A media cause célebre from the Mečiar era, the cutting of the transmission of independent Rádio Twist in 1997, was finally brought to a close with the conviction of the former state official responsible for taking the anti-Mečiar station off the air.
On September 21, the Banská Bystrica Regional Court turned down the appeal of Gabriel Szanto, former director of the Radio-Telecommunications division of Slovak Telecom (ST). Szanto, 42, had been found guilty in a Žiar nad Hronom court on April 6 this year of endangering the public interest by cutting off elctricity to the station.
The Banská Bytrica court upheld the one year suspended jail sentence issued by the lower court in the case.
According to legal briefs, Szanto issued a written directive to cut off the flow of electricity to Twist's main transmitter on Sitno Hill in central Slovakia. Because of his action, Twist was off the air from November 27 until December 4, 1997.
Szanto had appealed the April 6 verdict, arguing that his act had not been aimed against the radio station, but had been taken in order to protect the lives of Slovak Telecom employees, who had been assigned to make repairs to the Sitno Hill transmitter tower. The higher court dismissed his arguments.
Twist Radio, founded in 1993, covers more then 50% of Slovak territory, and attracts its listeners from among urban, educated citizens between the ages of 25 and 45. According to media experts and advertising agencies, Twist Radio regularly ranks fourth in listeners, behind state-owned Slovak Radio and Rock FM, and the commercial station Fun Radio.
Ľuboš Machaj, Twist Radio Programme Director, said that Twist had had many problems under the former government of Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar. As a radio station critical of Mečiar and his policies, Machaj said, Twist had faced an information embargo from the government as well as other hindrances such as interference with its transmission and public campaigns to discredit its reporters.
Machaj said that Twist had served a crucial role in Slovakia during the Mečiar regime as an independent source of information. It had not been alone in facing government pressure, he added, as opposition newspapers such as the Sme daily and TV Markíza had also faced information restrictions.
Machaj added that the Mečiar regime had also required state-owned companies like Slovenské Telekomunikácie (ST) to place ads only with media outlets approved by the government. Media campaigns for these firms were drawn up by the Mečiar-friendly Donár advertising agency, he said, irrespective of how many listeners and readers opposition media might have.
Twist, like many other radio stations in Slovakia, is preparing to apply for renewal of its six-year broadcast license.
Twist owner Andy Hrýc said that his station would submit a license proposal to state broadcast authorities by the end of October.
11. Oct 1999 at 0:00 | Soňa Bellušová