Slovakia: Profound disappointment as suspected mastermind in Ján Kuciak…

Slovakia: Profound disappointment as suspected mastermind in Ján Kuciak murder acquitted again

Following today’s acquittal of the suspected mastermind in the killing of Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak, we, the undersigned international media freedom and journalist organisations, express our profound disappointment, renew our calls for justice and convey our steadfast solidarity with the families of Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová.

This acquittal of businessman Marian Kočner, which was announced earlier today following a retrial at the Specialized Criminal Court, represents another devastating blow to the fight for full justice for Ján and Martina’s killing. The judges voted 2:1 to find Kočner not guilty of ordering the 2018 assassination.

The judges did convict Alena Zsuzsová, a close associate of Kočner, of ordering the hit and sentenced her to 25 years in prison. She was also convicted of ordering the murder of two Slovak prosecutors. Both her and Kočner’s verdicts, which come after the Supreme Court revoked the initial acquittals in June 2021, can be appealed.

Kuciak and Kušnírová were shot dead in their home outside Bratislava on 21 February 2018. Judges again ruled that prosecutors had not presented the concrete evidence necessary to rule beyond reasonable doubt that Kočner – a businessman with links to Slovakia’s political, judicial and security elite – had ordered the journalist’s death. Both he and Zsuzsová are currently serving lengthy sentences for other crimes.

Our first thoughts go to Ján and Martina’s families, who have endured years of painful court hearings and who have yet again been denied full justice and accountability. We share their intense frustration regarding Kočner’s verdict and stand in full solidarity with the couple’s family, loved ones and colleagues at this difficult time.

This repeated failure to secure the conviction of the suspected mastermind is another damaging setback in the fight against impunity for the murder of journalists in Slovakia, and in Europe. This case follows an all-too-common pattern in which the hitmen and facilitators involved in such crimes are put behind bars while the suspected masterminds who ordered the murder evade justice.

Another acquittal for the most serious crime against journalism in Slovakia’s modern history also has worrying implications for the fragile media freedom progress made within the country in recent years. As we process this disappointing setback, we remain as committed as ever to securing full justice for Ján and Martina and will support the families during the appeal to the Supreme Court.

Those who order the killing of a journalist cannot be allowed to act with impunity. The fight for justice will continue.

Signed by:

ARTICLE 19 Europe

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

Free Press Unlimited (FPU)

International Press Institute (IPI)

OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries.

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Media capture Slovakia Library

Slovakia: A story of fragile pluralism, media resilience and…

Slovakia: A story of fragile pluralism, media resilience and the struggle against corruption

As part of the MFRR, the International Press Institute (IPI) today published the new report ‘Media Capture in Slovakia: A story of fragile pluralism, media resilience and the struggle against corruption’.

The report, authored by Peter Hanák, explores the extent of media capture in Slovakia.

Overall, the report finds that media pluralism remains relatively strong compared with Slovakia’s neighbours in the Visegrád region.  While the power of media oligarchs in the country remains problematic, there is a resilient independent media sector.

Nevertheless, a number of challenges exist that require both vigilance and reforms. Examples of the instrumentalization of media abound in particular as politicians and oligarchs have used media over which they have influence to discredit critical journalism and undermine efforts to prosecute the high levels of corruption exposed following the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova, in 2018.

Though the public broadcaster, RTV Slovakia, currently enjoys relatively low levels of political pressure, it has a history of vulnerability to political interference and securing its stability and independence should be a priority. The failure of the government to depoliticize the appointments process and to finalise reforms over its financing leaves it highly vulnerable to political capture in the future.

Media regulators, while enjoying a level of relative pluralism in part due to Slovakia’s fragmented political landscape, still suffer from a political  appointments process that affects the perceived levels of impartiality and professionalism of these bodies. Reforming the appointments process to prioritize criteria of professional expertise and political independence would greatly enhance the capacity and legitimacy of these bodies.

The distribution of state advertising remains highly vulnerable to abuse by politicians seeking to reward political allies in the media. This risk can be addressed by bolstering transparency and introducing rules that ensure all distribution decisions are based on objective, proportionate and non-discriminatory criteria.

Recent reforms to bolster independent journalism and press freedom have helped produce progress on safety and source protection, and by many measures the media is in good shape. However, vigilance and further reforms are required to shore up the country’s defenses against media capture to strengthen the independent press, and the report makes a number of recommendations to this end. With elections due in September there is fear that the progress made in recent years may be rapidly unwound. Moreover, while not directly related to media capture, the continued impunity for the masterminds of the murder of Kuciak and Kusnirova continues to cast a shadow over journalism in the country.

The report was commissioned as part of IPI’s series of reports into media capture in Central and Eastern Europe, which involves the capture of once-independent media houses by vested political or business interests, which collude to control the narrative and serve their own political and financial ends.In return for state advertising funds and lucrative contracts in other industries, governments and oligarchs find mutual benefits in media offering positive, compliant coverage. This stealth-like takeover of news media by oligarchic owners working with state authorities in many central and eastern European countries has severely distorted the free flow of information and eroded media pluralism, with deeply damaging effects on democracy.

For more information on IPI’s work on media capture in Europe please follow this link.

The report was published with the support of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation and as part of IPI’s programme of work in the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a project which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.  MFRR is supported by funding from the European Commission.

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries. 

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Candles are placed during a march in memory of murdered Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova. Library

Analysis: How much has media freedom in Slovakia changed…

Analysis: How much has media freedom in Slovakia changed five years after Ján Kuciak murder?

This week much of Slovakia’s media community came together in Bratislava to commemorate the five-year anniversary of the killing of investigative journalist Já​​n Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová.

