Slovak government working on new law to facilitate media censorship

Is freedom of speech in Slovakia threatened? Prime Minister Robert Fico has accused the media of publishing information about the government and its representatives that is false, biased and distorted. To make it easier to censor such reports, Mr Fico has proposed a change in the media law.

Mr Fico claims that the media ignore requests for corrections and it is impossible to reach them without court action. The law is to be amended so that a person who has been exposed to false information in the media, can respond immediately.

"We only want people to receive unbiased information and we want the media law to include the right to respond. We know similar institutions from some legislatures of western European countries and it is necessary to use their experience during the process of new media law preparation," Mr Fico said.

Premier Fico and his party have criticized the media from the very beginning of their reign, claiming that Smer-social democracy is a victim of a discreditation campaign. Culture minister Madaric claims that the current media regulation council is not strong enough and that it should be backed up by law.

"This self-regulation institution has to be professionalized. Therefore it is probably necessary to include it in the legislature. Of course the council would consist of media representatives, but it will be supported by the law in order to increase its authority and acceptance, so that citizens can seek help with it. There is quite a dilemma - on one hand you have a constitutional right to the freedom of information and freedom of speech and on the other hand you have a constitutional right to personal security."

When asked whether the council should also include government representatives, the culture minister Madaric said that: "It's only a detail". American ambassador Rudolphe Vallee said that any institution that would limit the right, ability and the energy of the press would be in sharp contradiction with democratic principles.

"One of the basic, fundamental principles of the United States is the freedom of the press. And that press has the freedom to be critical, that press has the freedom to be supportive. I think that if you would ask people within the bush administration, we would say that press is often critical of President Bush."

Experts haven't really appreciated the government's idea. The chairman of the European Journalist Federation Arne Konig believes that it might be a good idea, but only if the council is controlled by the media representatives, journalists and publishers and not by the government or politicians.

Media Analyst Zuzana Mistrikova pointed out that the media law is not perfect, but there is no such law that would make the government happy about the way the media inform the public.