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Protesters in Slovakia formed a human chain around the country’s public television and radio building in response to a takeover plan by the government, led by populist, pro-Russia Prime Minister Robert Fico. The takeover plan, drafted by Culture Minister Martina Šimkovičová, was met with widespread condemnation from President Zuzana Čaputová, opposition parties, local journalists, international media organizations, the European Commission, and others who warn that the government would be taking full control of public broadcasting. Slovak journalists have called the plan an attack on all free media, as it would replace the current public radio and television with a new organization overseen by a government-appointed council.

The ongoing protests in Slovakia are part of a broader movement against Prime Minister Fico’s policies, known for his tirades against journalists and increasing concerns that Slovakia may abandon its pro-Western course and align more closely with Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. While Šimkovičová claims that the takeover of public media is necessary to combat bias within the current broadcaster, the broadcaster has denied these claims. The new plan would see a seven-member council, selected by the government and parliament, overseeing the new broadcaster’s director and holding the power to fire the director without cause, completely altering the current system in place.

The protests have drawn thousands of people to the streets, unveiling banners reading “HANDS OFF RTVS!” and showing solidarity with local journalists chanting, “We’re by your side.” Previous protests have also gathered large crowds earlier this month, reflecting the strong opposition to the government’s actions and the potential threat to free media in Slovakia. Fico, who returned to power for the fourth time last year with a leftist, pro-Russian party, has faced criticism for his anti-American and pro-Russian stance, which some fear could lead Slovakia down a similar path to Hungary under Orbán.

With growing concerns over the government’s takeover plan and the implications for media freedom in Slovakia, opposition parties, President Čaputová, and various international organizations have spoken out against the move. The European Commission, in particular, has warned of the dangers of the government seizing control of public broadcasting, as it could suppress dissenting voices and restrict access to diverse viewpoints. As the protests continue and pressure mounts on the government to reconsider its plans, the future of media freedom and democracy in Slovakia remains uncertain. The actions taken by the government and the response of the public will likely shape the country’s political landscape for years to come.

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