By IPI Europe Advocacy Officer Jamie Wiseman


The path to full justice for the double murder has been slow. The hitman and an intermediary are behind bars serving hefty sentences. Now the verdict in the retrial of the alleged mastermind, Marian Kočner, and his associate is expected in the coming months.


Against this backdrop, the messages conveyed during commemorative events this week continue to be the need for full justice, an end to the corrosive culture of corruption and impunity in which the assassination took place, and the need to honour Kuciak’s legacy.


The five-year anniversary also offered an opportunity to look back and reflect on whether, half a decade later, the changes in Slovak politics, judicial authorities, media and society at large have been systemic enough to ensure such an appalling crime is never committed again.


Much has changed in Slovakia since 21 February 2018. Much has not. And while the landscape for press freedom has undergone clear improvement in recent years, there is a palpable sense that, as the country heads into early elections, these gains appear increasingly fragile.

Hard won progress

Turning first to look at the positives, the widespread reforms to the judicial and law enforcement bodies ushered in by the 2020 election victory of anti-corruption party OĽaNO have led to positive changes in how police deal with threats journalists. These issues are taken far more seriously and, since the murder, physical attacks on journalists have been rare.


The sweeping away from power of the Smer-SD party of former Prime Minister Robert Fico – and the subsequent investigations and arrest of high-level officials on corruption charges – have also helped dent the ingrained sense that corrupt elites can act with impunity. Law-enforcement authorities are finally prosecuting corruption unearthed by journalists.


While many challenges remain to unravel this state capture and few high-level convictions have so far been secured, these reforms appear to have helped break down, at least for now, the nexus of political, business and judicial and networks that polluted the rule of law and created the conditions in which a journalist could be killed.


Elsewhere, the recent creation of, a platform led by the Investigative Centre of Ján Kuciak (ICJK) for journalists to report threats and receive support, is a timely initiative that can help increase safety amongst the journalistic profession. The engagement of police and prosecutorial authorities in prosecuting attacks reported to them will be vital.


Legislative reforms passed by the current government, approved after consultation with the journalistic community, have also been positive overall. These include the modernisation of media laws in 2022 which strengthened legal protection for source confidentiality for journalists from online media. New rules on the transparency of media ownership and funding – including obligations for declaring media platforms’ ultimate financial owners – should likewise help tackle disinformation and increase citizens’ trust in the news they consume.


At the systemic levels, robust rules on horizontal and cross media concentration continue to ensure the media ecosystem enjoys relatively healthy levels of pluralism, especially compared to other countries in Central Europe. The country’s landscape for media regulation remains independent. A number of new, nimble digital media outlets are successfully experimenting with new business models and providing high quality news.


The landscape for Freedom of Information (FOI) and government transparency have been significantly improved, with Slovakia’s FOI legislation now among the best in Europe. Unique amendments passed in 2022 that ban journalists from being sued for publishing information obtained through FOI should be a model for Europe.


Serious challenges persist

Despite these positive changes, however, media in Slovakia continue to face many challenges in the exercise of free and independent journalism. Most seriously, verbal attacks and denigrating smear campaigns by high-level politicians continue. Vulgar tirades by Fico were replaced by populist attacks by Igor Matovič, former PM and chairman of the governing party OĽaNO. Even on the day of the anniversary, Matovič abused the memory of Kuciak murder to try and delegitimise critical media reporting. While political leaders vow to denounce such threats, their pledges fall short when it comes to members of their own political parties.


This demonization of journalists acts as a signpost for online abuse of journalists and deliberately sows distrust in independent media in the public, fostering further polarization. Worse yet, this harassment is one the rise. According to a recently published survey of more than 400 journalists organized by the Investigative Centre of Ján Kuciak, around two thirds of media workers have experienced some form of threat of attack within the last year. Online harassment is the most common threat. This behaviour is normalized by thin-skinned politicians who see journalists not as watchdogs but as scapegoats. Left unchecked, this divisive rhetoric can – as we tragically saw in the run up to the murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta – create a climate in which critical and investigative journalists are legitimate and isolated targets for attack.


It is shocking it is that in a country where a journalist was murdered just five years ago, leading politicians continue to launch vicious verbal attacks against the press and apparently having learned nothing.


Meanwhile, the mass, illegal surveillance of journalists carried out before the killing on behalf of Kočner remains unpunished and questions remain unanswered about the possible involvement of individuals within state authorities. Rather than being a thing of the past, the surveillance in 2021 of a prominent journalist from independent media outlet Denník N also bore alarming echoes of the mass surveillance carried out under the previous Fico government.


In the legal sphere, while the Justice Ministry has tabled long overdue amendments to the criminal code, journalists convicted of defamation in Slovakia still face prison sentences of between two and eight years. The current law, though never enforced by the courts, creates a chilling effect and remains among the harshest in Europe. The lack of a functioning majority in parliament makes it unlikely such reforms will be passed before the election. Likewise, a much-needed amendment to the criminal code providing aggravated penalties for crimes committed against journalists due to their work remains parked in the ministry. Though not as prevalent in other EU countries, vexatious lawsuits and SLAPPs pose a serious legal threat.


While the public broadcaster RTVS has benefited from process of depoliticization and the transparent appointment of a respected new Director General, the government failed to win support in parliament for its proposed reforms to the selection process for the Director General and the oversight council. Until these laws governing RTVS are updated, the broadcaster will continue to be open to interference and politicized appointments by undemocratic forces. More pressingly, the scrapping of the licence fees for RTVS by the government as part of its broader budget negotiations has left the broadcaster in a precarious position. Unless a sustainable new financing model is found in the coming months, it will be left operating in a deficit by June 2023.


