A Slovak government agency should immediately drop a civil complaint against the daily SME that was filed when the newspaper refused to print a response to a column under a controversial right-of-reply law, the International Press Institute said today.
The complaint, filed by the Inspectorate for the Environment, is the first time a civil case has been pressed against a newspaper under the 2008 Press Act, which contains provisions obligating print media to publish the replies of readers who feel their reputation has been touched by a published article. SME could face a fine of up to 5,000 EUR.
IPI strongly opposed the Press Act's right-of-reply provisions from the outset due to the potential for abuse, said IPI Director David Dadge. Those who supported the provision said it was included to help citizens defend their reputation, but what we have here are officials looking to temper criticism and use a private newspaper as the unwilling delivery system for the opinions of the authorities. We urge that the case against SME be dropped immediately.
The complaint against the Bratislava-based daily stems from a 2 March 2009 opinion piece by deputy editor-in-chief Lukas Fila, who wrote about the building of a controversial refuse site on the outskirts of Bratislava. The column criticised the actions of government agencies, and claimed that the Inspectorate for the Environment had acted in a manner designed to cover its back.
Although the 233-word column only briefly touched up the subject of the state agencies, the Inspectorate for the Environment requested that SME print a 217-word reply. The Press Act stipulates that such replies be printed in their entirety. SME refused the request on 24 March. Court action is pending, sources told IPI.
In a press freedom audit report on Slovakia issued in April, IPI expressed concern about the right-of-reply clauses in the Press Act. IPI, joined by its affiliate, the South East Europe Media Organisation, and Slovak journalists, have repeatedly condemned the law and contend that such rules could cost newspapers valuable publication time and space, and infringe on editorial independence. IPI has called on Parliament to scrap the law.