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Prime minister accuses media of conspiring to undermine government

(IPI/IFEX) - VIENNA,17 December 2009 - The International Press Institute (IPI), its affiliate, the Southeast Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), and the IPI National Committee in Slovakia are concerned about a recent statement by Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico accusing local publishers of joining forces in a coordinated campaign against the Slovakian government and Fico's party, Smer. Fico also compared newspaper publishers to the mafia.

The Association of Slovak Press Publishers denied that publishers had coordinated their efforts against the government. In a joint statement last week, the board of directors of the Association of Slovak Periodical Publishers, representatives of the largest publishing houses and editors-in-chief of leading Slovak dailies, firmly dismissed Fico's claims and rejected being compared to the mafia.

"Continued attacks against journalists, full of improper and even vulgar adjectives, are embarrassing and offending," said the statement, which was published on the front page of most Slovakian national dailies on Saturday, 12 December.

"Media criticism of the government is a natural element of any democratic society, and contributes to healthy debate about issues of public concern. Government leaders must respect this and refrain from verbal attacks against the media, which lead to a climate of hostility against media professionals and encourage self-censorship," said IPI Director David Dadge. "The media must be free to distribute information and opinion without fear of reprisal."

Last week, Fico compared journalists, who were looking for information in the village where the prime minister grew up, to pigs. A group of journalists was investigating potential family ties between the prime minister and the wife of the former director of the Slovak Land Fund, who is responsible for controversial land transfers.

"Examining family ties between leading politicians and people who are nominated by politicians to lead state institutions is not an indecent act. On the contrary, such investigations are important in the fight against cronyism and for the protection of democratic institutions," said IPI Board Member and Chairman of the IPI Slovakian Committee, Pavol Mudry. "Thus we consider the vulgar comparisons that the prime minister has made about the media not only offensive but also threatening to media freedom."

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