Oligarchic ownership of many of the country’s largest private media remains a threat to editorial independence This situation worse at the regional and local level, where media face serious threats to their editorial independence due to the proximity to, and financial dependence on, municipal administrations. The lack of transparency in the criteria used for the allocation of state advertising meanwhile continues to pose concerns. A much-criticized levy on the largest private broadcasters, though later scrapped, led to concern about retaliatory taxes in response to critical reporting on the government. It is clear that challenges persist.


Fragile progress in the balance

Hanging over the media landscape in Slovakia is the fact that full justice for the murder of Jan and Martina remains elusive. A date for the new verdict in the retrial has been floated for April 2023. Even if a guilty verdict is reached, appeals to the Supreme Court could drag the case out for many more months. The decision will be closely watched across Europe.


Justice for the families is naturally the prime concern. But if the alleged mastermind is ultimately convicted, it would be an extremely rare example globally in which all those suspected of involvement in the targeted killing of a journalist- from the hitman to the middleman up to the mastermind – are found guilty and put behind bars. This would set a global example and help solidify the rule of law in Slovakia.


Outside the courtroom of the Specialized Criminal Court, progress has undoubtedly been achieved in Slovakia. Trust in the work of police amongst the journalistic community has risen. Reforms of judicial and law enforcement bodies continue. High-level corruption revealed by journalists is being properly investigated. The current government has implemented important legislative reforms that benefit the media.


Yet at the same time, the toxic entanglement of powerful business and political interests is proving difficult to eradicate and can easily return. Denigration and verbal attacks against critical media by high-level politicians continue. Online harassment of journalists and Orbán-style smears against “Soros-funded” media are becoming ever more common. The sense of insecurity for journalists remains.


Taken together then, while there is a perception amongst journalists that the recent changes in the press freedom climate have generally been positive, opportunities for even more progressive reforms were missed and in some areas, particularly online attacks on journalists, the landscape is just as problematic as it was when Jan Kuciak was murdered. The respite experienced by journalists after the killing in terms of verbal attacks is over.


It is clear from the conversations we had in Bratislava with media, civil society, and reform-minded politicians that the recent progress, while significant, is also fragile and has not been fully consolidated. And with anti-democratic forces on the rise ahead of the September 2023 elections – including Fico, who was ousted by protests following the murder – there remains clear room for concern. Regardless of its political persuasion, the next government must commit to keeping the reform agenda on track. Anything less would fail to honour the legacy of Ján Kuciak.

This article by IPI, and the mission to Bratislava, were part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries. The project is co-funded by the European Commission.

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Slovakia: Fifth anniversary of Kuciak and Kušnírová’s killing marked…

Slovakia: Fifth anniversary of Kuciak and Kušnírová’s killing marked by fragile press freedom progress

Five years after the assassination of Já​​n Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová, Slovak judges are nearing their judgment in the retrial of the alleged mastermind of the murder of’s journalist and his fiancée.

While the hitmen and an intermediary of the February 2018 killing have already been convicted to long prison sentences, suspect Marián Kočner, charged with ordering the crime, was acquitted. With the retrial verdict expected in April 2023, our organisations renew our call for full justice for the double murder.


The undersigned organisations conducted a fact-finding and advocacy mission in the country to express their support to the families and colleagues of Já​​n Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová and as well as to evaluate press freedom in Slovakia five years after their murder. We took active part in the commemorative events and met with Slovak journalists. In meetings with the President, Prime Minister and political parties, we encouraged them to continue reforms and implement new measures to improve safety of journalists and independence of the media – including the public broadcaster RTVS – and to protect against abusive lawsuits and defend whistleblowers. Like the road to full justice for Já​​n and Martina’s assassination, Slovakia’s progress on media freedom remains fragile.


As political parties prepare for early elections scheduled for September 2023, our organisations call for new political consensus and commitments to improve media freedom and the safety of journalists to prevent any future killing of a journalist and allow Ján Kuciak’s colleagues to continue his legacy of public interest reporting.


1. Safety of journalists

After the 2020 elections, law enforcement bodies – the police, special prosecution and the courts – started tackling corruption revealed by journalists, which won them their trust. But full justice has not yet been served for either the assassination of Ján Kuciak or for other crimes against journalists such as their massive surveillance by “Kocner’s squad”, a network of individuals paid to supply information to the businessman. At the same time, the new survey conducted by the Investigative Centre of Ján Kuciak (ICJK) within the project shows Slovak journalists are most frequently targeted with online and verbal attacks. 


One of the greatest threats journalists in Slovakia are facing today are verbal attacks including denigrating smear campaigns from politicians, which acts as a signpost for members of the public to further carry out online abuse. These attacks from politicians – which should be unequivocally condemned – remain largely unsanctioned.


Political leaders and parties should:

  • Commit to providing law enforcement authorities with all necessary means to bring about justice for crimes against journalists and improve their protection in line with the European Commission’s Journalist Safety Recommendation from September 2021. 
  • Pledge to respond positively if Slovakia’s new protection mechanism,, requests cooperation. 
  • Pledge to ban verbal attacks and smear campaigns against media, and to condemn such attacks and sanction party members who violate the ban.
  • Pass amendments to the criminal code to strengthen punishments for aggravated attacks and threats against journalists targeted for their work.


