Slovakia: "right of reply" legislative proposal raises concerns

by ECPMF staff

Almost one year after the killing of Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak, which still remains unsolved, we are concerned about the planned proposal, introduced by Slovakia's ruling Smer party, to reintroduce a "right of reply" to media content politicians don't approve.

Slovakia: where do the Jan Kuciak murder investigations stand? A memorial to the murdered journalist and his fiancee. (photo: ECPMF)

The suggested amendments passed the first reading in the Slovak Parliament last week. They were first proposed by the party chairman at a rally in December 2018, where he showed obvious hostility towards journalists. If turned into law, it could mean that media outlets in Slovakia would be obligated to publish politicians' challenges to claims already printed, not just limited to missing or incorrect information. 

Press freedom community on alert

"With this bill being approved in such elastic wording, we see a risk of massive political interference which would lead to increased self-censorship in Slovakia," says Dr Lutz Kinkel, ECPMF's Managing Director.

We understand that Slovakia’s current Press Act already provides a "right of reply" - but it also contains a clause excluding public officials and high-ranking politicians from having recourse to it. The Slovak Press Publishers’ Association has also criticised the Press Code proposal, calling it unnecessary.

One of our partners, the International Press Institute (IPI), has submitted an alert to the Council of Europe's 'Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists'. IPI also published a statement this week taking a stand against the proposed amendment that would take away the clause that protects press freedom.

Our position

The ECPMF joins IPI and Harlem Désir in urging Slovak lawmakers to reject the "right of reply" for politicians. We endorse their criticism and fear for the freedom and safety of journalists in Slovakia.

Here IPI points out that "the attempt to scrap the exception now reflects a wider trend in the Visegrád region, which also includes Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, to redefine journalism as existing to serve political interests rather than the interests of a well informed society."

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has also reacted. OSCE's Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir, stated on 6. February:

"I call upon the parliament of Slovakia to repeal these amendments, to protect media freedom and investigative journalism, and to take into account the objections raised by the media and civil society in the country."

Slovak response

The Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic publicly acknowledged Désir's statements the very next day, 7. February, writing on its website:

"[We confirm] the Slovak Republic's continuous commitment to the respect and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of the media. The Ministry, also in light of last year's events, reassures that the remarks of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media will be duly taken into account. (...) In this respect, we welcome the readiness of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media to provide his expertise."

Désir sees this as a positive development regarding addressing the proposed amendment to the Slovak Press Law.

The ECPMF will continue to monitor the situation.