NEW BODY OFFERS PEOPLE INJURED BY PRESS REPORTING AN ALTERNATIVE TO COURT

Press council to defend public

IF THE new Press Council fulfils its mission, lengthy court trials will no longer be the only recourse Slovak citizens have if they feel injured by articles in the print media.
A six-member body established in late March, the council intends to serve as a conflict mediator that will help reach out-of-court settlements.
While it has no legal brief, the council does involve respected public figures such as painter Miroslav Cipár, historian Ivan Kamenec, teacher and psychologist Elena Hradiská, bishop Ivan Osuský, lawyer and human rights activist Ján Hrubala, and Pavol Demeš, head of the German Marshall Fund of the United States for Central and Eastern Europe.


MIROSLAV Cipár, head of the new Press Council.
photo. TASR

IF THE new Press Council fulfils its mission, lengthy court trials will no longer be the only recourse Slovak citizens have if they feel injured by articles in the print media.

A six-member body established in late March, the council intends to serve as a conflict mediator that will help reach out-of-court settlements.

While it has no legal brief, the council does involve respected public figures such as painter Miroslav Cipár, historian Ivan Kamenec, teacher and psychologist Elena Hradiská, bishop Ivan Osuský, lawyer and human rights activist Ján Hrubala, and Pavol Demeš, head of the German Marshall Fund of the United States for Central and Eastern Europe.

Given the slow work of the courts and the inadequacy of media legislation (Slovakia's press law is four pages long, and was written in 1966), many media experts welcomed the new body.

Peter Tygessen from the Union of Danish Journalists, who has been visiting Slovakia and participating in a series of roundtables on journalistic ethics organised by the Government Office's Anti-Corruption Unit, said on April 12 that "real life in Slovakia is such that if the media publish faulty information and don't correct it, the public has no other means of help than to sue.

"But court proceedings can take a long time, and the faulty information will continue to cause damage until the court decides," said Tygessen.

The council is hoping to "prevent problems from ending up in the courts in the first place. We also want to try to mediate agreements between parties," said council head Cipár.

The council, which met for the first time on March 20, was established by the Association for the Protection of Journalistic Ethics, which was set up in October last year and unites the Slovak Syndicate of Journalists and the Association of Periodical Press Publishers.

The council will collect public complaints and, if they are found to have grounds, approach newspapers to have a correction printed or rebuttal space given to the injured party. The council will publish its findings in its annual report, and in the bulletins of its founding organisations.

Tygessen remarked, however, that it was a shame the council only covered print press matters rather than whole media scene.

But Cipár believed that there was no need to supervise radio and television stations because "the electronic media have their own councils and the state, which gives them broadcast licenses and also oversees some aspects of their work."

Although it has no right to fine or otherwise punish newspapers, the council hopes to wield power as a moral authority, and expects that newspapers will want to avoid having their stories censured by the council.

Milan Stanislav, deputy editor of the Pravda daily paper, agreed that this tactic might prove effective. "Reputable media will not wish to see their stories dealt with by the council," he said.

The Sme daily's editor in chief, Milan Šimečka, added a note of caution. "I value the opinion of people like Cipár, Hrubala and Kamenec, so I will definitely take them as discussion partners. But I can't predict how effective the council will actually be."

The Press Council's Hradiská said that people often complained about the media but until now have not known who to turn to with their complaints. "Now they can turn to the Press Council. I believe they'll send us their suggestions."

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