2. Independence of the media

In 2022, Parliament passed important bills strengthening the legal protection of confidentiality of journalistic sources as well as reinforcing transparency of media ownership and funding. The former Director General of the public broadcaster RTVS, under whose mandate more than 30 journalists had quit, was replaced after a transparent election in parliament. Lawmakers have, however, failed to fundamentally reform the heavily political selection process. Moreover, as of July 2023, they decided to remove the licence fees, the main source of funding, and replace them with state subsidies pending a long-term solution. It was reported to the mission that the new Director General enjoys the general trust of the media community.


The current government should swiftly propose a new mechanism which will guarantee adequate and stable funding for RTVS, free of political pressures and overseen by an independent body. A public consultation involving the broadcaster should also be organised. After the next general election, political parties should commit to reforming the selection process of the public media’s Director General and its oversight body to further increase RTVS’ independence. By doing so, political leaders should be inspired by good practice and the positive elements of the European Commission’s proposed European Media Freedom Act.


3. Protection against abusive lawsuits and access to information

We welcome the commitment by the government to implement the European Commission’s recommendation against Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) and to support the proposed anti-SLAPP Directive. We call on all parties to follow this lead and pledge similar reforms to tackle vexatious lawsuits at the national level.


We are concerned that defamation remains punishable in Slovakia by a prison sentence of two to eight years. Although such sentences, among the harshest in the EU, are not applied by courts, they allow politicians and businessmen to exercise pressure on journalists. Media continue to be targeted by civil lawsuits with requests for damages of tens of thousands of euros. The Ministry of Justice has proposed to decrease the maximum prison sentence for defamation to one year and – in case of significant damage – to two years. Political parties are called upon to remove altogether prison sentences for defamation and to fully decriminalise defamation.


The legal framework for Freedom of Information (FOI) remains strong overall and among the best in the EU. It is positive that the Amendments to the FOI Act were passed by Parliament in 2022, banning the lawsuits against journalists for publishing information obtained via FOI requests. We welcome the establishment of the Office for the Protection of Whistleblowers, urge the government to transpose the EU Whistleblower Directive in full, and take all measures to provide maximum protection to all whistleblowers.


The assassination of Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová led to sweeping societal and political changes in Slovakia. However, the mastermind of the murder has still not been convicted and the authorities have yet to take all necessary measures to protect journalists and defend independent media. The end of impunity must become a reality and the new political cycle must be turned by political parties into an opportunity to strengthen press freedom.



ARTICLE 19 Europe

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

Free Press Unlimited (FPU)

International Press Institute (IPI)

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries.

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Slovakia Mission Library

Slovakia: Press freedom groups to visit Bratislava for Ján…

Slovakia: Press freedom groups to visit Bratislava for Ján Kuciak murder anniversary

Between 20 and 21 February 2023, a delegation of international media freedom organisations will conduct a joint mission to Bratislava to mark the five-year anniversary of the killing of Slovak investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová.

The aim of the mission is twofold. Firstly, to take part in the anniversary events and express solidarity with the families and the Slovak journalistic community as the retrial of the alleged mastermind at the Specialised Criminal Court reaches its final stage.


Secondly, five years after the assassination, to evaluate the security of journalists and the legal framework for their work, to understand the challenges facing independent journalism in private and public media, and to take the pulse of overall press freedom in the country.


The main question the delegation will seek to answer is: five years on from the killing, have the changes in Slovak politics, legislation, law enforcement, media industry and society been systemic enough to ensure the murder of a journalist never happens again and that media professionals can work freely?


The mission will be joined by the International Press Institute (IPI), European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Free Press Unlimited (FPU) and ARTICLE 19 Europe. The mission is part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR).


During the visit, the delegation will meet with editors and journalists of the major Slovak media including the public broadcaster RTVS. The organisations will discuss their proposals for the improvement of press freedom at meetings with representatives of the government, the opposition, the police presidency, chief prosecutor’s office and other public officials. Members of the delegation will speak at the conference “Media Freedom 2023” organized on 20 February in Bratislava by the Ministry of Culture under the auspices of the Media Freedom Coalition.


Interim findings for the mission will be shared via press conference at 15.00 on 21 February at the European Information Centre, Palisády 29, 811 06 Staré Mesto, Bratislava.

Press contacts

For more information and press contacts, please contact:

  • Flutura Kusari, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom +383 49 236 664.
  • Pavol Szalai, Reporters Without Borders, +33 7 82 31 50 98.
  • Jamie Wiseman, International Press Institute,
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Memorial photo and candles for Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova are seen in Trnava, Slovakia, on 29th February, 2020. Kuciak, a Slovak investigative journalist, along with his girlfriend, was found shot dead on 25 February 2018 in their home in Slovakia Allgemein

How Slovak politicians did not learn from the murder…

How Slovak politicians did not learn from the murder of a journalist

Recent legal reforms show promise, yet discrediting attacks on journalists continue


By IPI contributor Beata Balogová, editor-in-chief of SME

Igor Matovič, the current finance minister of Slovakia and former prime minister, sailed to power on the wave of public anger and disappointment that in 2018 followed the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová.


“Permanent attacks on journalists, defamations, suggesting that journalists are anti-Slovak prostitutes and enemies of the nation” – Matovič listed the sins of former prime minister Robert Fico against the press in an official press release on the day the public learned about the murders. He blamed Fico for “creating an atmosphere” that resulted in the killing of a journalist.

Robert Fico made journalists who uncovered corruption scandals of his governments targets through his permanent attacks. In less than a month after the murders, he had to resign on the heel of massive anti-corruption protests.

In the following parliamentary elections in 2019, Matovič, who throughout his political career used findings of top investigative journalists to build an image of himself of an anti-corruption activist, defeated Fico and became the next prime minister.

