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Civil defamation a worrying trend in Slovakia, says IPI

Civil defamation lawsuits are being disproportionately slapped onto critical journalists and media organisations in Slovakia, which could have the added effect of self-censorship, says the International Press Institute (IPI) in a new report.

In one of the most worrying cases, a Bratislava Regional Court ruled last November that the privately owned Radio Viva must pay more than 30,000 Euros (US$39,000) in libel damages to a Slovak judge in connection with a 2004 report on fraud charges brought against him. The fine was handed down despite the broadcaster's report being based on information from the Ministry of Interior.

IPI's press freedom audit in Slovakia says the judge is suing at least 10 news organisations for reporting on the same Ministry of Interior information and seeks damages of more than 4.3 million Euros (US$5,591,300).

"The Radio Viva ruling has had an impact on other radio broadcasters in the country," said IPI director David Dadge. "The ruling is perceived to have been handed down despite the station operating well within the bounds of fair and balanced journalism. Faith that the judicial system is equipped to deal with such situations has also been drastically undermined."

The report also notes that politicians have used public forums to attack the media. Prime Minister Robert Fico on different occasions has called journalists "idiots" and compared them to "slimy snakes".

IPI's Slovak audit mission was the first in what will be a series of similar assessments to be carried out in countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

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