Ivan Godársky and Marek Mračka
Slovakia, formerly part of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, was a non-free country under Soviet influence until 1989. Media freedom emerged after the regime change, when the first printed publications were produced at the end of the 1989. After the division of Czechoslovakia in 1993, Slovakia became an independent state and in the 90’s major global media players shaped the Slovak media market. Notable examples include the publisher of the German daily Handelsblatt (Hospodárske noviny), which had partial control over the daily Pravda, or the German Verlagsgruppe Passau, which co-owned the second most widely read non-tabloid daily SME. A significant shift in ownership towards regional entrepreneurs happened around 2008; an example of this process was the sale of Hospodárske noviny by the German publishing house Verlagsgruppe Handelsblatt to the Czech billionaire Zdeněk Bakala, who briefly owned it before it was acquired by Andrej Babiš’s MAFRA group.
Television has had a dominant position on the Slovak media market for decades, both in terms of share of the advertising market and as a popular source of news and entertainment. In recent years, however, the environment has changed, with online media and social networks coming to the fore (see more below in the section on non-linear distribution). The media landscape in Slovakia reflects evolving audience preferences, with television, radio and print media adapting to changing media consumption patterns in the digital age.
The key media in Slovakia include the following entities:
Radio and Television of Slovakia (RTVS) is a public service broadcaster, which was created by the merger of Slovak Television and Slovak Radio in 2011. It operates three television channels and nine radio stations, which provide the public with a wide range of programmes.
TV Markíza, founded in 1996, is the leading private television network in Slovakia. It belongs to the Markíza group, which is part of Central European Media Enterprises Ltd (CME) and has been owned by the PPF group since 2020. Although TV Markíza focuses primarily on entertainment programmes, it also has a significant presence in news and journalism. It has played a key role in the country’s political environment, offering an alternative to the state media, particularly in the run-up to the 1998 parliamentary elections.
TV JOJ, which is part of the JOJ Media House, is the second most watched television in Slovakia. It has been broadcasting since 2002. TV JOJ‘s main channel is family-oriented and contains shorter news segments compared to the other main channels. The JOJ Media House is linked to the J&T business group, which is controlled by Slovak financiers. Patrik Tkáč, a key figure and co-owner of Czech Media Invest, owns stakes in radio stations in the Czech Republic, Romania and Poland.
TA3 is a private television station built as a 24/7 news channel. It began broadcasting in 2001 (with its first extraordinary broadcast on 11 September to cover the events in the US), and has been since 2006 owned by Slovak businessman Ivan Kmotrík, who acquired ownership through his Grafobal group by swapping ownership of JOJ TV with financiers from J&T. In 2022, Grafobal sold it to Czech businessman Michal Voráček, the man behind Blueberg Media.
In radio broadcasts, the news segment is dominated by public radio stations, however, the popular private Rádio Expres also provides the main news programmes and a daily discussion show on topical issues. Another influential private radio station, Fun Rádio, has been broadcasting since 1990 and is owned by Boris Kollár, Speaker of Parliament and leader of the Sme rodina (We are family) party, that was part of a ruling coalition between 2020-23. Fun Rádio combines short news programmes with music programmes.
National daily newspapers in Slovakia have a diverse readership and ownership structure. The tabloid newspaper Nový Čas, owned by Anton Siekel’s FPD Media/Publishing, is a newspaper with the highest readership, followed by the tabloid Plus 1 Deň, published by News and Media Holding of Penta Investments Limited (Penta), which also owns other popular titles such as Plus 7 Dní, Trend (an economic weekly) and Emma (a life-style monthly).
The popular daily Pravda, formerly a communist daily, has transformed into a liberal left-wing daily covering current events and politics. It is now published by PEREX, a company controlled by Czech businessmen Ivo Valenta and Michal Voráček.
Another popular daily, SME, which was founded in 1993 as a reaction to government interference in the daily Smena, focuses on news and is published by Petit Press, which is owned by the Prvá slovenská investičná skupina a.s. Penta previously owned a significant, though not a controlling, stake in Petit Press but sold its shares to the Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF) in 2021. Another major daily, Denník N, was founded in 2014 by journalists who left SME precisely because of fears of a possible takeover by Penta. The founders were joined by investors, including the co-owners of software company ESET, who acquired a majority stake. Anton Zajac, a minority investor in Denník N, also financially supported the creation of the political party Progresívne Slovensko (the current Slovak president Zuzana Čaputová was member of the party, the party fell very short of the threshold in the 2020 parliamentary elections and is now one of the leading parties in the polls ahead of the 2023 early parliamentary elections due on 30 September 2023).
The daily Hospodárske noviny, which focuses on the economy, is published by MAFRA Slovakia, which is owned by Czech billionaire Andrej Babiš, who also controls various media outlets in the Czech Republic.
