Saddened. Twist Director Andy Hryc believes that disruptions in Twist broadcasting by Slovak Telecom damage both press freedoms and Slovakia's credibility.
This was the second time in two months that Twist was taken off the air by ST, both times without prior warning. But while seven weeks ago the telecom company had taken broadcasting off the air due to Twist's unpaid bills, this time ST cut the power wire to the transmitter, which had been properly paid for.
Twist's program director, Ľuboš Machaj, said technicians were sent out to see what was wrong after Twist vanished from central Slovakia's airwaves, only to discover that someone had cut off the cable leading to Twist's transmitter. After a four-hour inquiry, Twist learned that ST was behind it.
"Ten years ago, [ST] built the cable the electricity company is using that feeds our transmitter," Machaj said. "Now they came up with the idea to cut us off, saying we should share costs for the cable." Machaj added that Twist is now putting up their own aggregate to feed the transmitter. Twist lawyers are also looking into the possibility of suing the Central Slovak Energy Company which distributes the electricity.
In an evening news broadcast the same day in Bratislava and parts of Western Slovakia, Twist General Director Andrej Hryc said he believed the act was a "politically motivated violation of private broadcasting."
Twist is the only private radio station in Slovakia that boasts an independent news program. Because of its criticism of Mečiar's administration, Twist has been labeled an opposition mouth-piece, which often results in conflicts with ruling coalition representatives. ST representatives, however, strictly denied the latest unplugging of Twist had any political background.
After the transmitter was cut off, Darina Várna, ST's Director of Investment Development told the private television Markíza that Twist had had to be turned off because the telecom's transmitter, "located several hundred meters away from Twist's and fed from the same cable" hurt the strength of Markíza's signal. Remedying that, she said, required much more power than the previous transmission, and therefore Twist had to go.
Varna continued that Twist had been using ST's cable without a valid contract. But Hryc dismissed Várna's explanation as nonsensical since Twist had been paying their electric bills to the Central Slovak Energy Company, the regional electricity distributor.
Hryc linked the turn-off to a statement by Pater Valent, ST's General Director. At a November 7 press conference, Valent said his company had discovered that Twist's transmitter had been using the telecom cable and that "something will have to be done about that."
On October 11, ST turned off Twist without a prior warning, claiming unpaid bills. But Twist countered it had paid the bills a few hours before the blackout. 25 hours after disappearing from the air, the station was switched back on.
The government insisted it had no power over ST's decisions. But Machaj ironically noted that ST "is a state company," adding there must be a connection.
"Their recent move is probably a correction for not being able to resist public pressure last time [Twist was turned off], and turning us back on too soon," Machaj said. "It is sad that something like this is happening shortly before the EU summit in Luxembourg," Hryc told Twist listeners, referring to Slovakia's diminishing chances for being invited to open talks on EU membership next spring, due to slow progress on democratic reforms.
4. Dec 1997 at 0:00 | Jana Dorotková