Reporters quit Slovak public broadcaster to protest at political pressure

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Twelve reporters from Slovakia’s public TV and radio broadcaster RTVS quit on Thursday in protest at what they called creeping political pressure.

The resignations come after RTVS sacked a senior radio editor and four reporters who had signed a critical open letter to management last month. Three radio reporters quit in protest then.

The journalists said the standoff at RTVS, which is publicly funded but independent of the state despite having a CEO appointed by parliament, was fueled by steps by new management brought in last year.

CEO Jaroslav Reznik appointed as editors-in-chief several former journalists, who had also worked as spokespeople for ministries controlled by the ruling coalition parties.

“Our colleagues were fired because they were a strong and loud critics of the management. We started being punished for our opinions,” the outgoing reporters said in a statement.

“We face pressure to include in our stories people who flirt with disinformation media, lack expertise or have political ambitions.”

The question of media freedom has come to the fore in Slovakia after the killing of an investigative reporter in late February. The murder sparked the largest protests in Slovakia since communism ended in 1989.

The protests led to the resignation of long-serving prime minister Robert Fico while his three-party coalition remains in power, led by Fico’s former deputy Peter Pellegrini.

Reznik, chosen by parliament in June 2017, has repeatedly criticized what he called imbalances in RTVS journalism.

“The public broadcaster should not present one mainstream world view, because it belongs to all taxpayers, therefore it should represent all opinions,” he told daily Dennik N in an interview on Wednesday.

RTVS said in a statement its news section had 97 internal staff and 141 contractors and the resignations would not cause any disruption to broadcasts.

In a Median agency opinion poll carried out in the fourth quarter of 2017, RTVS was picked as the most trusted news source by 24.8 percent of viewers, more than any other TV station.

President Andrej Kiska said on Thursday it was unacceptable for the management or politicians to interfere with the public trust in RTVS.

“The public institution does not belong to its manager or to the party that nominated him,” Kiska said.

Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Alison Williams