Slovakia’s parliament backs a contentious plan to overhaul the country's public broadcasting

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — Slovakia’s parliament voted on Thursday to approve a government plan to overhaul the country’s public broadcasting 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 agreed on the measure on April 24. Fico, who is recovering at home from multiple wounds he suffered in an assassination attempt on May 15, said that the changes are needed, because the services are politically biased and “in conflict with the Slovak government.”

Thousands have repeatedly rallied in the capital, Bratislava, in protest rallies organized by the major opposition Progressive Slovakia party and others against the plan, which has been widely criticized by local journalists, the opposition, international media organizations and the European Union.

Former President Zuzana Čaputová, whose term in office expired on Saturday, was also among fierce critics. Her successor, Petr Pellegrini, is Fico’s close ally.

In the 150-seat parliament known as the National Council, 78 coalition lawmakers voted in favor of the changes. Opposition lawmakers didn't participate in the vote in protest.

Employees of Slovakia’s public radio and television broadcaster staged a protest in front of the parliament building on Thursday.

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

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-general, Ľuboš Machaj, has a parliamentary mandate until 2027.

Opposition lawmaker Zora Jaurová said during the parliamentary debate that the changes were unnecessary, and the government’s only goal was “to get rid of the current director-general and management and take it over.”

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.