The press monitoring group MEMO 98 released findings on August 13 to show that Slovakia's state-owned media stations are less objective than the country's private channels.
"It is a big paradox that public media do not have as balanced a coverage of political parties as do some of the private ones," said Anna Nogová, one of three people organizing the MEMO project, which is funded by the Helsinki Civic Assembly and the Union for the Support of Local Democracy.
The survey results covered the time period from July 13 to August 9, and included Slovakia's top five daily newspapers (Nový Čas, Sme, Pravda, Práca and Slovenská Republika), the two biggest TV stations (the private TV Markíza and the state-owned STV) and two radio stations (private Rádio Twist and public Slovenský Rozhlas).
The MEMO survey assessed the extent of coverage given by the different media to specific political parties, as well as how each party was presented to the public (negatively, positively or neutrally).
MEMO 98 revealed that four out of the five monitored dailies presented the government and the ruling Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) in a mainly negative way. Slovenská Republika, on the other hand, was portrayed as a strongly pro-government and pro-HZDS oriented daily.
When comparing the two dailies at opposite extremes of the political spectrum- the opposition Sme and government Slovenská Republika - MEMO discovered that both outfits gave the HZDS and the government almost equal coverage. Sme devoted 67.1% of its news space to these two subjects, while Slovenská Republika reserved 70%.
But while Sme presented the government and the HZDS almost always in a negative way, Sloven-ská Republika wrote scarcely a word in criticism of either. The reverse was true of the strongest opposition party, the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK), which was pilloried by the government daily but handled gently by Sme.
According to MEMO 98 releases, the most objective electronic medium was the private radio station Rádio Twist. Its news coverage, as well as the way of presenting the parties and the government was most balanced.
Andrej Hryc, Rádio Twist's owner and director, explained that the key to his station's objectivity was preventing reporters from expresing their own political opinions on the microphone. "We don't care about the political orientation of our employees unless they let it affect their work," he said, adding that within Twist's three years of existence, the station had had to say good-bye to several reporters who did not want to follow this rule.
The least objective within the electronic media was, according to the monitoring results, the public television station STV, which devoted 41.8% of coverage time to the government, and 23.1% to the HZDS. The opposition parties were allowed 18.3% of coverage, and were presented as negatively as they were by Slovenská Republika.
However, Jerguš Ferko, a member of the STV Council, said he did not think that STV was the least objective station. "We have started to indicate very visibly what's news and what's commentary. Markíza (the main private TV station) has never done it," he said.
Ferko did concede that he, as well as the other STV council members, was not satisfied with the work of STV general director Igor Kubiš, because of the station's biased commentaries and coverage imbalances. "But aside from that, STV remains the decisive source of information in Slovakia," he concluded.