Slovakia's government approves controversial overhaul of public broadcasting

FILE - Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico arrives for the V4 meeting in Prague, Czech Republic, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. Slovakia’s government of populist Prime Minister Robert Fico approved on Wednesday, April 24, 2024, a controversial overhaul of public broadcasting. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek, File)
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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — Slovakia’s government on Wednesday approved a controversial overhaul of the country's public radio and television services, a move that critics say would result in the government taking full control of the media.

Thousands rallied in the capital last month to condemn the plan, which was widely criticized by local journalists, the opposition, international media organizations and the European Commission.

Populist Prime Minister Robert Fico said the changes are needed because the public broadcaster, known as RTVS, is politically biased and “is in conflict with the Slovak government.” The proposed changes would mean it is replaced by a new organisation.

The Parliament, where the Fico’s coalition government has a majority, is expected to approve the changes in June.

The takeover plan was drafted by Culture Minister Martina Šimkovičová, who represents the Slovak National Party, an ultra-nationalist member of the coalition government. She has worked for an internet television outlet known for spreading disinformation.

Šimkovičová said the current broadcaster gives space only to mainstream views and censors the rest. The broadcaster has denied the claim.

Under her plan, the new broadcaster — Slovak television and radio, or STVR — will have a director selected by a council whose nine members will be nominated by the Culture Ministry and Parliament. The current director has a parliamentary mandate until 2027.

Known for his tirades against journalists, Fico recently labeled a major television network, two national newspapers and an online news website his enemies.

Fico’s leftist Smer (Direction) party won the Sept. 30 parliamentary elections on a pro-Russian and anti-American platform.

Critics worry Slovakia under Fico will abandon its pro-Western course and follow the direction of Hungary under populist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

The new government immediately halted any arms deliveries to Ukraine. Thousands have repeatedly taken to the streets across Slovakia recently to rally against Fico’s pro-Russian and other policies, including plans to amend the penal code and cancel a top prosecution dealing with corruption.