The International Press Institute (IPI) has raised a media freedom alert with the Council of Europe over Slovakia’s planned proposal to grant politicians the right of reply to media content they do not like.
“Lawmakers in Slovakia should reject the bill legally mandating the right of reply for politicians and public officials who claim their honour or reputation has been damaged in media reports,” reads the IPI press release.
The Slovak parliament is set for a final reading on the amendment, introduced by Slovakia’s ruling Smer party whose leaders, including former prime minister Robert Fico, regularly lash out at critical journalists. At a rally in December, 2018, Fico, who has previously called journalists “snakes” and “presstitutes”, said he would amend the country’s right of reply law to end “media terror and lynching”.
Slovakia’s current Press Code provides the right of reply but contains a clause excluding public officials and high-ranking politicians from having recourse to it. The current bill would terminate that exception and require media outlets to publish a reply by individuals, including public officials and political leaders, who claim their rights to dignity, honour or privacy were violated by “factual statements” in “periodical press or news agency items”, according to the IPI.
Fine of €5,000
Media outlets that fail to publish a reply could be ordered to pay damages of up to nearly €5,000.
The country’s ruling parties are also toying with the idea of extending the right of reply to opinion pieces and establishing a state media council despite the fact that Slovakia already has a media council consisting of lawyers, former journalists and other professionals.
Slovakia’s Press Code already contains the right of correction that all individuals, including politicians and public officials, can use, the IPI claimed.
The proposal has been condemned by the Slovak Press Publishers’ Association and comes as the media continues to unearth details about the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová, on February 21, 2018, the reverberations of which led to the resignations of Fico and other Smer officials last year.
Journalists have recently published details about the communication of top politicians with Alena Z., an alleged middle-woman in the murder, and revealed that a high-ranking police official may have given an order to screen Kuciak through police databases, the IPI wrote.