Local Media for Democracy — country focus: Slovakia

Report authored by Marína Urbániková, Masaryk University


Slovakia is a landlocked Central European country with a population that exceeds 5.4 million.[1] Significant economic disparities exist between the capital, Bratislava, and the rest of the country. The gross domestic product of the Eastern Slovakia region is three times lower than the Bratislava region.[2] In terms of internet penetration, 90.7% of households in Slovakia have internet access at home.[3]

Both local media (in the case of broadcasting media) and community media are defined in the Slovak legal framework. The Media Services Act stipulates that: “A local broadcast programme service is a broadcast whose reception is confined to a smaller geographical area, usually a town or city, and whose programmes focus on local information environments or resources and on common interests that create and deepen the intrinsic bonds of a community, leading to the maintenance of a sense of identity with the community.”[4] Furthermore, the Publications Act refers to a community periodical as a publication focusing on local information, resources or common interests, deepening community ties, and without a profit motive. A similar definition of community media can be found in the Media Services Act.[5]

To summarise the state and development of local media in Slovakia, it could be argued that the relatively richly developed local and regional press established during the Communist regime before 1989 remains a fragment today. The report by Transparency International Slovensko on local journalism in Slovakia concluded that print news deserts cover a third of Slovakia.[6] Traditional local media offering standard journalism have largely been replaced by media (print and/or TV) owned or funded by local governments and by commercial advertising periodicals distributed free of charge. Interestingly, the occurrence of news deserts does not appear to be easily explained by economic deprivation or low internet penetration in the area. In addition, some minorities, especially the Romani people, lack sufficient media content and news coverage in their mother tongue. Community media as a sector is very underdeveloped in Slovakia. Despite this unfavourable situation, the public debate regarding local news deserts is almost non-existent.

In terms of the assessed risks, as shown in the following bar chart, the most critical areas include the safety of local journalists, mostly due to challenging working conditions and inadequate remuneration, coupled with the absence of a functional journalists’ association. The market and reach indicator also poses significant concerns, primarily attributed to declining revenues, the closure of local newsrooms, and the absence of a dedicated subsidy system for local media. Both indicators achieve a high-risk score. The remaining three indicators—editorial independence, infrastructure of local media, and social inclusiveness—fall within the medium-risk category.

[1] The World Bank, “Population, total”, The World Bank, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL

[2] Eurostat, “Regional gross domestic product (PPS per inhabitant) by NUTS 2 regions”, Eurostat, https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/databrowser/view/tgs00005/default/table?lang=en

[3] Statistical Office of the SR, “Survey on Information and Communication Technologies Usage in Households 2022”, Statistical Office of the SR, https://slovak.statistics.sk/PortalTraffic/fileServlet?Dokument=c323f3dc-be3b-470a-a999-8d5e86a90195

[4] Act No. 264/2022 Coll. on media services and on amendments and additions to certain acts (Media Services Act), § 19 (1) (5)

[5] Act No. 264/2022 Coll. on media services and on amendments and additions to certain acts (Media Services Act), § 107 (2)

[6] Ľ. Kostelanský & K. Kroková, “Kríza lokálnej žurnalistiky vo Vyšehradských krajinách a špecifická rola samosprávnych novín v nej”, Transparency International Slovensko, Bratislava, 2022, p. 22, https://transparency.sk/sk/kriza-lokalnej-zurnalistiky-narodna-studia-slovensko/

Main findings

Granularity of infrastructure of local media – Medium risk (50%)

While basic data regarding local journalism in Slovakia are often lacking, the available information indicates a critical situation. The report by Transparency International Slovensko states that “Slovakia has found itself in a period when the map of regional media has critically emptied, quality journalism is abandoning even previously weak positions, while the space left vacant is often occupied by problematic actors. This situation is a direct threat to democracy at the local and regional level, for which public independent media scrutiny is as important as it is for democracy at the national level.”[1] According to this report, approximately one-third of Slovakia is characterised as print news deserts, with these areas typically having the lowest population density.[2] Rural and suburban regions are more underserved compared to urban areas.

The network of local journalists and newsrooms is primarily upheld by the two public service media entities. First, Radio and Television Slovakia (RTVS) maintains two regional studios, in Banská Bystrica (Central Slovakia) and Košice (Eastern Slovakia), along with a stable network of its own local/regional correspondents.[3] Second, the Press Agency of the Slovak Republic (TASR) claims to have “the best network of editors, photographers, and video reporters in the regions”, covering a total of 18 cities in Slovakia.[4]

However, commercial media, particularly print media, both nationwide and local, have seen a reduction in the number of local journalists and the closure of local newsrooms in recent years. For instance, Petit Press, which owns the largest network of local print media, once published 30 local weeklies, but that number decreased to 19 by 2022; in addition, the number of journalists working at the weeklies declined from 58 in 2019 to 41 in 2022.[5]

[1] Ibid, p. 21.

