People form a human chain around Slovakia's public broadcaster that government wants to take over

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Tlačová agentúra SR

People take part in a protest organised by the Slovakian opposition parties in Bratislava, Wednesday, March. 27, 2024. People in Bratislava have formed a human chain around the building of Slovakias public radio and television to protest a plan by the government of populist Prime Minister Robert Fico to take over the broadcasters. The plan has been condemned President Zuzana aputov, opposition parties, local journalists, international media organizations, the European Commission and others have warned the changes would give the governments full control of public broadcasting. (Pavol Zachar/TASR via AP)

BRATISLAVA – Protesters in Slovakia formed a human chain around the country's public television and radio building Wednesday in anger over a takeover plan by the government whose populist, pro-Russia prime minister recently labeled several private media outlets his enemies.

The takeover plan was drafted by Culture Minister Martina Šimkovičová, who represents an ultra-nationalist member party of the coalition government and has worked for an internet television outlet known for spreading disinformation.

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The plan has been condemned by 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.

Wednesday’s was the latest protest against the policies of Prime Minister Robert Fico, known for his tirades against journalists. His critics worry Slovakia under him will abandon its pro-Western course and follow the direction of Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Šimkovičová has said taking over public media is needed because she believes the current broadcaster is biased, giving space only to mainstream views and censoring the rest. The broadcaster has denied that.

According to her plan, the current public radio and television known as RTVS would be replaced by a new organization. A new seven-member council with members nominated by the government and parliament would select the broadcaster's director and have the right to fire the director without giving cause.

The current broadcaster's director was elected by parliament, and his term in office will end in 2027.

The hundreds of protesters unveiled a banner reading “HANDS OFF RTVS!” and chanted to local journalists, “We're by your side." Thousands of people rallied in a similar protest earlier this month.

Fico returned to power for the fourth time last year after his leftist party Smer (Direction) won the parliamentary election on a pro-Russian, anti-American platform.

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