The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), a network of editors, media executives and leading journalists from South East Europe and an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), would like to express its concern regarding a draft bill on ‘the periodical press and news agencies’ in Slovakia, the so-called “press act”.
According to information before SEEMO, on 9 January 2008, during the 75th Slovak Republic government session, the Cabinet approved a new bill containing amendments to certain acts, such as the Right to Reply Act (“RRA”). While the right to a correction within eight days is taken from current law, the draft amendments state that if a person mentioned in an article sends a reply, this reply has to be published within three days, even if they provide no facts to repudiate the original article.
Moreover, the draft bill denies the editors the right to react to the reply. The bill also states that this reply must be published in the same place and be the same size as the original article.
SEEMO Secretary General, Oliver Vujovic, said that “there is a potential threat in the wording of this bill, which leaves room for politicians to manipulate the media. This could force the media into self-censorship for fear of bankruptcy. This new law has an impact on editorial independence, and could be used as a means of self-promotion for the politicians,” he added.SEEMO also warns that this law could jeopardise the right of publishers to receive commercial profit from their advertising space if the editor is forced to relinquish control of parts of his newspaper to individuals who may seek to use this legal right for their own ends.
SEEMO does, however, welcome the part of the bill that reduces maximum fines for print media and news agencies from SKK two million to SKK 200,000. This change is a welcome first step in creating a better media environment.
Nevertheless, SEEMO would like to point out that, in order for a democratic society to be maintained, a free and vigorous public debate is necessary. For that to be possible, the politicians should receive less protection in the press than ordinary citizens, and these modifications to the RRA may well hinder this accepted principle.