Slovakia public broadcaster employees hold 3-hour walkout over government overhaul plans

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — (AP) — Employees of Slovakia's public radio and television broadcaster staged a three-hour walkout on Monday to protest a contentious overhaul of their services, a move that critics say would result in the government taking full control of the media.

The coalition government of populist Prime Minister Robert Fico approved the measure on April 24, and it's currently being debated in parliament.

The plan has been widely criticized by President Zuzana Čaputová, local journalists, the opposition, international media organizations and the European Union.

Director-general Ľuboš Machaj said that he respected the right of the staffers to protest.

“Our suggestions (about the plan) haven’t been respected,” Machaj said.

The proposed changes would mean the public broadcaster known as RTVS would cease to exist and be replaced by a new organization.

The protesters marched through the city to rally in front of the Culture Ministry. They demand that the current RTVS system has to remain in place, and that the broadcaster has the finances to effectively function and its journalists aren’t under attack from politicians and others.

The takeover plan was drafted by Culture Minister Martina Šimkovičová, who represents the Slovak National Party, an ultranationalist member of the coalition government. She has worked for an internet television outlet known for spreading disinformation.

Šimkovičová said that the current broadcaster gives space only to mainstream views and censors the rest. The broadcaster has denied the claim.

Under her plan, the new broadcaster — Slovak television and radio, or STVR — will have a director selected by a council whose nine members will be nominated by the Culture Ministry and parliament. The current director has a parliamentary mandate until 2027.

Thousands have repeatedly rallied in the capital in protest rallies organized by the major opposition Progressive Slovakia party and others.

The liberal pro-Western party just won the European Parliament election for the second straight time, claiming six seats and defeating Fico’s leftist Smer, or Direction, party that gained five seats, two more than five years ago.

Critics worry that Slovakia, under Fico, will abandon the country's pro-Western course and follow the direction of Hungary under populist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

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