The International Press Institute (IPI) and its affiliate, the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), expressed concern that proposed changes to Slovakia’s 2014 state budget could threaten the political independence of the country’s broadcasting regulator and lead to media self-censorship.
A draft budget currently before parliament would cut overall funding for the Slovak Council for Broadcasting and Retransmission (RVR) while more than doubling the yearly revenue it is expected to collect, IPI wrote in a press release.
Parliament’s culture and media committee last month approved provisions that would cut the amount of state funds allocated to the RVR from almost €1.19 million in 2012 and 2013, to €1.13 million in 2014. The RVR would be also expected to collect €340,000 in revenue from fees and fines in 2014, up from the 2013 expected amount of €160,000.
Slovakia’s Association of Independent Radio and Television Stations (ANRTS) said the 2013 amount of expected revenue was calculated based on the average amounts collected from 2010 to 2012, and that 97 percent of revenue the RVR collected in 2012 came from fines.
“Politicians should not be dictating a minimum amount in fines that an ostensibly independent media regulator must issue,” IPI Press Freedom Manager Barbara Trionfi said. “The ability of the regulator to rule independently and fairly on the fines to be issued for breaches of the broadcasting code is challenged if an external authorities sets the amount that should be collected, even more so if such amount is out of line of the results from previous years.”
Observers have expressed fears that the dramatic increase in the amount of revenue called for gives the regulator an incentive to find violations based on pretexts and to issue greater numbers of fines in increasing amounts. They say the likely targets would be broadcasters that express unwelcome political opinions, leading to the potential for a growing cycle of self-censorship.
Slovak broadcasting law allows the RVR, an administrative body whose nine members are appointed by parliament, to issue warnings to broadcasters for violations of the law and to fine broadcasters for certain violations. The RVR has authority to issue fines ranging from €99 to €165,959. According to the ANRTS, Slovak law governing the financing of state institutions allows the Finance Ministry to reduce the regulator’s funding if it fails to fulfil its duties which includes raising the amount of revenue set forth in the budget. The ministry has declined to provide a rationale for the increase in expected revenue collection by the RVR. The proposed 2014 budget currently before parliament anticipates an overall deficit of about 2.8 percent of GDP, which would allow the country to comply with a European Commission (EC)-imposed deficit cap of three percent.
(Source: IPI press release)
Compiled by Zuzana Vilikovská from press reports
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