[2] Ibid, p. 22.

[3] RTVS, “Výročná správa o činnosti a hospodárení RTVS 2022”, RTVS, Bratislava, 2023, p. 203, https://www.rtvs.org/media/a542/file/item/sk/0002/vyrocna_sprava_o_cinnosti_a_hospodareni_rtvs_2022.wy27.pdf

[4] TASR, “Najčastejšie otázky – FAQ”, TASR, https://www.tasr.sk/o-agenture/FAQ.

[5] Kostelanský & Kroková, Kríza lokálnej žurnalistiky vo Vyšehradských krajinách a špecifická rola samosprávnych novín v nej, p. 5.

Market and reach – High risk (68%)

The indicator of market and reach scored high risk (68%). The systematic collection and publication of data on market shares and revenues for local and community media outlets are not in place, posing an inherent risk in itself. However, available evidence indicates a significant economic decline in the local media sector, with community media being generally very underdeveloped.

An analysis of revenues of local independent publishers (35 out of 44 independent local print media outlets in Slovakia) shows a 14% decline in publisher revenues between 2019 and 2021.[1] These challenges are further compounded by a high inflation rate, averaging 12.8% in 2022[2], and the absence of any direct subsidy mechanism designed for local and/or community media (a situation applicable to media in Slovakia at large). However, cultural and national minority media, including local and community outlets, are eligible to receive grants from the state-funded Fund for the Promotion of National Minority Culture[3] and the Slovak Arts Council[4].

The sole indirect subsidy in place is the VAT reduction, which lowers the rate from 20% to 10% for the print press. This benefit applies exclusively to newspapers and magazines published at least four times a week.[5] Consequently, this measure overlooks the majority of the local press, typically weekly periodicals, which continue to be sold at the standard VAT rate of 20%.

The availability of audience/circulation data is limited to selected media outlets, posing a challenge in evaluating the extent of ownership concentration in the local media market. Cases like that of the Petit Press publishing house, indicate that ownership concentration does not necessarily lead to economic dominance, given the continuous decline in sales and revenues of its local media outlets.[6] Rather, it appears to be an economic necessity.

The willingness of audiences to pay for local news remains low, as evidenced, for instance, by the decline in sales of local weeklies and dailies experienced by the Petit Press publishing house.[7] This trend is likely reinforced by the prevalence of free-of-charge media, including commercial advertising periodicals and print media outlets owned by local governments, which dominate the local media market.[8]

[1] Ibid, p. 14.

[2] Reuters, “Slovak real wages drop most in 22 years amid high inflation”, Reuters, 3 March 2023, https://www.reuters.com/markets/europe/slovak-real-wages-drop-most-22-years-amid-high-inflation-2023-03-03/.

[3] Fund for the Promotion of National Minority Culture, “Výzva č. 1/2023 Fondu na podporu kultúry národnostných menšín”, Fund for the Promotion of National Minority Culture, 2023, https://kultminor.sk/attachments/article/635/Vyzva%201_2023.pdf

[4] Slovak Arts Council, “2.3 Vydávanie časopisov”, Slovak Arts Council, https://www.fpu.sk/sk/podprogramy/vydavanie-casopisov/

[5] Act No. 222/2004 Coll., Value Added Tax Act, § 27 (2)

[6] Kostelanský & Kroková, Kríza lokálnej žurnalistiky vo Vyšehradských krajinách a špecifická rola samosprávnych novín v nej, p. 7.

[7] Ibid, p. 7.

[8] Ibid, p. 3 and p. 15.

Safety of local journalists – High risk (71%)

The safety of local journalists was rated as a high-risk indicator, attaining the highest score of all five indicators (71%). This is attributed to the deterioration in working conditions for local journalists, coupled with the declining economic situation of local media. The number of local journalists is decreasing, and their wages are unattractive.[1] Although social security legislation is in place, a prevalent practice in Slovak journalism involves circumventing employment contracts to reduce costs. Many journalists work as “self-employed” or “freelance” with limited social protection, even if they work exclusively for one newsroom for an extended period.

Furthermore, the Slovak Syndicate of Journalists, the main professional journalism association, does not effectively fulfil its role, either at the national or local level. It lacks authority, abstains from engaging in public debates on current issues related to journalists and journalism, and has an extremely low membership rate among active journalists.[2]

While there are no reports of attacks or threats specifically targeting local journalists, journalists in Slovakia as a whole frequently suffer attacks and intimidation, including instances of verbal abuse involving high-ranking politicians.[3] The lack of reports of attacks against local journalists can be attributed to the challenging conditions faced by local journalism in Slovakia, which, among other things, are not conducive to investigative journalism, a common trigger for such attacks and threats. This could also be the reason why there are no reports of SLAPP cases against local journalists. In general, there is no anti-SLAPP legal framework in place.

