New laws helped to boost press freedom substantially as part of the country’s upcoming membership of the European Union. But 2003 was marred by the revelation that the intelligence services had tapped a daily newspaper’s phones.
Reforms made by the government in preparation for joining the European Union on 1 May 2004 greatly enhanced press freedom. The law on defamation, which was the main obstacle to journalists working freely, had been amended in 2002 to abolish prison terms for press offences and for defaming the country, government, parliament, the constitutional court and the president.
But 2003 was marked by a scandal involving the secret service’s illegal tapping of the daily paper Sme’s phones. It was discovered by the military prosecutor office during an investigation of the tapping of parliamentary vice-president Pavol Rusko’s phones.
Harassment and obstruction
The military prosecutor’s office announced in July 2003 that staff phones at the daily paper Sme had been tapped by the intelligence service (SIS) without a court order and conversations recorded between journalists and the then vice-president of parliament, Pavol Rusko. The SIS said on 14 July that eight members of its phone-tapping department had been suspended. Two days later, President Rudolf Schuster said the tapping was aimed at threatening Rusko or making him talk. An investigation into such improper intelligence service surveillance was launched in January.