Slovakia's government-run television station, STV, defied a warning from the country's official state media watchdog on September 23 and broadcast an illegal pre-election address to citizens from a senior deputy with the ruling HZDS party.
Ivan Gašparovič advised Slovaks, who went to the polls on September 25, to "find a little time to think who offered you a chance to live in a free and independent state," and told voters to "speak with their hearts" at the polling booths. The campaign motto of theHZDS is "vote with your hearts."
According to Slovakia's election law, it is illegal for mass media to publish or broadcast information favoring politivians or their parties within 48 hours of elections. Gašparovič's speech was sent out through STV transmitters about 40 hours before Slovaks voted.
Slovakia's media watchdog, the Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting, had earlier warned STV program director Štefan Dlugolinský that the Gašparovič broadcast would be illegal, but said that the infraction could only be punished, not prevented. No information was immediately available on the penalty to be levied on STV for the illegal broadcast.
The September 23 incident was not the first time that STV has had a run-in with the law. The media council found the station guilty of infractions for programmes run on September 18 and 19 (which featured a now infamous appearance of Italian actress Claudia Cardinale in support of Premier Vladimír Mečiar).
At an earlier session on September 14, the council found two STV programmes - 'Dialogues from Malanta' and STV News - in violation of the election law, which prohibits public and private electronic media from "making public any information which promotes the candidate political parties."
According to Peter Juráš, chairman of the media council , "the Council appealed to STV for an immediate correction [of the discrepancies]". Furthermore, it ordered STV to broadcast a public announcement, acknowledging that it had violated the law, on six separate occasions before the main evening news programmes.
In addition, the council took umbrage at two STV 'documentaries' which had claimed that the opposition KDH party had been peddling Slovak cultural treasures abroad and plotting to stir up civil insurrection. Juráš said that because of the council's burdensome workload, a final decision in the case might take up to 60 days to announce.
Juráš argued that his agency had too little money either to enforce its decisions or to carry out its inspection role properly in the pre-election period. "Maybe you already know that the financial resources that the council requested for performing the monitoring function were not provided the Finance Ministry," he said.
Part of the problem in securing compliance with the law has also been the unwillingness of STV to cooperate. General Director Igor Kubiš was anything but penitent for his station's transgressions, and vowed it would not change course. "STV does not violate anything in any way, so there is nothing to correct, nothing to cancel," he said after the council session on September 14.
Despite Kubiš's words, STV complied with the council ruling and broadcast the required announcements beginning September 15.
STV programmes have been savaged by domestic and foreign media observers for openly promoting the cause of Slovak Premier Vladimír Mečiar and his ruling HZDS party. The independent watchdog MEMO '98 recorded that STV, which is publicly funded, had devoted 61% of programming time in the first two weeks of the election campaign to the parties of the governing coalition, and only 15% to the opposition.
But Kubiš again refuted the imputation of bias, saying that the Premier had not broken any laws in his television appearances. "He knows in advance that it would be some nice entertainment, some good fun," Kubiš said of Mečiar's contributions on Fašírka, a political satire which mocks all parties except the HZDS.