Journalism Thrives in Slovakia Despite Growing Oligarchic Control
Slovaks have access to a plethora of news platforms, but many of them are in the hands of powerful financial corporations, closely linked with political groups. Nevertheless, swelling demand for accurate, quality information boosts the country’s independent journalism.
Slovakia is a voracious news consumer, with almost two thirds of people reading news portals, newspapers or news magazines. Much of this news appetite was stirred by technological advancement. Over 86% of people use the internet, which is a big leap from less than 30% in the beginning of the 2010s.
The biggest impact of technology in the Slovak news media and journalism was felt by the publishing industry, according to the new report, Media Influence Matrix: Slovakia, published today by the Center for Media, Data and Society (CMDS). The number of print media publishers in Slovakia more than halved between 2009 and 2015. Some large publishers such as Ringier Axel Springer and Petit Press changed tacks, increasingly focusing on digital. Smaller ones, down on their uppers, are clutching at straws.
“a lucrative business model for quality journalism, anchored in subscriptions, has emerged,”
Marius Dragomir, the Center’s Director, the report’s author wrote. DennikN, a news portal established by a group of journalists who left Sme, the most popular, non-tabloid, daily in the country, became the fourth most profitable news outlet in Slovakia after mainstream players such as Markiza TV, D.Expres radio and Petit Press. Sme is also heavily investing in a subscription model to offset losses from print.
The most dominant news medium in Slovakia is still television. Slovaks watch nearly four hours of television a day, more than the European average. RTVS, the public broadcaster is the largest player in the country’s media, funded by license fees collected from all Slovak households and state budget. For some years, the station earned a feather in its cap for improved programming. Viewers and experts heaped praise on its news output. The largest private broadcast operator is Markiza TV, which has significant influence, particularly among politicians, thanks to its popularity. It is also a financial powerhouse, its revenues dwarfing the sales of all other television broadcasters.
“Seemingly, Slovaks have access to a wealth of news sources. In reality, though, the market is concentrated in the hands of a few large players,”
Powerful financial groups such as Penta Investments and J&T, and a handful of magnates including Ivan Kmotrik and Andrej Babis (who is also Czech Republic’s prime minister) exert decisive influence in the ownership of most major media companies. They are also close to politicians (if they are not themselves one), which means big leverage in regulatory affairs. The entry on the Slovak market of PPF, a Czech financial group led by another wealthy oligarch, Petr Kellner, which bought Markiza TV in 2019, is further cementing the oligarchic control in the country’s media.