Bratislava, Slovakia – Prime Minister Igor Matovic (OLaNO) has faced a backlash after criticizing Slovak journalists on the third anniversary of the murder of Jan Kuciak.
On Sunday, Slovakia commemorated the third anniversary of the gruesome murder of investigative reporter Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova on February 21, 2018. Although having been found innocent, the suspected mastermind of the assassination Marian Kocner was sentenced to 19 years in prison in a different case.
“Face the truth” about Slovak journalism
Prime Minister Matovic used the highly symbolic date to pay homage to Jan Kuciak… and criticize the work of Slovak journalists.
“Jan was the prototype of honest and profound investigative journalism,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “Three years after the murder, it’s time to face the truth about Slovak journalism: we could count the journalists of Jan Kuciak’s quality – I will exaggerate – on the fingers of two hands. The rest is […] often superficial, often biased.”
In the post, he reminds that after becoming Prime Minister, he came up with the idea of launching a fund for the education and support of investigative journalism in Slovakia. The proposal was eventually rejected due to fears the government would hold too much influence on the process. “It’s nice that Mr Matovic is thinking of us, and this idea may be well-meant, but it’s a road to hell,” Arpad Soltesz, head of the Jan Kuciak Centre for Investigative Journalism, said at the time.
Matovic claims he has since then been the victim of “a wave of hatred” from Slovak newspapers. “Why are they doing that?” he asked in the post. “I wish you, Slovak journalists, to become like Jan Kuciak,” he concludes. “The sooner the better for Slovakia. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you.”
“Matovic in a nutshell”
The post, published while a commemorative ceremony attended by President Zuzana Caputova was held at the SNP Square in Bratislava, didn’t go down too well.
“On the third anniversary of the murder of Jan Kuciak, Slovak PM Igor Matovic decided to… insult, ridicule and lecture journalists. I have no words,” wrote one Twitter user. Another added: “Reproaching journalists of using Jan Kuciak’s murder for personal gain, whilst using Kuciak’s murder for personal gain; Igor Matovic in a nutshell.”
Christophe Deloire, the head of Reporters without Borders who met with PM Matovic during a recent state visit to Paris, said that “I warned him against the danger of weakening journalism with verbal attacks.”
A few hours later, possibly to defuse the controversy, Matovic published another Facebook post, with an emotional and direct address to Kuciak. “Janko, I never managed to tell you personally, but I admired you very much”, he wrote, praising the young reporter’s courage and “stubborn” ideal to do his job no matter what. “I feel responsible for your and Martina’s death”.
After years of bitter clashes between former Prime Minister Robert Fico (Smer) – who infamously labelled reporters as “dirty, anti-Slovak prostitutes” – and journalists, many of whom have reported facing various forms of intimidation and surveillance due to the nature of their work, hopes were high that the situation would change with Matovic following his election in 2020.
But after showing promising signs of wanting to support and strengthen investigative journalism in Slovakia, Matovic has since then regularly crossed swords with journalists and media outlets, whom he accuses of biased reporting and unfair coverage.