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IPI publishes Press Freedom Audit report

(IPI/IFEX) - VIENNA, 13 October 2009: The International Press Institute (IPI) on Wednesday published a report on the press freedom climate in the Czech Republic based on a 13-14 May 2009 visit to the Czech capital Prague by an IPI delegation to meet with media professionals and discuss press freedom obstacles faced by the Czech media.

The fact-finding mission was the second in a series of national media environment assessments carried out in the region and included confidential conversations with editors and journalists from private print and online publications, a publisher, media specialists, and the Czech news agency.

In March, IPI conducted a similar mission in Slovakia.

IPI's meetings in Prague revealed that the issue of greatest concern to Czech journalists is a law that entered into force on 1 April 2009 under which it is illegal to publish any data obtained from police wiretaps, as well as to publish information indicating that wiretapping has occurred. It is also illegal to publish information about individuals involved in certain crimes, without their consent. The restriction applies to both victims and perpetrators. Sanctions include fines of up to five million Czech koruna (approximately €190,000) for media outlets, or one million Czech koruna (approximately €38,000) for individuals.

Alarmingly, as well, anyone who violates the restrictions faces a prison term of up to five years.

Czech Human Rights and Ethnic Minorities Minister Michael Kocab, in an Email interview with IPI, acknowledged that the law was contributing to a rise in self-censorship and needed to be amended.

"The wiretapping law in its essence is certainly contributing to the rise of self-censorship," Kocab said. "This is why it is necessary to amend the law."

He added: "The goal of the proposal is to create a more balanced modification in the conflict between two basic rights – freedom of information and the right to privacy."

"The International Press Institute (IPI) welcomes the Human Rights Minister's efforts to amend the gag law," said IPI Director David Dadge. "It is imperative that journalists be allowed to report on news that is in the public interest, no matter how embarrassing it may be to some politicians. While we applaud the proposed inclusion of a public interest exception in the law, IPI hopes that the proposed amendments will also ensure that no journalists are ever jailed for press offences."

As part of its report, IPI recommends the following:

IPI Recommendations

• Amend the law banning the disclosure of wiretap information and information from certain criminal investigations to include broad protections for journalists reporting on matters of public interest, particularly the activities of political figures and government bodies.
• Repeal legal provisions that punish press offences with prison sentences.
• Repeal outdated laws criminalizing defamation.
• Maintain the strong protections guaranteed under the current Press Law.
• Journalists must strengthen self-regulatory mechanisms as an important step toward preventing statutory regulation of the media.
• Politicians must stop using civil defamation lawsuits to harass publications and journalists.

Read the full report:
Press_Freedom_Audit_Report_Czech_Republic.pdf (189 KB)

Read the interview with Czech Human Rights Minister Michael Kocab:
Interview.pdf (63 KB)

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