The safety of journalists was at the top of the agenda at Slovakia’s Media Freedom Conference on 20th February 2023, an event organized by the Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic under the auspices of the Media Freedom Coalition.
As part of the event, survey results were unveiled which showed that two thirds of journalists in Slovakia had faced threats or attacks in the last year.
The survey, conducted by the Ján Kuciak Investigative Centre – named in memory of journalist Ján Kuciak who was murdered together with his fiancée Martina Kušnírová five years ago – also showed that under 10% of these incidents were reported to the police. When asked why, journalists frequently said that it was a normal part of the job.
Participants including Natália Milanová, Minister of Culture of the Slovak Republic, and Štefan Hamran, President of the Police Force of the Slovak Republic, agreed that this was not an acceptable situation.
The survey, based on the responses of 400 journalists in Slovakia, also found that verbal attacks – online or in person – were the most common form of attack, and that women journalists faced more incidents than men.
At the conference Natália Milanová, Minister of Culture of the Slovak Republic outlined steps that the government had taken to improve media freedom, including supporting the protection of journalists’ sources, the ongoing creation of a public register of the beneficial owners of media organisations, and support for the European Media Freedom Act.
However, the Minister acknowledged that more needed to be done. “All of us will take with us a feeling that although many things have already been done, many things still remain a challenge, and each of us is aware that the work on the media environment will have to remain very intensive, to be able to deal with all the problems that we have.”
The conference explored topics such as the safety and protection of journalists, the editorial independence of journalists, and initiatives regarding SLAPPs (strategic lawsuits against public participation).
The Media Freedom Coalition was represented at the conference by Gabriella Sancisi, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Slovakia, and Cheryl Cruz, Chargé d’Affaires, Office of the Embassy of Canada in Slovakia.
Speaking about the ongoing collaboration between the Netherlands and Slovakia on media freedom, Ambassador Sancisi said:
“We have the same challenges and we think alike on the importance of this subject. One example of our cooperation is the exchange of knowledge, of lessons learned, and of experiences that we in the Netherlands have gained with PersVeilig, the Dutch cooperation of journalists, government, justice and police.”
PersVeilig provides a platform for journalists in the Netherlands to report threats or violence that they face in the course of their work.
Lukáš Diko, editor in chief of the Ján Kuciak Investigative Centre (ICJK) said:
“The conference took place in the week of commemorations of the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová. It helped to raise attention to the worsening situation of journalists in Slovakia in terms of their safety and threats, as according to the ICJK survey, two thirds of Slovak journalists faced threats or attacks in the last 12 months, a number of them incited by influential politicians. ICJK and other Slovak journalists in cooperation with Media Freedom Coalition members and international organizations are trying to mitigate the risks that decreasing safety of the journalists poses to press freedom.”
The results of the survey on the safety of journalists have informed the creation of Safe.Journalism.sk, an initiative of the Ján Kuciak Investigative Centre which aims to monitor attacks and help those who become the target of an attack. The initiative has been developed in cooperation with Reporters Without Borders, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Slovakia and PersVeilig.