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Radio broadcaster fined for libel, "truth distorting"

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is a 24 November 2008 press release by the International Press Institute (IPI):

Vienna, 24 November 2008

IPI Condemns Libel Damages against Radio Viva for Reporting on Official Government Press Conference

Bratislava Regional Court has ordered Slovak broadcaster Radio Viva to pay over EUR 30,000 in libel damages to a Slovak judge, in connection with a 2004 report on fraud charges brought against him. The report - an item in a regular evening news broadcast - was based on comments made by then Interior Minister Vladimír Palko at an official press conference. The Court found that a statement made by the news-presenter during the report, in which she paraphrased Palko's words, was "incorrect and truth-distorting".

"The paraphrasing of comments for brevity is standard practice - particularly in broadcast journalism," said IPI Director David Dadge. "The court's failure to recognise this raises questions about the effectiveness of the Slovak judicial system in matters of media freedom. We strongly believe that the plaintiff should have sought redress through the available self-regulatory bodies, which are in a better position to evaluate the editorial judgements made by the media."

The 14 November ruling against Radio Viva - formerly known as Radio Twist - was handed down by the appellate court for a statement broadcast in an item on its 18.00 news report of 7 October 2004, reports IPI Slovakia. Originally, a Bratislava district court had ruled that the entire news item was libellous. The news item featured quotes from former minister Palko taken during the course of an official press event, in which he announced that criminal charges were to be pressed against a judge for allegedly falsifying documents. During the press conference, Palko clearly stated that the judge had committed fraud.

The Radio Viva news broadcast later that evening contained recorded quotes taken at the press conference. Following one of these quotes, the Radio Viva news-presenter paraphrased a statement made by Palko at the conference; referring to the issue of a warrant which the judge allegedly altered, Palko had said: "(...) whereby he (the judge) did something that may not be done. That was fraud." The Radio Viva presenter reworded this for the purpose of brevity, stating that: "The judge did in fact issue such a warrant. Shortly afterwards, he falsified it". The recorded quote then continued immediately after the statement, containing Palko's description of how the judge had allegedly perpetrated the fraud.

Radio Viva had stated clearly at the beginning and at the end of the news broadcast that the matter referred to allegations against the judge. Nevertheless, Bratislava Regional Court ruled that this particular statement was libellous, and ordered Radio Viva to pay approx. EUR 32,000 in damages.

The only domestic option now available to Radio Viva is an appeal to the Constitutional Court. Failing this, Radio Viva has indicated its intention to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary.

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