[1] Ibid, p. 5, p. 7 and p. 21.

[2] M. Urbániková, “Monitoring Media Pluralism in the Digital Era Application of the Media Pluralism Monitor in the European Union, Albania, Montenegro, Republic of North Macedonia, Serbia & Turkey in the Year 2022”. Country Report: Slovakia, European University Institute, Florence, 2023, p. 12, https://cadmus.eui.eu/handle/1814/75737

[3] ICJK, “Výskum: Cítia sa slovenskí novinári bezpečne? “, ICJK, 2023, https://www.icjk.sk/229/Vyskum-Citia-sa-slovenski-novinari-bezpecne

Editorial independence – Medium risk (59%)

Political control of local media is not regulated; in general, public officials may not engage in business[1], but they are not prohibited from owning companies, including media companies. Traditional independent local media are being displaced by two types of local media with limited independence in terms of political and commercial interests, typically offering low journalistic value to society.

First, the local media market is dominated by outlets owned by local governments, i.e., municipalities and self-governing regions. This applies to the print press in particular, where the number of so-called “townhall periodicals”, distributed free of charge, is ten times higher than the number of independent local periodicals.[2] These periodicals are extensively utilized by local government leaders for self-promotion, resulting in a low diversity of viewpoints and opinions.[3] The legal obligation to maintain objectivity and balance, even though these townhall periodicals are funded by public resources, is not in place. Local governments also own a significant share of local broadcasters (26%)[4]; other TV broadcasters depend on them financially[5].

Second, another significant source of competition for local print media comes from commercial advertising periodicals distributed free of charge, usually directly to household mailboxes; once again, the journalistic quality of these media outlets is problematic.

In general, state advertising is governed by general rules of the Act on public procurement (343/2015 Z. z.) and supervised by the Office for Public Procurement. However, this Act does not mention any specific rules regarding state advertising, and its distribution proves highly non-transparent. On a more positive note, while there is no direct subsidy system designed exclusively for local media, criteria for the distribution of indirect state subsidies (VAT reduction) are clearly defined and they are allocated to local media in both a fair and transparent manner.

There are no regulatory or self-regulatory mechanisms that grant protection to journalists in the event of changes in ownership or editorial direction at both the national and local levels. There are no regulatory safeguards, such as internal bodies or self-regulatory instruments, designed to ensure that decisions regarding the appointment and dismissal of editors-in-chief are not influenced by commercial interests.

With regard to the public service, there is no available information on the independence of RTVS local branches and regional studios. However, the recurring concerns[6] about the political independence of RTVS mean that political pressure cannot be ruled out.

Finally, the Council for Media Services (the Slovak media regulatory authority) has a remit over local broadcasters, and there are no reports suggesting that its decision-making practices have been compromised.

[1] Act No. 357/2004 Coll., Constitutional Law on the Protection of Public Interest in the Exercise of the Functions of Public Officials, Art. 5 (2)

[2] Kostelanský & Kroková, Kríza lokálnej žurnalistiky vo Vyšehradských krajinách a špecifická rola samosprávnych novín v nej, 2022, p. 15.

[3] Transparency International Slovensko, “Radničné noviny stále zostávajú najmä hlásnymi trúbami primátorov”, Transparency International Slovensko, 2022, https://hlasnetruby.transparency.sk/aktuality/radnicne-noviny-stale-zostavaju-najma-hlasnymi-trubami-primatorov

[4] According to the analysis conducted by the author of this report for the LM4D project, based on data published by the Council for Media Services (the Slovak media regulatory authority), 26% of the local and regional broadcasters that held a TV broadcasting license in 2022 are directly owned or co-owned by a municipality or a self-governing region. See: Rada pre mediálne služby, Správa o stave vysielania v Slovenskej republike a o činnosti Rady pre vysielanie a retransmisiu/ Rady pre mediálne služby za rok 2022, Rada pre mediálne služby, Bratislava, 2023, https://rpms.sk/sites/default/files/2023-05/VS2022 web.pdf

[5] Kostelanský & Kroková, Kríza lokálnej žurnalistiky vo Vyšehradských krajinách a špecifická rola samosprávnych novín v nej, 2022, p. 17.

[6] Urbániková, “Monitoring Media Pluralism in the Digital Era Application of the Media Pluralism Monitor in the European Union, Albania, Montenegro, Republic of North Macedonia, Serbia & Turkey in the Year 2022”. Country Report: Slovakia,p. 19. 

