February 23, 2011 / 5:15 PM / 8 years ago

Slovak government seeks softer media law

* Slovaks wants more editorial freedom in media law

* Right of reply for public officials limited

BRATISLAVA, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Slovakia plans to soften its media law to redress what critics at home and abroad see as infringement of freedom of speech, a draft legal amendment showed on Wednesday.

The previous left-wing government of Robert Fico introduced a strict code three years ago, ordering newspapers to print every response from anyone mentioned in a news article — which critics saw as a way to intimidate journalists investigating corruption among politicians.

International human rights watchdogs, such as the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) opposed the legislation and leading newspapers issued blank front pages to condemn the right of reply clause.

The Slovak action was part of a wider trend of tighter controls on the media in the EU’s former Communist east.

Slovakia’s southern neighbour Hungary, currently holding the rotating presidency of the European Union, came under fire from Brussels for enacting a similar law, which brings the production of public news under the supervision of a state authority.

The amended code, published on the government’s website, would limit the right of reply only to cases when the published information is false, incorrect or incomplete.

The new centre-right coalition of Iveta Radicova pledged to improve freedom of media when taking power last July.

The Slovak Syndicate of Journalists (SSN) said it supported the amendment.

“The proposed change will significantly improve the media law,” said Matus Kostolny, editor in chief of the leading broadsheet SME.

“The most significant (point) is that it minimises room to seek speculative and politically-motivated responses also in reaction to truthful information published by media,” he added.

Radicova’s cabinet will debate the proposal, which needs to be approved by the parliament and signed by the president once it is endorsed by ministers, in the coming weeks and it should enter into force in July.

Reporting by Petra Kovacova, writing by Martin Santa; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton

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