But how did it happen that almost five years later Matovič is not far behind Fico when it comes to verbal attacks against journalists? Most recently Matovič likened critical journalists to propagandists of Adolf Hitler and suggested that journalists can be bought for 500 euros to write favorable stories about their client. On a live radio show he also said he would gradually take down the corrupt journalists.


Promises and reality

The bouquet of political promises over the grave of Jan and Martina included stronger protection for journalists. This should have partially materialized in a constitutional law granting a special status for journalists along with an equal approach of state institutions to private and state-owned or public media. This law would also curb the possibility of state intervention (such as nationalization) against private media, for example.

The draft of this law is still parked at the ministry of culture, and it is unlikely that this government will find enough political will to pass such legislation.

The parliament, however, in June 2022 did adopt a long-due package of media laws to replace the legislation that had been ignoring the existence of digital media. The beginnings were promising, with the process appearing to reflect what one would find in a press-freedom-conscious country. The ministry of culture consulted on the draft with publishers of key media and experts so that it creates equal ground for different types of media (print, digital, broadcast).

The ambition is to bring more transparency to media ownership by creating a register for media. The state can remove any media from the register if it is financed by someone from the UN sanction list. Media companies must report their sponsors and all financial donations over 1,200 euros annually to the state. The legislation also introduces regulation for video-sharing platforms.

However, in parliament the law became a victim of political bargaining. In a last-minute move, part of the ruling coalition conditioned the adoption of the law packages on the insertion of a “right of reply” for public officials who feel that a media report affects their privacy, honour or dignity into the legislation. This applies also to opinions if these rise from false information.

It was either with a right to statement or no legislation passed at all. Journalists felt that the right of statement was an act of revenge from the ruling coalition in response to journalists’ critical approach to the government and the way they fulfilled their watchdog role during the pandemic.


Inspiration from Orbán

In September 2022, the Ordinary People, the party of Matovič, unexpectedly and without any previous discussion submitted to the parliament a proposal to impose a levy on the largest private broadcasters. The public broadcaster would not pay such a levy under this proposed legislation. If adopted, the levy would be a discriminatory measure that directly threatens independent media and allows the state to make interventions into their operation, media lawyers and press freedom advocates have warned.

Many see behind the move an inspiration from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has been trying to suffocate the last television station that still broadcasts critical news, RTL Klub. Earlier this year Orbán announced the reintroduction of a tailor-made tax for broadcasters, like the one he had to kill four years ago after massive criticism from European institutions. Since the announcement, the government provided no further details, thus the broadcaster did not know what to expect. However, on October 19 the Orbán government said it will not collect the advertisement tax next year.

Matovič did not discuss this law with experts or the independent broadcasters.


Ján and Martina

It was clear from the day of the murder that some politicians would abuse the memory of Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová, using them for their own benefit. Matovič would often refer to Jan Kuciak when lashing out at independent media for criticizing his political performance.

When marking the anniversary of the murder in 2022, in a rather ambiguous statement, he said he wished that journalists become like Ján Kuciak. He publicly lashed out at Kuciak’s editor at Aktuality, Peter Bárdy, and said that he does not come anywhere close to Kuciak and only pretends to be his mentor. He called Bardy a shame.

Matovič had a chance to change the approach of politicians towards the media in Slovakia –  not only in the sense of improving the legal environment but also cleaning the atmosphere of hate and verbal attacks. Instead, he sees himself as a victim of the media and compared his situation to those of Holocaust victims. The fact that he is now finance minister, and therefore wields signficiant influence in government, represents a challenge to the independent media as well: having to ponder when to react and when to ignore his attacks against the press.

Orbán succeeded in building elected autocracy in Hungary because he completely captured the press and significantly complicated the functioning of the independent media. Therefore, people in Slovakia should be disturbed by similar tendencies, including politicians describing the press as an organized criminal group or enemies of the nation.

This article is part of IPI’s reporting series “Media freedom in Europe in the shadow of Covid”, which comprises news and analysis from IPI’s network of correspondents throughout the EU. Articles do not necessarily reflect the views of IPI. This reporting series is supported by funding from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and by the European Commisson (DG Connect) as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response coalition.

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Detail of the national flag of Slovakia waving in the wind with blurred european union flag in the background on a clear day. Democracy and politics. European country. Library

Slovakia: Government pushes ahead with ambitious media reform program

Slovakia: Government pushes ahead with ambitious media reform program

New laws on source protection and media ownership transparency provide model for neighbouring countries

By IPI contributor Miroslava Kernová,

In recent months Slovakia has passed important legislative changes which will ensure a better media environment and move the country closer to standards outlined by the recently published European Media Freedom Act (EMFA).

Moreover, in addition to the laws already passed, others are in preparation. If the full package is achieved, Slovakia can become a leading example of press freedom for other EU countries, such as Hungary or Poland, where press freedom continues to face major challenges from media capture.

In its program statement (2020-24), the current government promised a complex reform which would reflect modern changes in the media environment. The changes this reform introduces and proposes are revolutionary by Slovak standards.

The problem with previous Slovak media legislation was that it did not reflect the online environment, titled the scales in favour of political forces, and allowed ways for these forces to influence public media.

The motivation for the change is also public pressure for better protection of journalists after the brutal murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his girlfriend Martina Kušnírová in 2018.


Reforms passed already

In August, the parliament passed a new Act on Media and the Act on Publications, replacing two outdated laws, the Press Act and the Compulsory Copies Act.

These new laws strengthen the protection of journalists, extend source protection to online media, and bring greater transparency to media ownership and funding, which strengthens their credibility against media disseminating disinformation.

