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International Press Institute protests civil complaint against Sme

The International Press Institute (IPI), a global organisation of editors, media executives and leading journalists, has called on the Slovak Environment Inspectorate to drop a civil complaint it made against the daily Sme newspaper. The complaint, filed under Slovakia’s controversial right-of-reply section of its 2008 Press Act, is the first time a civil case has been pressed against a newspaper, reported the SITA newswire on May 4.

The International Press Institute (IPI), a global organisation of editors, media executives and leading journalists, has called on the Slovak Environment Inspectorate to drop a civil complaint it made against the daily Sme newspaper. The complaint, filed under Slovakia’s controversial right-of-reply section of its 2008 Press Act, is the first time a civil case has been pressed against a newspaper, reported the SITA newswire on May 4.

The law requires the print media to publish replies of readers who feel their reputation has been “touched” by a published article and Sme could face a fine of up to €5,000, SITA wrote.

“IPI strongly opposed the Press Act's right-of-reply provisions from the outset due to the potential for abuse”, said IPI Director David Dadge, reported SITA. “Those who supported the provision said it was included to help citizens defend their reputations, but what we have here are officials looking to temper criticism and use a private newspaper as the unwilling delivery system for the opinions of the authorities. We urge that the case against Sme be dropped immediately," he said.

The complaint against Sme stems from a March 2, 2009 opinion piece written by deputy editor-in-chief Lukáš Fila, who wrote about a controversial waster dump being built on the outskirts of Bratislava, SITA wrote. Fila's piece supported one of his colleagues, Marián Leško, who had written that the agency, together with other bodies, “annulled” a decree of the Pezinok town council prohibiting a waste dump in the town. Although Leško used the word “annul” in quotation marks, the Slovak Environmental Inspection picked this expression to claim that Leško’s words were not true and harmed the good reputation of the agency, the daily Sme wrote.

Although Fila’s 233-word column only briefly mentioned the agency, the Environmental Inspectorate requested that Sme print a 217-word reply. The Press Act stipulates that such replies be printed in their entirety. Sme refused the request on March 24 and court action is pending, sources have told IPI, reported SITA.

In a press freedom audit on Slovakia issued in April, IPI expressed concern about the right-of-reply clauses in the Press Act. IPI, joined by its affiliate, the South East Europe Media Organization, and Slovak journalists have repeatedly condemned the law and contend that such rules could cost newspapers valuable publication time and space and infringe on editorial independence. IPI has also called on the Slovak parliament to scrap the law, SITA wrote. SITA, Sme

Compiled by Zuzana Vilikovská from press reports
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