A letter of protest signed by the editors of eleven Slovak media was dispatched on May 22 to the office of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda. The editors complained that the Slovak leader had shown favoritism to a powerful private TV station over other media by interrupting ruling coalition negotiations to give the station an exclusive live interview.
The formal protest had begun as an irate response by some journalists covering the government meeting in western Slovakia's Trenčianské Teplice late on May 18. Having waited over three hours outside the building where cabinet was sequestered, most of them missed their deadlines and were forced to return to Bratislava with only wet clothes to show for their trip.
But one media outlet scored a conspicuous success. Slovakia's most-watched television station, TV Markíza, was given a live interview with Dzurinda just after the station's regular news broadcast began at 19:00. Other print and electronic media were left waiting outside the building until a hastily-called press conference half an hour later - too late to file material for the next day's newspapers.
The preference shown for Markíza over other media was protested in a petition signed after the press conference by six reporters representing the daily Sme and Pravda newspapers, the STV state television station, the TASR state press agency, and radio station Radio Free Europe.
The Prime Minister twice apologised to the journalists, explaining that "the five of us [coalition parties] conferred and agreed it would be better to accede [to the Markíza request]. We decided at two minutes before seven to give TV Markíza an interview."
However, Dzurinda's coalition partners said that was not true. "We proposed that all media be informed," said Pavol Hrušovský, chairman of the Christian Democrats [KDH]. "We demanded that other media as well be given this opportunity," added Béla Bugár, head of the Hungarian Coalition Party [SMK].
Markíza reporter Daniel Krajcer justified the Prime Minister's decision to give him exclusive access by saying that the request had come from him, not Dzurinda, and that "there's a difference between a live broadcast and publishing some daily paper the next day. Besides, a recording of our live interview was immediately made available to other journalists."
Government Office spokeswoman Miriam Fiťmová, too, said that the press department had "immediately made available" the Markíza recording to the other journalists, and called the media protest "intentionally misleading".
The mood of the non-Markíza press was captured by Ján Fule, head of the Slovak Syndicate of Journalists, when asked what he thought of the reasoning that other media could have simply taken their information from TV Markíza.
"It's stupid," he said. "The other journalists might as well not have spent all that money getting to Trenčianské Teplice. We have a diverse print media here, and a dual system of electronic media. If the Government Office press department hasn't noticed this, someone should point it out to them."
The letter signed by the 11 editors argued that it was "unacceptable" that any preference be shown for media when a top state official was reporting on serious political negotiations, but agreed to regard Dzurinda's apology as a promise that the PM would never repeat his behaviour.
28. May 2001 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson