TWO JOURNALISTS from the public broadcaster Slovak Television (STV) quit the station on June 2 due to what they said was pressure from their editorial bosses to invite the head of a political party to a discussion show.
Beata Oravcová and Michal Dyttert, who take turns anchoring the weekly Five to Twelve show, said that on May 31 they had received a written order from Igor Zemanovie, deputy editor in chief of STV's news department, that Pavol Rusko, head of the non-parliamentary Ano party, be included in the guest line-up for June 2.
The reporters said that Rusko and his party had not taken an active stance on the subject of the talk show - conflict of interest - and therefore had no business appearing as a guest.
"The only criteria [for inviting talk show guests] must be the relevance of their contributions [to the topic under discussion]", wrote Dyttert and Oravcová in the weekly paper Domino fórum.
Their stance drew immediate support from station colleagues, with over 30 STV reporters signing a letter backing their decision. Some journalists threatened to leave if Zemanovie and editor-in-chief Viera Krúpová were not punished.
Zemanovie said he had ordered Rusko be included after being told to do so by Krúpová and STV Director Milan Materák, who are now on a business trip visiting the Chinese public television station.
"Based on consultation with them I reached the conclusion that Mr Rusko should sit there," Zemanovie said.
The STV council, a station advisory body whose members are elected in parliament, met on June 4 to discuss the matter but failed to take a clear decision.
Although the council said the reporters were right to refuse to anchor the show, it added that the existing hierarchy in the news department ought to be respected.
On the grounds of accumulating economic problems at STV council member Miloš Mištrík also initiated a non-confidence vote in Materák, but failed to win the support of his council colleagues.
STV spokesperson Milena Rážová, on the other hand, said that the two journalists had threatened the airing of the show, and that their act of refusing Rusko was "an attempt at censorship".
Rážová explained that voter support for Ano (between 6 and 8 per cent in various surveys) qualified him to be one of the guests.
Monitoring of STV's broadcasts in April by the MEMO 98 independent media agency also showed that STV had given only 1.2 per cent of newscast airtime to Ano, although it had accorded 4.5 per cent to Smer, another non-parliamentary party. Zemanovie cited his desire to repair the difference in coverage as a reason for having ordered Rusko onto the show.
"[The talk show] cannot be governed by public support for political parties, which don't reflect true developments in society," responded Oravcová and Dyttert.
Although Rusko showed up on Sunday in front of the STV building, he came only to tell journalists that he was not going to participate in the show because he and his party were not going to be drawn into the "weird practices of STV".