Firstly, under the new Act on Media and Act on Publications, the right to protect the confidentiality of sources – which was in the past only guaranteed for broadcast and print media journalists – has been extended to include journalists from online media.

Secondly, media outlets must also declare any investor or donor who invests more than €2,000 per year. This change should make the media environment in Slovakia more transparent. A number of anonymous sources of disinformation, pro-Russian or politically motivated websites operating in Slovakia would have to declare their real “final beneficiaries” in a public register, which will allow anyone to verify whose is behind these outlets. For non-compliance with this obligation, media may receive a warning or a fine of up to €20,000.

Thirdly, the new law also strengthens the protection of minors, improves access to audio-visual content for the disabled by increasing quotas for multimodal access, and specifically promotes broadcasting for national minorities and ethnic groups in public service broadcasting.

It also regulates the conditions for television and radio, regardless of whether they broadcast standardly or online, and introduces several rights and obligations for television and radio. Every viewer will now be able to find out who owns a given medium and there will be a register where all the information will be available. This will be administered by the Ministry of Culture, which is to establish the register within 30 months of the adoption of the law.

In addition, the law redefines general rules for advertising in both public and private media and, in line with European requirements, introduces the notion of community periodicals into the Slovak legislation and allows for the application of self-regulatory mechanisms.


Last minute amendments from politicians

The downside of the new media laws, however, is that MPs in the last steps of finalising the legislation process introduced a “right to expression” for public officials into it, thus securing for themselves more media space than ordinary citizens. The right to expression for public officials was only included in the bill at the end of the second reading in parliament – as amendments by MPs from Sme rodina and OĽaNO.

“Politicians have their channels of communication. The most followed profiles on social networks belong to politicians, they express themselves in press conferences that are broadcast. So there is no reason for a politician to exercise his right to express himself in the exercise of his public office,” media lawyer Tomáš Kamenec told the daily SME.

In the original draft law, the right to expression could only be used to deny, supplement, clarify or explain factual allegations. Parliament eventually approved amendments that extended the right to expression to value judgments based (columns or opinion pieces) on disputed claims.

Alexej Fulmek from the Association of Print and Digital Media (ATDM) and CEO of the Petit Press publishing house considers the adoption of the “right to expression” as a step backwards. “Unfortunately, politicians in Slovakia are mostly under the impression that the media are causing harm to this country and that they are the ones who have to fight them. They don’t understand that the role of the media is to be critical, especially towards politicians. In this atmosphere the idea prevailed that politicians need some ‘stick’ against the media. This probably seemed to them as an adequate solution,” Fulmek told Strategie magazine.


Increasing protection for journalists

Additional planned changes deal with the protection of journalists. Draft amendments to the Criminal Code would remove the long-criticised prison sentence for defamation, which has been a major threat to journalists in Slovakia for years. Under the current law, defamation carries a prison sentence of two to eight years. Under the new legislation, defamation would not carry a prison sentence.

The planned amendment to the criminal code also introduces so-called “special motives” for crimes, which will include a crime committed against someone for exercising of their job, profession or function. This may contribute to better protection of journalists and other professions (doctors, teachers, security forces…) who face many threats and can face attacks in their work. A crime committed with a specific motive will carry higher penalty.

For now, the draft of this law remains parked at the ministry of culture. Questions remain over whether the government will find the political will to pass such legislation.


Further changes planned

The Ministry of Justice has also proposed amendments to extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act. The amendment expands both the scope of information to be provided and the persons obliged to provide it. For example, the draft also extends the list of companies that are obliged to provide information to state-owned companies and second- and third-tier subsidiaries of state-owned companies, which are not covered by the current law.

The proposal also extends the mandatory disclosure of information to persons seeking public office as well as to public officials themselves. It also introduces an obligation to publish all amendments to contracts subject to mandatory publication.

The Ministry of Culture wants to implement the PersVeilig (Press Safe) platform for greater protection of journalists in Slovakia, following the example of the Netherlands.

In 2019, the PersVeilig platform was launched in the Netherlands to improve the safety of journalists. The platform was also created because although journalists faced threats, they often did not report them because they felt they were not sufficiently dealt with by the police. PersVeilig improves cooperation between journalists, their employers, the police and prosecutors.

The Slovak Ministry of Culture wants to work with the Netherlands to improve the protection of journalists domestically. “We are not talking about whether it should be an organisation, a platform, a technical or procedural solution. What we want is to reach a concrete result that can be implemented and traced,” said Radoslav Kutaš, the ministry’s state secretary, told Denník N.

If all these plans are indeed implemented, Slovakia will meet many of the requirements of the European Media Freedom Act regarding of the protection of media pluralism and independence, and in some respects may even go beyond them, such as the ambition to create a special platform to protect journalists.


Challenges remain

Despite many positive ambitions, the media environment in Slovakia continues to face problems. Journalists, especially those from the opinion-making media, are constantly targets of verbal attacks from politicians, mainly from former Prime Minister Igor Matovic, but also from the opposition.

For example, the deputy chairman of the opposition Smer party, Ľuboš Blaha, regularly dehumanises journalists. Matovič, who leads the biggest party in parliament, also regularly attacks journalists on his Facebook page and recently accused unspecified media of corruption, “spreading lies” and compared the work of Slovak journalists to Nazi propaganda.

In Slovakia, the problematic environment for independent public service media also remains a major issue. The main problem is that both the director and the supervisory boards of Slovak Radio and Television (RTVS) are elected in parliament after political agreements are made. Politicians still have influence over the funding of public service media. Changes need to be made to guarantee that public service media management and funding are more independent and more resistant to political pressures.

