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Controversial Press Act passes third reading; IPI asks president not to sign it into law

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is a 15 April 2008 IPI letter to President Ivan Gasparovic:

H.E. Ivan Gasparovic
President of the Slovak Republic
Office of the President of the Slovak Republic
Hod?ovo nám. 1
P.O. Box 128
810 00 Bratislava 1
Slovakia

Vienna, 15 April 2008

Your Excellency,

We the undersigned, representing the International Press Institute and the international media, are writing to urge you to return the disputed Press Act ("the Act") to the Slovak Parliament for further consideration and discussion.

The Act contains controversial changes to Slovakia's current media legislation and was approved on its third reading on 9th April 2008, despite strong protests from the main opposition party, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union-Democratic Party.

If signed into law, the Press Act will enable individuals, including politicians, to force newspapers to print replies to articles that have allegedly damaged their reputations.

These replies must be printed, whether or not the factual content of the article is in question. Replies must also be placed in the same position in the newspaper as the original article, and must be equivalent in size to the original article. In contrast, according to the Act, newspapers are prevented from answering the replies they were forced to print.

We believe that once enacted, the Act will enable politicians to interfere with editorial policy. The abuse of this law also risks self-censorship and consequent damage to public interest values in Slovakia.

Such a law has few equivalents in the European Union and some of the obligations fail to conform to the Council of Europe's own standards on this issue.

At present, Slovakia chairs the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. By returning the Act to Parliament, we believe that Your Excellency will be signalling to the other members that Slovakia is extremely serious about its commitments to this fundamental human rights body.

In addition, the Slovak media, international organisations and intergovernmental organisations, such as the OSCE, have all made recommendations that the right of reply should be amended, but they have been ignored.

Therefore, in the name of maintaining a healthy, free and fair media environment in Slovakia, we the undersigned once again urge Your Excellency to return the Act to Parliament.

We thank you for your kind attention.

Yours sincerely,

Piotr Niemczycki, IPI Chairman
David Dadge, IPI Director
Oliver Vujovic, SEEMO SG

For the complete list of international media representatives and IPI members who have endorsed this petition, see: http://www.freemedia.at/cms/ipi/statements_detail.html?ctxid=CH0055&docid=CMS1208269235687

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