(Reuters) – Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico stopped communication with four leading domestic news outlets on Monday after accusing them of failing to provide truthful information, widening a rift with some independent media groups.
Fico became prime minister for a fourth time last month at the head of a leftist-nationalist coalition after an election in which he attacked liberal policies, Slovakia’s Western allies and media that is critical of him and his SMER party.
He had resigned five years ago amid massive street protests triggered by the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak, who had investigated political corruption.
Fico, 59, has often railed against media, and his actions have concerned groups like Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which says he has attacked journalists, restricted access to information and questioned the independence of public media.
On Monday Fico said newspapers and online news sites Dennik N, Aktuality.sk – where Kuciak had worked – and SME, along with broadcaster TV Markiza, had “not fulfilled the obligation” to inform truthfully, completely and in a timely manner since the formation of his new government.
“As long as the cited media outlets do not begin to fulfil their legal obligations, Prime Minister R. Fico is interrupting any communication with them,” the government office said in an emailed statement.
Last week Fico threatened to prevent the four outlets from entering the government office. However, Dennik N and SME said on Monday their reporters were allowed in.
Dennik N editor-in-chief Matus Kostolny said Fico had already not responded “for years” to his paper’s questions. While he had not barred journalists, halting communication contravened laws ensuring that media are kept informed by the authorities, he added.
“Fico got scared and did not shut the doors in our face. He won’t be able to shut us up either,” Kostolny said.
SME’s editor-in-chief, Beata Balogova, accused Fico on Facebook of dividing media into friendly and hostile groups but said he would not “intimidate” her newspaper into self-censorship.
Pavol Szalai of Reporters Without Borders said Fico was subjecting Slovakia’s democracy to a “crash test”.
“Fico’s boycott is absolutely arbitrary and baseless,” he said. “The Office of the Government does not have any competence to judge if media fulfil their legal obligations and even less to take sanctions against them.”
(Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Gareth Jones)