Even if the political will is there, the road ahead contains multiple pitfalls. The forthcoming changes may be stalled by the current unstable political situation that brings about the possibility of the fall of the current government and of early national parliamentary elections, which may result in a government of such parties that do not favour the idea of a free media.

However, if the planned changes are passed, Slovakia would take major steps forward in strengthening the legal frameworks for media freedom and provide a positive example to follow for other EU Members States in Central and Eastern Europe in the years to come.

This article is part of IPI’s reporting series “Media freedom in Europe in the shadow of Covid”, which comprises news and analysis from IPI’s network of correspondents throughout the EU. Articles do not necessarily reflect the views of IPI. This reporting series is supported by funding from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and by the European Commisson (DG Connect) as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response coalition.

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Slovakia: Deputy PM’s attacks undermined government’s broader efforts to…

Slovakia: Deputy PM’s attacks undermined government’s broader efforts to strengthen press freedom

The undersigned international media freedom and journalists organisations today express dismay over the recent attempts by deputy Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovič to denigrate the country’s media and warn they were undermining wider efforts by the government to improve the landscape for media freedom.

In recent weeks, Matovič, the former prime minister and current finance minister, launched numerous verbal attacks on the media, including insulting posts on Facebook which personally attacked the editor-in-chief of the newspaper Denník N, Matúš Kostolný, over a critical opinion piece.


Speaking in parliament, Matovič, who is also leader of the largest party in government, then accused unspecified media of being corrupt and during a speech on 29 September again accused the the country’s media of “spreading lies” and likened their journalism to Nazi propaganda.


These comments clearly overstepped the bounds of legitimate criticism and represented unacceptable attacks on independent journalism which were rightly condemned. Our organisations welcome Prime Minister Eduard Heger’s statement defending journalists and the criticism of the minister’s comments by nine MPs from his OĽANO party.


We also stand behind the powerful joint statement issued on September 30 by 22 of the country’s leading editors-in-chief, who condemned the minister’s rhetoric and refused to be pressured into silence for carrying out their role as public watchdogs.
While we note the statement of apology addressed by Matovič “to all honest journalists” on October 3, this will only have credibility if followed up by action. We therefore urge the minister to refrain from making any further unjustified accusations of the press and to recognise that public figures holding elected office have a duty to act responsibly and be prepared to accept a higher level of public scrutiny.


If repeated, Matovič’s attacks will undermine the coalition government’s broader efforts to improve the landscape for press freedom. The parliament has passed important bills strengthening the protection of the confidentiality of journalistic sources, as well as increasing transparency of media ownership and funding. The Justice Ministry has tabled amendments to widen the scope of the Freedom of Information Act and decrease prison sentences for defamation. While full justice for the 2018 assassination of the journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée has not yet been reached, Slovak law-enforcement authorities are prosecuting corruption reported by journalists. Internationally, Slovakia has worked towards an ambitious European Media Freedom Act.


Moving forward, we hope to see the government continue this reform agenda and for an end to all further verbal attacks against the media. Our organisations will continue to closely monitor the situation in Slovakia in the coming weeks and months.

Signed by:

  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries and Ukraine.

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Slovakia: Remembering Ján Kuciak: On fourth anniversary of murder,…

Slovakia: Remembering Ján Kuciak: On fourth anniversary of murder, IPI renews call for justice

Retrial of suspected masterminds must exhaustively consider all evidence. Today marks four years since the brutal murder of Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová in their home. The IPI global network today remembers Ján and Martina, and stands with their families, friends, and colleagues in the ongoing fight for justice. The retrial of the suspected masterminds, which begins later this month, must exhaustively consider all evidence in the case.

On February 21, 2018, Slovak investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, archeologist Martina Kušnírová, were brutally murdered in their home. As a journalist working for the online news site, Kuciak had uncovered allegations of tax fraud and financial crime implicating prominent business and political leaders in Slovakia. The double murder sparked the largest protests in Slovakia since the Velvet Revolution, and led to the resignations of Prime Minister Róbert Fico, Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák, Culture Minister Marek Maďarič, and Chief of Police Tibor Gašpar.

Four years after Kuciak’s murder, the trial of the alleged masterminds is still ongoing. The fight for justice remains open. Prosecutors have alleged that controversial businessman Marian Kočner ordered Kuciak’s killing in response to Kuciak’s coverage of Kočner’s political and financial dealings, and asked a trusted associate, Alena Zsuzsová, to arrange it. Kočner and Zsusová were acquitted by a criminal court in 2020 after a months-long trial.

Last year, however, the Slovak Supreme Court overturned the acquittal decision, ordering a retrial. The retrial will begin on February 28, 2022, with judges expected to take into account evidence that was excluded from the first round of proceedings. IPI has closely monitored the trial, including attending several hearings in-person.

“The IPI global network today remembers Ján and Martina, whose lives were viciously cut short”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “We will not forget them, and, together with the courageous media community in Slovakia, we will not stop fighting for justice. This case remains open until every single person who played a role in these murders is behind bars. As the retrial begins, the Specialized Criminal Court now has a clear task: it must exhaustively consider all evidence and the full circumstances of this case. The deficiencies identified by the Supreme Court must be addressed and the logic of the original ruling scrutinized.”

High hopes

“Today we remember Ján Kuciak and  Martina Kušnírová and we await the retrial on February 28”, Editor-in-Chief Peter Bárdy told IPI. “We have good hopes that justice will be brought to them. The Slovak Supreme Court, which overturned the acquittal of Kočner, said a lot of mistakes were made by the first court. This new case will include a lot of new evidence. I am looking towards the future, with fair and justified results. That is what I am expecting.”