Social inclusiveness – Medium risk (46%)

Social inclusiveness has the lowest risk score of all the indicators at 46% (i.e., medium risk). This is mostly attributed to RTVS, the Slovak public service broadcaster, which consistently complies with legal requirements[1] and regularly broadcasts news in minority languages[2]. The main commercial broadcasters do not allocate dedicated airtime to minorities, and it is not a legal obligation for them to do so. Nevertheless, a relatively high number of smaller private media outlets fulfil this role by offering news in minority languages.

However, there are significant differences in meeting the information needs of individual minorities. For the Hungarian minority, the largest in Slovakia (comprising around 8% of the population)[3], there are commercial TV and radio channels broadcasting in Hungarian, along with a relatively large number of print and online news media in Hungarian, supported by both Slovak and Hungarian public funds. In contrast, the situation for the Roma minority (estimated to be around 8% of the Slovak population)[4] is significantly worse. In 2022, there was no TV or radio station broadcasting in Romani.[5]

Moreover, despite the absence of systematic data on the topic, the representation of minorities in commercial media outlets sometimes appears biased and misleading. For example, a recent analysis of media coverage concerning Muslims in print and digital media revealed an overall negative framing of topics related to Muslims.[6]

In general, local media lack the capacity to adequately deliver sufficient public interest news to meet the critical information needs of the communities they serve. As explained in previous sections, the situation in the local media sector, particularly in local print media, is challenging, with more than a third of Slovakia covered by print news deserts.[7] This deficiency is partially alleviated by the provision of local news by RTVS, the Slovak public service broadcaster, and TASR, the public service news agency.

[1] Act No. 532/2010 Coll. on Radio and Television Slovakia, § 5 (1) (g)

[2] The number of hours broadcast for national minorities on RTVS is regularly monitored by the Council for Media Services; see Rada pre mediálne služby, Správa o stave vysielania v Slovenskej republike a o činnosti Rady pre vysielanie a retransmisiu/ Rady pre mediálne služby za rok 2022, p. 60-61.

[3] ŠÚSR, “Počet obyvateľov podľa národnosti v SR k 1. 1. 2021”, Štatistický úrad Slovenskej republiky,


[4] MVSR, “Ábel Ravasz predstavil nový Atlas rómskych komunít – trendy sú pozitívne”, Ministerstvo

vnútra Slovenskej republiky, https://www.minv.sk/?tlacove-spravy&sprava=abel-ravaszpredstavil-


[5] Rada pre mediálne služby, Správa o stave vysielania v Slovenskej republike a o činnosti Rady pre vysielanie a retransmisiu/ Rady pre mediálne služby za rok 2022, p. 58-60.

[6] Z. Hasna & N. Plulíková, Framing: Mediálny obraz islamu a moslimov na

Slovensku, Islamská nadácia na Slovensku, Bratislava, 2022, https://www.islamonline.sk/download/9574/

[7] Kostelanský & Kroková, Kríza lokálnej žurnalistiky vo Vyšehradských krajinách a špecifická rola samosprávnych novín v nej, p. 22.

Best practices and open public sphere

Due to the small market and challenging economic conditions, media in Slovakia have long been compelled to innovate. For instance, the two major national quality dailies, Denník N[1] and SME[2], publish newsletters, organise public discussions, offer a short message service with notifications and links to additional information (available on the web and in apps), produce podcasts, and publish books.

Denník N further contributes to education by publishing guides for teachers and students and organising lectures and discussions for schools. The daily has also developed the “Readers Engagement and Monetisation Platform”, an open-source media subscription system that assists publishers in understanding and monetising their audience better.[3]

There are very few civil society initiatives providing innovative responses to address the challenges posed by the decline of local and community news provision. The majority of such efforts are spearheaded by a single organisation, Transparency International Slovensko, which recently produced an in-depth report mapping the local media market in Slovakia.[4] Additionally, it regularly issues the quality assessment of the local print media outlets owned and published by local governments.[5]

[1] Denník N, ‘O Denníku N’, Denník N, 2022, https://dennikn.sk/o-denniku-n/

[2] SME, ‘SME Novinky’, SME, https://novinky.sme.sk/

[3] Denník N, ‘O Denníku N’, Denník N, 2022, https://dennikn.sk/o-denniku-n/

[4] Kostelanský & Kroková, Kríza lokálnej žurnalistiky vo Vyšehradských krajinách a špecifická rola samosprávnych novín v nej.

[5] Transparency International Slovensko, “Hlásne trúby”, Transparency International Slovensko, n.d., https://hlasnetruby.transparency.sk/

Map of Local Newspaper Coverage in Slovakia

This map shows the local newspaper coverage in Slovakia in 2022. You have the option to filter by newspaper type and district. Hover over a district to view its newspaper coverage, including a detailed breakdown by newspaper type. Clicking on a specific district provides a detailed list of media outlets in the table below the map, complete with information on newspaper type. The original data source for this visualization is Transparency International Slovensko and can be accessed by clicking here.