Despite being robbed of vital computer equipment worth more than $33,000 one week before its scheduled launch, SITA, a new private press agency jumpstarted its operation on June 15.
Observers agree that the robbery was likely sabotage. But SITA's co-founder and director, Pavol Múdry, preferred not to share his suspicion on who could have been the culprit. "I'm not suicidal," he said the day after the theft was discovered.
Once SITA manages to get established on the Slovak market, it will be competing primarily with TASR, the government-run, official Slovak news agency.
Not long after the incident, SITA made the news again. Private TV Markíza found out that the Culture Ministry forbade its organizations to use SITA's services, on the grounds that the agency was "oppositional."
"As you may have noticed, a new opposition news agency named SITA began operation in Slovakia. The Ministry of Culture notifies all organizations under its jurisdiction that they should not use SITA's services (not even those provided for free)," Jozef Gerbóc, director of the division of arts, wrote on May 29 in a letter sent out to his subordinates.
In a phone interview with The Slovak Spectator, Gerbóc confirmed he had written the letter but refused to elaborate. He said he planned to sue TV Markíza which broke the story on June 12, showing Gerbóc shutting the door as Markíza's reporter tried to get his comment.
The ministry's spokeswoman, Marta Podhradská, was not available all Friday, June 13. Her colleagues were not authorized to speak to the press. But TASR Director Dušan Kleiman rushed to support Gerbóc. In a statement distributed via the agency, he said Gerbóc's order was "fully in accordance with the law about the TASR news agency." The law defines TASR as an agency that is supposed to supply information to state administration offices, for which purpose it is financed from the state budget, Kleiman wrote.
Múdry didn't want to talk about Gerbóc's letter. He claimed that SITA's commercial representatives have had no problems selling its service to state institutions so far.
He was very careful not to aim any criticism at the government, stressing he had no interest in "adding to the confrontational climate in the country," and insisting that SITA had no intention of becoming an opposition news agency.
"We just want to do normal professional work, but that is not a normal thing in this country," Múdry said. "In Slovakia, everybody belongs either to the opposition or coalition. However, we intend to be independent."
19. Jun 1997 at 0:00 | Jana Dorotková