Comments on a draft law on “Radio and Television Slovakia (RTS)”
The new government in Slovakia, which was formed after the Parliamentary Elections in June 2010, announced the modification of the country’s Press Law, and major changes in the financing and regulation of public service media and the semi-state wire agency, TASR. Although it was reported that the process would last for at least a year (despite the absence of detailed information on the suggested changes), at the end the Ministry of Culture announced a “high speed” legislation process regarding the changes brought to the financing and operation of the public service Slovak Television. The urgency was justified by the critical financial situation of the public service broadcaster. Consequently, on October 26, 2010, the Ministry of Culture published on its website a public call for comments, inviting interested parties to comment on a draft Law on “Radio and Television Slovakia (RTS)”. The call was open for comments for only two days. The School of Communication and Media, n.o. (SKAMBA) took this opportunity and submitted twelve comments. The most important of them are listed below:
1. It was suggested to replace the term “public-legal” which refers to public service broadcasting with “media in the public service in the area of broadcasting”. It was argued that the term “public-legal” is old-fashioned and an awkward translation from German offentlich-rechtlich.
2. The draft law uses the term “national” in relation to the core mission of RTS. It was suggested to omit this term because it is closely linked to ethnicity and/or replace it with “national-civic”. SKAMBA argued that the use of the term “national” denotes limited attention to minorities, restricting the mission of RTS. The term also contrasts with the proclaimed independence of public service television and radio.
3. It was suggested to expand the scope of various services provided by the RTS including Internet services (web services and online broadcasting). This is in fact a reality, as some public service radio and television channels broadcast digitally (mostly via Internet or satellite). Moreover, all recent public service radio stations and a sport public television channel are available only through digital terrestrial or satellite broadcasting.
4. SKAMBA suggested either to omit or to rephrase the duty imposed on RTS to provide “verified” news information. It was argued that such an obligation may be impossible to meet in specific cases (for example in relation to international news, statements by politicians, etc).
5. It was suggested that a duty imposed by the draft law on RTS to “…create conditions for societal consensus in public affairs with the aim to strengthen mutual understanding, tolerance and to support cohesion of a diverse society” is in contradiction with professional independent journalism that serves the public interest (and thus not politicians, nor the government). The wording (and mission of RTS) according to the draft law suggested utopian, consensual information/propagandist broadcasting.
6. Changes were suggested in the wording of the duties and responsibilities of the members of the supervising council of RTS and relevant candidates. Attention was drawn to dissociating potential candidates and members from political activism, affiliated with a political party or movement.
7. It was suggested that the merit of RTS should also extend to its own content production. A public service mission incorporating content production obligations appeared underestimated in the draft law in favour of “broadcasting”.
8. It was suggested that editorial departments in public service radio and television should be fully independent in their day-to-day editorial decision-making.
The draft legislation received 576 comments in total. 422 originated from public institutions and state authorities that were specifically required to submit their observations. The rest stemmed from various NGOs and civil society bodies. However, a quick look on the draft law that was approved by the government on November 3, 2010, suggests that only state authorities and public service institutions succeeded in having their comments reflected in the draft law.
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