Despite nationwide protests after Kuciak’s killing, Slovakia is still struggling with fair and independent journalism, Bárdy told IPI. “After the murder in 2018, and after all the protests that followed, people believed that we would start a new period. A more democratic period, a fairer period. As journalists too, we hoped to have a better position. That the politicians would accept that we are a pillar of democracy, that we’re not enemies of the politicians, or enemies of the state. But after this time, we see that that journey is not easy.”

Dangerous hostility

After Kuciak’s death, several politicians have continued to verbally attack journalists, such as former Prime Minister Igo Matovič, who last year wrote on his Facebook page that “the journalists with Kuciak’s quality are to be counted on two hands in Slovakia – the rest is often superficial, often biased”. “During Matovic’ leadership, we wrote many articles about his government”, Bardy said. “He took those as personal attacks and started to fire back at the media by insulting us. This is very dangerous, as it creates a hostile climate against journalists.”

Some of the worst attacks, however, have come from former Prime Minister Fico, who made headlines for calling journalists “dirty, anti-Slovak prostitutes” while still in office. Just last month, Fico referred to journalists at leading independent media outlets Denník N, Sme, and Aktuality as an “organized crime group, and said law enforcement should start investigating how these journalists damage the statehood and to what extent they attack the state bodies of the Slovak Republic”.

On February 28, Bardy himself will not attend Kočner’s retrial, due to limited space in the courtroom. “There is only space for one journalist per outlet, unfortunately. But one of our journalists will be there the whole time to cover the case. We will watch it closely and really hope justice will be brought to Ján, Martina and their families.”

This statement by IPI is part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

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Slovakia: Two Denník N journalists face charges for Kuciak…

Slovakia: Two Denník N journalists face charges for Kuciak murder probe revelation

IPI calls for criminal indictment to be dropped immediately

  • UPDATE 21-09-2021: Shortly after publication of this article, it was reported that the Bratislava Regional Prosecutor’s Office has annulled the criminal indictment as illegal and unfounded. IPI welcomes this vital vindication of Denník N’s public interest reporting.


The IPI global network today condemns the criminal charges against two Slovak journalists from independent daily Denník N involving the publication of a 2018 article related to the Ján Kuciak murder investigation. IPI urges the authorities to immediately drop the indictment.

On September 20, it was reported that the Slovak police prosecutor’s office had filed charges against Denník N investigative journalist Monika Tódová and Deputy Editor-in-Chief Konštantín Čikovsky. The charges stem from a report published in October 2018 in which the journalists revealed that former journalist-turned-spy chief Peter Tóth had monitored several journalists at the behest of Marián Kočner, the alleged mastermind in the murder, including Kuciak and Tódová herself.

Police prosecutors have now accused both journalists of revealing confidential information by disclosing Tóth’s identity as a secret witness. If found guilty, they could spend up to one year in prison.

“The indictment of Monika Tódová and Konštantín Čikovský is a deeply disturbing attack on press freedom in Slovakia”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “Their reporting was accurate and clearly in the public interest. It is therefore outrageous that they are now facing criminal charges for doing their job. Moreover, the timing of this complaint, years after the article was published and just weeks before the expiration of the statutory time limit, itself raises serious questions. We call for the immediate withdrawal of this indictment as well as for a review as to why it was issued in the first place. The IPI global network stands in solidarity with Denník N and its journalists, who, together with other leading Slovak media, have played a crucial role in ensuring that the truth about the murder of Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová, and the circumstances behind it, comes to light.”

The journalists have three days to file an appeal to the indictment, Denník N’s editor-in-chief, Matúš Kostolný, told IPI. “We will definitely do so and our lawyers are already preparing the appeal.” Kostolný said he “strongly believed” the Bratislava prosecutor would accept the appeal and drop the charges. “We published an article which was correct at the moment and is still correct. The case is connected to the murder of Ján Kuciak. The people of this country have the right to know who was behind the murder and who organized it. That was the reason we published the article three years ago, and we have the same answer today.”

The newspaper accurately reported in 2018 that Tóth had decided to cooperate with investigators when it became apparent that his role in illegally gathering information on journalists would be discovered. Just before publication, Tóth went public himself and commented about the case on Facebook. After publication, he filed criminal charges alleging that the journalists could have put him in danger. This was rejected at the time by the police prosecutor. This changed in September 2021 when the Bratislava Prosecutor’s Office ordered the police prosecutor to press charges.

Kostolný questioned the decision by the Bratislava Prosecutor’s Office, which his newspaper has reported on critically in recent months, to order an indictment three years after the allegation was first made. “I would not be surprised if this was a punishment for our critical reporting”, he said.

Kostolný told IPI that the journalists received a high level of solidarity from fellow journalists and politicians. “The prime minister talked about it, and the minister of culture, who is responsible for the media, expressed her concerns.” The Slovak general prosecutor furthermore urged the Bratislava Prosecutor’s Office to review the case.

“We didn’t do anything wrong and our colleagues understand this. We only want to report freely”, Kostolný said. “I believe that justice will be done. None of us believes that it might end up putting them in jail for a year. It is clearly a stupid case and even in Slovakia, there are normal judges, prosecutors and pollice officers, who will not allow putting my colleagues under arrest.”

The Slovak government is currently working on an updated media law to strengthen journalistic safeguards and the protection of sources, among other changes. “The biggest problem for Slovak media is however not legislation, but the hate speech public figures express towards journalists”, Kostolný said. “We all know the result of this, as we have seen by the killing of Ján Kuciak three years ago.” He continued: “Such violence starts when public figures frame journalists as enemies of this country, as if we are the reason for all problems. This cannot be solved by a law alone.”