Among weekly newspapers and magazines, apart from the most popular weekly Plus 7 dní (see above), there are also Eurotelevízia (Mafra) and Život (similarly as Plus 7 Dní it is also published by the News and Media Holding). Ringier Axel Springer currently owns the most popular news online portal Aktuality.sk. It is worth to mention that SME.sk, a website of a daily newspaper is enjoying high readership as well.
Since the fall of socialism regime in Czechoslovakia more than three decades ago, the ownership environment of the Slovak media industry has undergone significant changes. While in the past (‘90s) the private media sector was shaped by large foreign media investors, in recent years there is a growing concentration of media ownership among domestic/regional entrepreneurs active in the other business sectors. The most profitable media outlets on the market in Slovakia are currently divided between Czech-Slovak entrepreneurs, whose core business is outside the media.
In 2019, PPF Group acquired TV Markíza, the most popular and profitable entity on the Slovak media market, along with other TV channels owned by CME. PPF Group also owns the sports channel O2 in the Czech Republic. TV JOJ, which is part of the JOJ Media House, is controlled by J&T through companies registered in Cyprus. TA3 news television, owned until 2022 by businessman Ivan Kmotrík, was known for its favourable coverage of politicians in the former government led by the SMER-SD political party (led by three-times prime minister Robert Fico), in particular of the Slovenská národná strana, a nationalist party of a former Speaker of the Parliament Andrej Danko. In 2022, he channel was purchased by Michal Voráček, the Czech businessman behind Blueberg Media.
Apart of the Czech footprint in the TV market, several magazines formerly owned by Bauer Media have become part of MAFRA Slovakia, a publishing house controlled by Andrej Babiš. In addition, a few large foreign media houses, such as Ringier Axel Springer Media and Bauer Media Group, continue to operate in Slovakia. Ringier Axel Springer has each sold its print division, including its flagship tabloid newspaper Nový Čas, to FPD Media, which is owned by Anton Siekel (since 2016 the Chair of the Slovak Olympic Committee). Ringier Axel Springer’s magazines were acquired by News and Media Holding, controlled by Penta Investments. Bauer Media is active in radio broadcasting and owns the popular Slovak private radio Rádio Expres as well as three other radio stations.
Another business group, Penta, has expanded its presence in the media sector and established the largest publishing house in Slovakia, which includes a daily Plus 1 Deň, weeklies Plus 7 dní, and Trend, as well as popular online portal pluska.sk.
The availability of data on Slovak companies is relatively good thanks to online registers that provide free access to basic information on their ownership. It is also possible to find historical records with changes in ownership or organisational structure of companies and owners. However, if a company is owned by a foreign entity, transparency is reduced. Complicating matters are cases where a company is owned by several other companies, and even if, for example, the ultimate owner is known it is sometimes difficult or even impossible to map the details of the ownership chain.
Many, but not all, media outlets have transparent information about editors and journalists, but lack information about the editorial statutes or frameworks that govern their relationship with owners and their independence. Information on state subsidies to media companies and data on revenue management are not easily accessible and require time-consuming review of the state register of contracts for individual contracts. Data on online media users are realistically well available through monitoring by third parties, the data are currently available publicly.
As numerous private media are owned by entrepreneurs whose main activity is outside the media sector, the risk of possible misuse of the media and interference in the editorial work in favour of the owner’s interests, be it economic or even political, is existing. The issue is also the lack of clarity on owners’ influence on editorial content, and in most cases a lack of insight into the relationship between editors and owners and information on possible mechanisms to protect editors from owner interference in editorial work.
The concern related to the risk of potential abuse was demonstrated in a case of Denník N – an independent daily founded in 2014 by journalists who left the established daily newspaper SME in response to the then possible takeover of Petit Press (publisher of SME) by Penta. While after strong resistance also from the owners of Petit Press articulated on several occasions by its CEO Alexej Fulmek, Penta became only a minority shareholder of Petit Press in 2014, several journalists still decided to leave SME and founded Denník N. The entrepreneur/owner’s perspective of this dynamics was demonstrated by Penta’s partner Marek Dospiva in an interview for Czech Hospodářské noviny in 2015 where he said: “I will not walk around hot porridge. Owning the media gives us the reassurance that it will be worse for anyone to attack us irrationally. I would underline word irrationally.” In case of Petit Press, however, in 2021, Penta sold its 34% stake to the Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF), a not-for-profit investment fund for independent media registered in New York
Television in Slovakia benefits from a relatively diverse infrastructure with multiple operators. The most used types of TV signal distribution methods are as follows: satellite distribution (DVB-S), distribution via IPTV, cable TV (DVB-C), while DVB-T is also used via mobile communication network or pay-per-view digital terrestrial broadcasting. In terms of radio signal distribution, FM still dominates, the state of digital radio (DAB+) is not ideal, as DVB transmitters are managed by a small number of companies (interconnected), while there is no great enthusiasm for DAB+ among radio broadcasters and signal coverage is only around 60%. The print media covers the whole country, distribution is handled by several providers and there are no reported cases of discrimination. The internet access is currently around the EU average, with rural areas suffering from poorer access to internet connectivity. There are around 20 internet providers in the market, with three main players dominating the sector. In general, there are no reports of problems with net neutrality.
