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Slovakia28 March 2008

Six leading dailies bring out issues with blank front pages in protest against proposed press law reform

In a protest against a controversial bill to reform a 1966 press law, Slovakia’s six leading daily newspapers yesterday brought out issues with nothing on the front page except seven articles from the bill that have been dubbed the “seven capital sins.”

The six newspapers were highlighting their concern about the lack of any significant response to calls for changes to the draft law, which was submitted to parliament at the end of 2007 and is due to be resubmitted for a vote next week.

Despite the intervention of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and unanimous condemnation by the media and journalists, the bill still provides for direct culture ministry control over media coverage of a range of subjects considered sensitive, as well as automatic right of response for anyone who, rightly or wrongly, thinks they have been defamed or insulted.

“We very much hope that Prime Minister Robert Fico will keep the promises he made on 4 February, when he said he would take account of the observations made by the major international organisations,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“When it joined the European Union, Slovakia undertook to comply with democratic standards, especially as regards press freedom,” Reporters Without Borders added. “A bill that would limit the editorial freedom of the news media by subjecting them to official criteria arbitrarily imposed by the government is unacceptable and must be withdrawn.”

The OSCE welcomed the initial changes made by the government but insisted that the bill continued to pose a serious threat to the editorial autonomy of the news media.

“It is a great pity that the recommendations proposed on the right of response were not taken into consideration,” said Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE’s representative on freedom of the media. “As things stand, this law would still not satisfy respect for Slovakia’s undertakings to the OSCE as regards protection of press freedom.”

The government has a big enough majority to get the proposed press law passed, but it needs the opposition’s votes to ratify the European Union’s new Lisbon treaty, and the opposition has pledged to block ratification if the government does not make the necessary changes to the press law.




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