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Slovakia11 April 2008

Seven leading dailies appear with blank front pages in protest against new media law

Slovakia’s seven leading dailies - SME, Pravda, Hospodarske Noviny, Novy Cas, Plus 1 Den and Uj Szo - protested against the new media law today by bringing out issues with front pages that are completely blank aside from a black-bordered editorial criticising the law, which parliament adopted two days ago.

A similar protest was staged on 7 March.

The new law was also criticised in a statement issued yesterday by Miklos Haraszti, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s representative for media freedom. “Just the fact that the law exists is already a serious limitation on editorial freedom,” Haraszti said. “It is not difficult to imagine where this will lead - newspapers getting flooded with replies from individuals or political forces unable to accept criticism.”

10.04 - Parliament passes controversial reform of press law

The Slovakian parliament yesterday adopted a very controversial reform of the press law despite the unanimous condemnation of the national media and the disapproval of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Although some changes were made, the new law 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.

“It is unacceptable for a European Union member state to adopt a law so much at variance with democratic standards, especially as regards press freedom,” Reporters Without Borders said. “A law that limits the editorial freedom of the news media by subjecting them to official criteria arbitrarily imposed by the government is completely unacceptable and must be withdrawn.”

The press freedom organisation added: “We call on the European authorities to insist that the Slovakian government withdraw this law and initiate a debate aimed at finding a solution that complies with European standards.”

Prime Minister Robert Fico’s government had a big enough majority to get the press law passed, but it needs the opposition’s votes to ratify the European Union’s new Lisbon treaty. The opposition pledged several weeks ago to block ratification if the government pushed the press law through.

In a protest against the proposed law, Slovakia’s six leading daily newspapers brought out issues on 7 March with nothing on the front page except seven of its articles that have been dubbed the “seven deadly sins.”

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