Most of the traditional linear media (such as newspapers and TV stations) are struggling to adapt to changing consumer habits and digital competition as many audiences in Slovakia, as in other countries, are increasingly turning to online sources and social media to consume news. While leading digital news portals in Slovakia, such as Aktuality.sk have seen an increase in online readership, reflecting a shift towards non-linear news distribution, there are various popular websites that are digital versions of the traditional media outlets. Many traditional media and news portals use social media to reach their audience, which has contributed to the non-linear trend.
In terms of access to news, according to the 2023 Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (Reuters Institute) report, online media (including social networks) are the most popular in Slovakia, with 74% of the population relying on them as their main source of information. Television comes second with 62%. Among social media, Facebook is the most popular platform for news (almost half of the population), followed by YouTube (around a quarter) and other Meta-owned platforms or apps, as follows: Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Of course, today the traditional linear media are very actively using social networks to present their content and target young and new audiences; for example, key TV stations are primarily using YouTube and Facebook, respectively, as the two main social media platforms.
The rate of news consumption, including news via social media, has been in fact declining in recent years, and Slovaks’ overall trust in the media is at the level of the countries included in the Reuters research with the lowest such rate. The most trusted media include public service media RTVS, along with private news channel TA3, private Rádio Expres, the digital-only Aktuality.sk brand and several newspapers, including regional and local press.
There is an apparent lack of transparency in the way information and content is prioritised by intermediaries, social media platforms or news aggregators. In the local environment, this is particularly true for social media, especially in the context of misinformation and disinformation or conspiracy theories, which are currently a major problem in the country.
As of 1 November 2018, the 2003 Law on the Commercial Register obliges each entity that runs business in Slovakia to add the information on its final beneficiary(ies) into the publicly available business registry – thus it covers all the media sectors.
As of 1 February 2017, the 2008 Law on the Protection against the Legalisation of the Proceeds from Crime and on the Protection against the Financing of Terrorism introduced the term ‘final beneficial owner’ (konečný užívateľ výhod). However, the level of information required is a minimal.
Based on the 2011 Regulation of the Government (amended in 2018) all contracts that are related to public funds must be public and kept within the central, publicly accessible Central Contracts Registry (Centrálny register zmlúv).
(Zákon č. 187/2021 Z.z. o ochrane hospodárskej súťaže a o zmene a doplnení niektorých zákonov)
As summarised in the 2023 International Press Institute report on the Media Capture in Slovakia, the problem lies in the absence of clear rules to protect the distribution of state advertising from political interference and the lack of transparency over how advertising is spent and who benefits. The problem is widespread and there are few mechanisms to either monitor or prevent the abuse of these budgets by politicians. There is no evidence to suggest the current government is misusing the advertising budgets. Nevertheless, the Media Pluralism Monitor classifies Slovakia as being at “high risk” of possible misuse of the public advertising money both in law and in practice due primarily to the lack of transparency and regulation.
Moreover, the distribution of advertising funds to media outlets is decentralised. Each government ministry, local municipality, local hospital and public institution allocates its own advertising budgets. As a result, there is no central register of public advertising, and no official figures on who gets how much money from whom.
 Hospodářske noviny, April 2015, available at https://archiv.ihned.cz/c1-63893810-chceme-medialni-stit
 According to the latest July 2023 data, out of top 10 online sources are five digital versions of the traditional media outlets (Pluska.sk, Sme.sk, Pravda.sk, Cas.sk, HNonline.sk), available at https://zive.aktuality.sk/clanok/pZrUtls/rebricek-slovenskych-webov-ovladol-bulvar-skokanom-mesiaca-ta3-navstevnost/
 IPI, May 2023, Media Capture in Slovakia, available at https://ipi.media/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/media-capture-in-slovakia-final.pdf
 IPI, May 2023, Media Capture in Slovakia, available at https://ipi.media/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/media-capture-in-slovakia-final.pdf
Transparency International Slovensko, 2019
Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom, Monitoring Media Pluralism in the Digital Era, 2021
Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom, What is state advertising and why is it such a big problem for media freedom in Europe? 2022
Country report published in September 2023