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Czech Republic28 January 2009

Press freedom threatened by proposed phone tap amendment

Reporters Without Borders condemns a proposed criminal law amendment before parliament that would ban the media from publishing the contents of police telephone taps or any information about the tapping of phones by the police. The proposed amendment provides for sentences of one to five years in prison and fines up to 5 million crowns (182,000 euros) for violators.

“In its current form, this bill would seriously undermine the right to inform and be informed, as well as the constitutionally-guaranteed right to disseminate news and information,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It would reduce sources of information and pose a serious obstacle to investigative journalism. The European Union must be beyond reproach, and indeed should set an example, in its reforms of laws affecting the media. It should above all ensure that the laws it drafts increase individual freedom rather than restricting the areas of investigation.

The press freedom organisation added : “If amendments have to be made to legislation affecting the media, they must respect the European Union’s democratic standards and should be preceded by dialogue with those concerned. With just a few months to go to European elections, we call on the Czech government, which currently holds the EU rotating presidency, to announce the withdrawal of this amendment.”

The proposed amendment was passed by the national assembly on first reading on 31 November and is due to go before the lower house again in February. The editors of leading national media* have meanwhile sent an open letter to the senate speaker and deputy speaker and the chair of the parliamentary media commission expressing their opposition to the bill.

*The letter’s signatories : Robert Casensky (MF DNES), Veselin Vackov (Lidove noviny), Petr Simunek (Hospodarske noviny), Zdenek Prybny (Pravo), Martin Ondracek (TV Nova news service), Pavel Safr (Reflex), Istvan Leko (Euro), Martin M. Simecka (Respekt)

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