorita had defamed Slovakia by criticizing the government's decision to allow NATO planes access to Slovak airspace during the NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia.
On March 23, Mohorita filed an appeal denying any wrongdoing and claiming the court had misquoted his original article. His sentence was suspended pending a ruling on the appeal, and no new developments in the case had been reported by year's end. CPJ expressed its dismay about the government's handling of the Mohorita case in an April 12 letter to President Rudolph Schuster.
The Bratislava-based Media Institute told CPJ that since most journalists cannot afford to pay high fines, libel cases are often brought against publishers, which can seriously undermine the financial stability of the papers involved.
Vladimir Mohorita, Zmena
Mohorita, editor of the Slovakian weekly Zmena, was sentenced by the Bratislava Second Regional Court to four months in prison for allegedly defaming the state and its officials.
The charge was brought by Slovak deputy prime minister Pal Czaky, who alleged that Mohorita had defamed Slovakia in a March, 1999 Zmena article that criticized the Slovak government's decision to allow NATO planes access to Slovak airspace during the crisis in Kosovo.
On March 23, Mohorita filed an appeal with the Second Regional Court in Bratislava. He denied any wrongdoing and claimed the court had misquoted his original article. His sentence was suspended pending a ruling on the appeal.
In an April 12 letter to President Rudolph Schuster, CPJ expressed its dismay at the government's handling of the case. Mohorita's appeal was still pending at year's end.