Commemorated every May 3, World Press Freedom Day recognizes the essential role a free press plays in a democracy. We pay special honor to the importance of media freedom – a crucial element of freedom of expression – at home and abroad. A diverse and independent press is crucial to holding governments accountable and promoting democracy around the world. We count on a free press to keep us informed, hold leaders accountable, filter fact from fiction, and unmask false narratives masquerading as truth. Put simply, democracy and liberty depend on a free press.
Today also is a time for us to pay tribute to the journalists who put their lives and liberties on the line to tell the stories the world would otherwise never know. Far too often, a free press is under assault, and the journalists, bloggers, photographers, essayists, and satirists who give life to the words “free press” are in danger. In too many places – from Crimea to China – journalists are intimidated into self-censorship or arrested without cause. They’re imprisoned without judicial recourse or killed with outright impunity. We remain in awe of the courage of those who risk their lives to tell the stories the world needs to hear. We reaffirm our commitment not only to stand by them, but to stand up for them this day and every day the world over.
Slovakia and Central Europe are home to a robust free press, where a multitude of outlets actively express their views. For example, we regularly see in-depth investigative reporting on a wide-range of corruption scandals, often implicating those in power. However, we are concerned about increasing consolidation in the media sector, which has the potential to limit the variety of views expressed. In Slovakia, a small number of major financial conglomerates now control many of the country’s media outlets, which potentially threatens the continued development of a truly independent press. We will continue to monitor any perceived changes in the quality and tone of media reporting and editorial outlook, as well as any attempts to dismiss outspoken staff.
As we report each year in our Human Rights Report chapter on Slovakia – the next edition of which will be released soon – we also are concerned about apparent attempts by government officials, judges, and other elites to intimidate the press through the threat of civil defamation suits. The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, the International Press Institute (IPI) of Slovakia, and other observers have voiced concern that the sizable damages which have been awarded to litigants in such cases could lead to media self-censorship. Political and other elites in Slovakia need to develop a greater appreciation for the critical watchdog role played by a free press in a democracy.