In a ruling on May 7, the Regional Court in Bratislava ordered the cancellation of an Antitrust Office (PMÚ) decision from March of last year which had imposed a Sk300,000 fine on the Culture Ministry for providing a financial subsidy from the state budget to the state-run TASR news agency in 2006. The court returned the case to the PMÚ for further proceedings. The office may appeal against the court's decision within fifteen days in the Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic. The Culture Ministry brought the case at the Bratislava Regional Court, claiming that the subsidy paid to TASR was in fulfilment of its legal duty. The chairman of the court’s senate explained the decision, saying that the claim was well-founded. “In relation to allocation of public finances to TASR, the plaintiff in 2006 proceeded in line with effective legal norms. The plaintiff had not violated the law on protection of economic competition; on the contrary, the plaintiff acted in accordance with valid legal norms,” he stated.
The PMÚ’s spokesperson, Alexandra Bernáthová, told the SITA newswire that the office would comment on the Regional Court’s decision only after receiving a legal assessment of the situation. The court had already cancelled the PMÚ's decision on a fine for the Culture Ministry for subsidising TASR in 2005. The PMÚ has criticised the Culture Ministry repeatedly for breaching competition rules in its funding for TASR. In 2005, 2006 and 2007 the PMÚ fined the ministry Sk200,000, Sk300,000 and Sk900,000 respectively as a result of subsidies paid to TASR. The Culture Ministry, however, has consistently turned to the Bratislava Regional Court with requests to annul the fines. The PMÚ insists that the ministry restricted competition in the market for providing agency news coverage. It reproached the ministry for its failure in the TASR budget to set an objective and transparent method in advance for the use of public finances, thus enabling TASR to use the funds to finance its competitive activities. The PMÚ suggested that in this way the business could maintain its market position and “prevent a more effective competitor from developing.”
A new bill affecting the state-run TASR news agency has been tailored mainly to put an end to accusations of political influence and restriction of competition. The Culture Ministry, which drafted the bill, wants to transform TASR from its current status as a partly state-subsidised organisation, within the jurisdiction of the Culture Ministry, into a public service, national and independent information institution. The PMÚ has expressed concerns that the proposal could have a negative impact by restricting competition. Despite its concerns, it agreed with the Culture Ministry in April that the ministry would strive to include the PMU's comments in the new bill. TASR ended last year Sk4.104 million in the red. According to its annual report for 2007, it received a subsidy of Sk60.595 million from the Culture Ministry, Sk11.346 million more than original proposed transfer of Sk49.148 million. The subsidy covered more than fifty percent of TASR’s total costs of Sk114.076 million. SITA
b>Compiled by Zuzana Vilikovská from press reports
The Slovak Spectator cannot vouch for the accuracy of the information presented in its Flash News postings.