Anti-Babiš media ownership law back in spotlight

Andrej Babiš, photo: Filip Jandourek

A bill aimed at preventing cabinet members from owning media outlets is again in the spotlight. According to a freshly published opinion, the amendment – targeted at ANO’s billionaire boss Andrej Babiš – is unconstitutional. However, the other coalition parties dismiss that argument and are pushing ahead with the legislation.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: Filip Jandourek
In September the Chamber of Deputies passed a bill barring government members from owning media outlets.

The legislation is so obviously directed at ANO chairman Andrej Babiš – who owns two major dailies and the country’s most popular radio station – that it is widely referred to as Lex Babiš.

Next week MPs are set to vote again on the bill, following its return from the upper house.

However, the Parliamentary Institute, a research institution that serves both houses, has just produced a study declaring the Lex Babiš unconstitutional.

Its reasoning? The part referring to media ownership does not apply only to government members but to all elected officials, including local councillors.

Andrej Babiš has long been arguing the bill is unsound.

“The constitution gives me the right to own and also the right to be in politics. We have a clear law on conflict of interest, which I adhere to. Everybody knew in advance what I own. I’m clearly transparent. This law is clearly unconstitutional. It’s a made-to-measure law targeted at me. We’ll see how it turns out.”

The other two partners in the coalition government, the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats, dismiss the Parliamentary Institute’s finding as being a mere opinion and are pushing forward with the bill.

Marian Jurečka,  photo: Filip Jandourek
There are now two versions of it, the original one and the Senate’s. Under the latter, the law would come into effect next September not January.

Christian Democrat MP Marian Jurečka says either would be fine with his party.

“We as the Christian Democrats are prepared to support both versions of the bill. We will discuss both at a parliamentary group meeting, because they don’t differ significantly. We aren’t paying much attention to the arguments being put forward by ANO. If they have a major problem with it, let them put forward their own version. They’ve still got time.”

According to Social Democrat Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, his party and the Christian Democrats have agreed to back the Senate version of the bill.

As for the opposition parties, they by and large support the amendment, though they have not all reached agreement on which version to support in next Tuesday’s vote.

If the bill is passed, Mr. Babiš has signalled that he may take the matter to the Constitutional Court.