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Thousands rally in Slovakia to protest a controversial overhaul of public broadcasting

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — Thousands of Slovaks rallied in the capital on Thursday to protest – again – a controversial overhaul of the country’s public radio and television services, a move that critics say would result in the government taking full control of the media.

The coalition government of populist Prime Minister Robert Fico approved the measure on April 24, and the Parliament, where Fico’s coalition government has a majority, is expected to approve it in June.

The plan has been widely criticized by President Zuzana Čaputová, local journalists, the opposition, international media organizations and the European Commission.

The proposed changes would mean the public broadcaster known as RTVS would cease to exist and be replaced by a new organization.

“The Slovak democracy needs a strong and independent RTVS and its employees need your support,” Michal Šimečka, the head of Progressive Slovakia, the major opposition party that organized the protest, told a crowd of several thousands at Bratislava Freedom Square.

“If Fico takes control of RTVS, it would mean a decisive step on the way towards Orbán and Putin,“ Šimečka said.

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

Šimkovičová said the current broadcaster gives space only to mainstream views and censors the rest. The broadcaster has denied the claim.

“They don’t understand that the essence of public broadcasting is to protect democracy, the rule of law and freedom,” said Zora Jaurová, a lawmaker for the Progressive Slovakia party.

Under her plan, the new broadcaster — Slovak television and radio, or STVR — will have a director selected by a council whose nine members will be nominated by the Culture Ministry and Parliament. The current director has a parliamentary mandate until 2027.

Fico’s leftist Smer (Direction) party won the Sept. 30 parliamentary elections on a pro-Russian and anti-American platform.

Critics worry Slovakia under Fico will abandon the country’s pro-Western course and follow the direction of Hungary under populist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Thousands have repeatedly rallied in the capital and across Slovakia to protest Fico’s policies.

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