10 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index
Areas: 49,030 sq. km.
Head of state: Ivan Gasparovic, re-elected in 2009
Slovakia began a major reform of media law, without prior consultation, in a bid to remove the stigma of the Soviet era and to meet the democratic standards of the European Union which it joined in 2004. But the vote on the Press Act gave rise to a major national controversy, creating a crisis in relations between the government and the opposition, the latter threatening at one point to block ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.
Campaigning and frequent protests on the part of the press failed to force the government and its parliamentary majority into a climb-down and the Press Act was voted into law on 10 April 2008. The law, which was condemned both by Reporters Without Borders and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), flouts the separation of powers, its Article 6 giving the executive and the ministry of culture direct control over the media on a number of issues seen as sensitive. An automatic right of reply to anyone believing, rightly or wrongly, that they have been defamed or insulted and heavy fines for failure to publish replies will badly limit editorial freedom and seriously obstruct investigative journalism.
The press does however still enjoy genuine freedom. On the day after the Press Act vote, six national dailies of reference, SME, Pravda, Hospodarske Noviny, Novy Cas, Plus 1 Den and UJ Szo, were not afraid to leave their front pages blank along with a black-framed “funereal” editorial.
The Press Act could be back in the news during 2009, since it is due to examined by the European Court of Justice.