Parliament overrules presidential veto

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Parliament has overruled President Havel's veto of a controversial new law on the mass media, giving rise to discussion about the law itself, but also about the relationship between the Head of State and Parliament. Olga Szantova looks into the issue.

The presidential veto was overruled thanks to the backing of a wide range of political parties - from the right wing Civic Democrats, through the Social Democrats, all the way to the Communist members of parliament.

I asked commentator Jan Urban why he thought there was such unity on this particular issue.

"It's more a show of unity of our parliamentarians, of our MPs against the President, which is highly irrational in most cases and doesn't say anything about the substance of the debated media law. But what is significant is that our MPs did not even debate complaints that the President raised."

So, just what is it that Vaclav Havel, and others, for that matter, do not like about the new law dealing with the electronic media? Most of all, the conditions under which licenses for national radio and television broadcasters are to be issued. President Havel argues that the law considerably limits the chances for any new individual or organization to participate in the media, beyond those who currently dominate the sphere. The law enables previous owners to renew existing licenses for another 12 years, without participating in any kind of tender, if they deposit a sum of 200 million crowns, which is no problem for the two strongest privately run TV stations. Jan Urban sums up.

"It shows the general dissatisfaction among many media professionals and a part of the political elite over a very modeled ownership structure that allows the de facto monopolization of advertising and the media scene in the Czech Republic, which, just 12 months before the general election is believed to be a warning sign."

But this is just a small part of the new media law. Its bulk deals with regulations governing broadcasting, authors' rights, international exchange of programs, advertising in the media, the right to receive an answer, etc. - all insufficiently covered by previous Czech legislation and one of the issues that had to be dealt with in connection with the Czech Republic's accession to the European Union. The EU chapter dealing with the media was signed at the union's ministerial intergovernmental conference on June 11th, under the condition that the new Czech law would be passed. Had the presidential veto stood strong, Mr Havel's critics say, the whole issue would have had to be re-negotiated, thus complicating the country's preparations for EU membership. But in Jan Urban's view, this need not have been the case.

"I'm convinced that even if the Parliament postponed the debate or rejected this version of the law and spent another few months debating it, that would not hamper accession of the Czech Republic into the European Union."

Author: Olga Szantová
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