Slovakian Dialogue

Prime Minister Iveta Radicova makes her case for increased commitment and cooperation in the media

Slovakian Prime Minister Iveta Radicova at the IPI World Congress | Photo: David Reali

The daughter of a journalist and wife of a political humorist, Slovakian prime minister Iveta Radicova now finds herself in a position where she can apply lessons learned during the communist and democratic years in her attempts to reform the rules under which the country’s media operate.

In the wake of a shooting spree in Devinska Nova Ves that left seven dead and 15 wounded in early August, the prime minister had been troubled by the media attempt to rationalize what happened, that because the murdered family was Roma, they had somehow “deserved” it.

“They were not Roma,” Radicova insisted, a fact confirmed by Pavol Mudry, the respected founding editor of the independent Slovak News Agency SITA and a long-time friend of the prime minister. This had been simply bad reporting that no one bothered to correct until it was too late. It was also an example of the kind of slipshod journalism in the Slovak news that she hopes to correct under new legislation to be submitted to the parliament this fall which may change the incentives in the profession.  But the point she wished to stress, she said, was that bad reporting, particularly on questions of race, can exacerbate the underlying problems, sparking more negative feelings in the community.

Several times throughout her speech, Radicova referred to the legislation currently in preparation to change Slovak media law. “Slovakia has a law for everything,” she quipped, and there were “too many regulations on media.”

Of course one shouldn’t need so many laws, she acknowledged, in answer to a question. But “it’s a dream, it’s a dream” to have people responsible enough for these laws to be unnecessary. But “politicians without dreams cannot change the world.”

A skilled handler of questions, Radicova dictated the agenda of the question period, and used the time to stress her goals for change that would lead to refinements in the legal code, and to a more free media that can report the news in an honorable way.

To a Slovak public radio journalist, she was quite blunt: In Slovakia, public broadcasting is “neither public nor quality – sorry,” she said. Some of this is due to cuts in public support, Mudry jumped in. “Because of many changes, there has been a loss of quality.”

“You have to have the financial resources for TV but not with any impact from the politics or from financial interests,” the prime minister said, suggesting that there might be renewed government subsidies to the public television and radio stations in the future. (“We often mix up government and state,” said Mudry.)

Slovakia is a young democracy, and 20 years after the end of communism, there are still many institutions that are only half formed, and a democratic social consensus that must be forged anew. For this, Radicova appears to be inviting the media to play a newly respected role.

“The [loyal] opposition is always the media,” the prime minister said. “This is good; it is their role. I want to have a chance to lead the dialogue; but the most important thing for dialogue is not only talking, but also listening.”

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