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Press law a "collection of restrictions"

OSCE press freedom representative Miklós Haraszti delivered several remarks on the draft Slovak press act at a press conference on February 7 following talks with Culture Ministry officials. The following is a collection of excerpts from his address to the media.

OSCE press freedom representative Miklós Haraszti delivered several remarks on the draft Slovak press act at a press conference on February 7 following talks with Culture Ministry officials. The following is a collection of excerpts from his address to the media.

"I have listened very carefully to the arguments presented to justify the parts of the law we criticised, but I have to tell you frankly that I have not changed my mind in terms of that criticism. The basic infringements that would take place if the law were passed in its current form are still standing - section 6, defining restrictions on content, and sections 7, 8 and 9, containing corrective actions. It would have been better to abolish these sections before giving the law to parliament.

"Giving the culture minister the power to judge the content of newspapers opens up a wide range of problems. I understand the noble intentions behind giving more power to the minister, but my mandate obliges me to counter the misuse of hate speech regulations for the purpose of restricting the press. This would clearly be the case if the minister had this power, as it would allow him to restrict mere reporting on controversial issues. Besides, your country already has laws preventing the instigation of war and hatred, so there is no justification for adding a whole new set of proscriptions, which [belongs in] the Guinness Book of [World] Records for the kinds of hate listed, 18. It was very creative to produce such a list of all of the kinds of hatred that exist on earth.

"I understand that section 6 was originally proposed by the Justice Ministry. Even the justice minister has to understand that freedom of speech means no wish list should exist for politicians to ban content they find objectionable.

"In international documents, the right of reply is a legitimate instrument to protect individual rights and pluralism. The Council of Europe is also very clear that this right only applies where the facts are untrue or misleadingly presented. There is also no justification for splitting this remedy into two rights, one for correction and the other for reply. This duplication of corrective actions does not protect freedom of speech, but instead would double the flood of articles that are mandatory for editors, and would weaken the legitimate refusal rights of editors. There would be absolutely no legitimate reason for any editor to refuse any piece.

"You don't want to have a law almost 20 years after the old times that gives the minister the right to decide what content is good and what is bad. I have asked [Culture Minister] Marek Maďarič to tell the justice minister, 'thank you, but no'.

"The Council of Europe's recommendation [from 2004, restricting right of reply to corrections of untrue facts] set a maximum, not a minimum standard. International standards are more important here than national standards. Why would Slovakia want to pass a law that is a collection of restrictive features from all over the world?"

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