After an open dispute between part of the news team and the management of the public-service broadcaster RTVS, several external reporters signed an open letter expressing worries about the current direction of the Slovak public Radio and TV (RTVS). Reporter and host Zuzana Kovačič Hanzelová is among those who no longer works at RTVS. Recently, she founded the news team’s labour unions and even more recently, she confirmed on social networks they have received notices.
“As of today, the management announced layoffs of external reporters,” Kovačič Hanzelová writes. “Or, as our management describes it, they ended cooperation. I suppose the argument will be that we want to boost internal capacities,” she added.
Who is out and why?
So far, foreign reporter Matúš Dávid, reporters Matúš Baňovič, Kristián Čekovský and culture reporter Jana Masárová, who worked in RTVS for five years, were dismissed.
“The management allegedly does not need to give her reasons,” Kovačič Hanzelová comments. “The reason is she is an external worker (without a full-time employee contract). Other colleagues will meet management in the course of today. We expect three, four more will get immediate notices, too.”
Despite the status of external journalists, they are regular reporters working on the newscast every day.
RTVS has not explained in detail why the management did not prolong the contracts of external journalists. “The external cooperation contracts of several journalists ended and the newscast’s management decided not to prolong it in three cases, as of today,” RTVS spokesperson Erika Rusnáková commented. In a press statement, she added that they would not comment on internal managerial decisions connected to the securing of the programme service in the newscast.
RTVS news’ editor Jozef Matej publicly defended the sacked journalists, writing on social media that he stands behind them fully. “As their superior and someone who was in daily contact with them, I see no sensible reason not to prolong cooperation. The value of the company lies in the people,” he opined.
The radio journalist Jana Maťková and dramaturgy editor Nikola Bajánová quit in protest of the management.
Kovačič Hanzelová: In RTVS, normalisation is going on
The journalists involved are those who signed an open letter, in which 59 news reporters and journalists mention a hostile atmosphere and criticised the fact that former spokespersons who were appointed to managerial positions have so far adopted no mechanism to rule out possible conflict of interests involving the contents of news.
“In RTVS, normalisation is going on – real, hard normalisation,” Kovačič Hanzelová claims. “Maybe we have communicated softly so far, maybe we have wanted to be correct and cautious all along. But you should know the truth,” she writes on social network.
The reporter opines that the management has tried for several weeks to smuggle nonsense into live broadcasts. For example, chief editor Vahram Chuguryan proposed that reporters broadcast unchecked conspiracies.
“He pushed through for the live broadcasts a story about Syrian children using effervescent pills to fake spume so they looked like they had experienced a chemical attack,” she specified.
Chuguryan, who worked as a spokesman at the Education Ministry, recently banned reporters from wearing badges that showed solidarity with the murdered journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová.
Several reporters left earlier
Recently, several reporters left RTVS. Reporter of the Slovak Radio, Gabriela Kajtárová, handed in a notice and long-time reporter of the foreign department, Oľga Baková, ended her position as well. Programme director Tibor Búza also announced his notice.
Igor Zemanovič worked for RTVS as an editor. While in this position, hosts of the political talk show O Päť Minút Dvanásť / Five Minutes to Twelve, Beáta Oravcová and Michal Dyttert, publicly rebelled against the show because Oravcová was instructed by the management in writing to include then-chairman of coalition party ANO, Pavol Rusko.
RTVS CEO Jaroslav Rezník, who was pushed into a leadership position in the public-service medium by coalition parties SNS and Smer, claimed at the April 25 RTVS Council meeting the situation was not as bad as it looked from the outside.
Kovačič Hanzelová argues that they had repeatedly called on the management to meet for a debate and calm down the situation.
“Thus, we were supposed to meet yesterday (i.e. Thursday) in a smaller circle,” she claims. “Jaroslav Rezník left us sit and wait there for 30 minutes, only to write us then that he wasn't coming. This is the dialogue he cited as recently as yesterday, at the RTVS Council, but we knew with all probability what would happen today with the news team,” she added.
The tense situation in RTVS is being watched closely abroad. The International organisation Reporters without Borders (RSF) called on Slovak authorities to stop interfering with the operation of the TV. It criticised Rezník, too.
Instead of boosting the freedom of press at a time when Slovak media experienced tensions, he undermined it continually, one of the biggest journalistic organisations writes.
Beginning this year, Rezník halted the investigative show Repotéri / Reporters, and two authors of the radio show Dejiny.sk were stripped of their positions, too. Before the dismissals, SNS MP Anton Hrnko criticised the show on social media.