Press freedom campaigners dismayed by Matovič attacks on media

Groups slam minister's comparisons with Nazi propagandists.

Igor Matovič in parliamentIgor Matovič in parliament (Source: Sme - Marko Erd)

International press freedom campaigners have said they are dismayed by the recent attacks on journalists by Finance Minister Igor Matovič.

In a statement, seven organisations condemned as "unacceptable" comments in the past few weeks in which the minister compared Slovak journalists to Nazi propagandists and personally insulted individual reporters.

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"These comments clearly overstepped the bounds of legitimate criticism and represented unacceptable attacks on independent journalism. They were rightly condemned," the groups said, and warned that the attacks undermined wider government efforts to improve media freedom.

Related article Just not fair, Matovič complains, blaming journalists Read more 

Personal attacks

In one of his many attacks on Slovak media over the last few weeks, the minister wrote an insulting Facebook post in personally attacking Matúš Kostolný, the editor-in-chief of the Denník N daily, for a critical opinion piece.

And in parliament last week, Matovič accused unspecified media of being corrupt and “spreading lies”, likening their journalism to Nazi propaganda.

"Hitler had journalists exactly like that," he said, after alleging that it is now possible for politicians to order journalists what to write.

But he repeatedly mentioned the name of the murdered investigative reporter Ján Kuciak as an example for other journalists.

Matovič also claimed journalists only write well of people with the "right opinions", and that they are mocking of those with conservative ideologies. He added that only "the right journalists" need protection.

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Related article Matovič remains minister - at least until Tuesday Read more 

Words need to be followed by action

However, his comments have drawn the ire of not just press freedom campaigners, but also some of his own MPs, some of whom have openly criticised the minister for his attacks, as was noted by the press freedom campaigners.

"Our organisations welcome Prime Minister Eduard Heger’s statement defending journalists and the criticism of the minister’s comments by nine MPs from his OĽANO party," read the joint statement.

"We also stand behind the powerful joint statement issued on September 30 by 22 of the country’s leading editors-in-chief, who condemned the minister’s rhetoric and refused to be pressured into silence for carrying out their role as public watchdogs," the groups added.

Although Matovič issued an apology "to all honest journalists" on October 3, this needs to be followed by action, they said.

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