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Prime minister threatens action against journalists who cover groups said to "promote separatism"

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an 8 April 2009 media release by the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), an IFJ regional group:

EFJ Protests Over 'Intimidating Signal' to Media From Slovak Prime Minister

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the regional group of the International Federation of Journalists, today condemned a warning issued by Robert Fico, the Prime Minister of Slovakia over media coverage of what he says are trouble-making extremist groups in neighbouring Hungary.

The Prime Minister on Monday gave a blunt warning that the government might take action against journalists covering groups which he says are promoting separatism and trying to sow dissent within Slovakia's minority Hungarian community. Fico said his government might act to stop reporting that it considers damaging to Slovakian national interest.

The EFJ accused him of sending an "intimidating signal" about the future of press freedom in Slovakia.

"This sort of loose political talk creates an intimidating atmosphere for journalists," said Aidan White, European Federation of Journalists General Secretary. "The Prime Minister would do well to consider the damage he does to press freedom and the reputation of Slovakia in Europe when he speaks like this."

The EFJ says that political debate and discussion about tough issues such as rights of minorities cannot be ignored. "Complex issues need to be reported in context by well informed journalists," said White. "But journalists and media cannot do their job well when government starts throwing its weight around."

White said many countries in Europe had to deal with internal discussions over issues such as regional independence, border arrangements or political controversy with neighbours. Slovakia is not a special case, he said.

"Creating an atmosphere of self-censorship and intimidation will not solve problems - if anything, it only make matters worse," said White. "That's why we support Slovak journalists who are determined to protect their editorial independence and professionalism from political interference."

He said that later this month he will visit Slovakia to meet with the Slovak Syndicate of Journalists, media leaders and state officials to discuss the problems that journalists face.

"Recent events point to a growing crisis for media freedom in the region," said White. "It's time for tolerance and dialogue and less intemperate politics when it comes to media affairs."

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 123 countries worldwide.

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