Slovakia's STV facing criticism from documentary makers


The Slovak public broadcaster STV is under fire. Not only is it facing a campaign which wants to cancel compulsory fees which form the broadcaster's funding base, it also received a challenge from documentary film makers questioning the quality of STV's programming.

The Slovak public broadcaster STV is looking for a new director. Seizing the opportunity, Slovak documentary film-makers signed a letter on the 30th of January asking members of the STV council to choose a candidate that will renew quality documentary film production, and ensure a conceptual approach to the programming structure. They also stressed the fact that as a public broadcaster, it is STV’s duty to ensure socially engaged programming. In light of the recent petition calling for the cancelation of compulsory fees, a debate questioning the quality of the broadcaster’s programming, could have serious consequences. Director and producer Marek Sulik was one of the signatories.

"We wrote the letter because we feel that documentary film is simply missing on STV. The documentary films which are made, do not appear to deal with current issues. For us, documentary film is also in a sense a social science, because a good documentary film should explore what is happening in Slovakia, and should help the viewer come to terms with the past".

According to Sulik, this problem has been building up for quite a few years now, and it's reached a point where it can no longer be ignored.

"It actually looks like many opportunities have already been missed. Over the past 10 years, very little has been said about communism, or the first Slovak state. It’s as if though we were behind in terms of social introspection. Somehow, towards the end of last year we realised that this situation is not sustainable. The emptiness in the Slovak media is so big that it’s not longer possible not to react".

Producer Mario Homolka insists that the lack of interest by STV in documentary films has led to a situation where documentaries receive an insignificant proportion of the public broadcaster’s budget.

"There are quite a few films that were created independent of STV and received international acclaim, and STV just isn’t interested in broadcasting them. From its entire budget, STV plans to give just 4% to documentary production, and just for comparison, 26% for entertainment, which is just absurd".

This week STV's programming director Maria Sedlakova held a press conference to address the concerns raised in the letter. Her initial response was to admit that there is a problem.

"Until now, the criteria that more than 50% of programming should be public interest programmes, which were set for STV, have not been met. I expressed serious concern that the previous council didn’t object to this failure to meet the programming requirements".

Having placed the blame with the preceding members of the council, the programming director went on to insist, that the situation really isn’t that bad after all.

"I think the signatories represent only a small proportion of those people who work with us. I would like to organise a brainstorming session so that we can communicate with the creators, so that we can communicate in a direct way and not just through the media. This way we can discuss the problems, and I could outline my plans to conceptually integrate documentary productions".

Mario Homolka is convinced there is only one way out of the current situation.

"The only way we can move forward is if STV genuinely opens up and starts publishing its plans. This means not just programming but also the budget. That’s what I consider to be real opening up. So far, STV’s programming director has refused to do this. This means we have no way of evaluating what they do, because they keep doing it behind closed doors".