21 June 1999


WPFC urges officials to abandon pursuit of proposed press law

Incident details


(WPFC/IFEX) - The following is a WPFC letter to the Czech President and
Prime Minister, urging them to abandon pursuit of a proposed press law
presented by the government to Parliament:

**Updates IFEX alert of 14 June 1999**

21 June 1999

His Excellency Vaclav Havel


Prazsky brad

119 08 Praha 1

The Czech Republic

Fax: +4202 2431 0853

His Excellency Milos Zeman

Prime Minister

Urad vlady Ceske Republiky

nabrezi Edvarda Benese 4

118 01 Praha 1 -- Mala Strana

The Czech Republic

Fax: +4202 231 2358

Your Excellencies:

On behalf of the World Press Freedom Committee, which includes 44
journalistic organizations on six continents, we express our profound
disapproval of the draft press law submitted to the Czech Parliament by the

This draft, in our view, is in stark contradiction with the Czech Republic's
exemplary respect for press freedom since the end of communism. If adopted,
such a law would curb freedom of the press in the Czech Republic and would
severely damage the positive global image of the country as one dedicated to
democracy, free speech and press freedom. It is in violation of democratic
standards, and of the Czech Republic's own international undertakings to
respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including its Article 19,
which guarantees press freedom.

Adoption of this bad law would be an unfortunate way for the country of Jan
Hus, Thomas Masaryk and Vaclav Havel to mark the end of its first decade of
freedom from communism.

The draft law would, among other things:

1. Ban free discussion of a long list of vaguely defined topics, including
the Czech constitution in whole or in part; threats of violence regardless
of the likelihood of their being carried out; a large number of categories
of so-called "hate speech;" and alleged pornography (Art. 6).

2. Give the government the right to commandeer columns of the independent
press for announcements of "urgent public interest" (Art. 8).

3. Provide the government with the means to prevent establishment of new
publications through the device of potentially restrictive registration
procedures (Art. 9).

4. Require publications to register their political "tendency," thus
circumscribing their political independence (Art. 9, para. 2.b).

5. Apply restrictions on the free circulation of the foreign press by
requiring it to publish certain types of information about itself as a
condition for distribution (Art. 10, para 2).

6. Create a climate of fear of criminal prosecution and foster improper
self-censorship by requiring delivery of a copy of each edition of a
publication to the Chief Public Prosecutor's Office (Art. 11, para 1.n).

7. Create an unacceptable obligation to publish replies to articles
considered by those written about to have infringed their "honor, dignity,
or privacy" -- even if the matters contested are "true facts" (Art. 13, para

8. Dictate the form, size and timing of replies -- negating a publication's
control over its own space and its freedom of editorial judgment on the
seriousness, importance, relevance or appropriateness of a reply (Art. 16,
para 1).

9. Allow prohibitively high fines for violation of such provisions. These
fines could cripple a publication financially (Arts. 20, 21).

10. Grant courts the further power to suspend publications for as much as a
year if they are found guilty of publishing prohibited content for a second
time within three years (Art. 21, para 2).

In sum, this ill-considered bill should be withdrawn, and any further
consideration of press legislation should be undertaken only in close
consultation with the Czech news media itself. Careful thought should be
given to whether any special press legislation is desirable or needed at
all, beyond the basic guarantee of press freedom already existing in the
Czech constitution.

Whatever differences the current administration may have with the
independent news media, attempts by government to curb open reporting of
the news and debate of the issues would be throwbacks to the totalitarian
past that the Czech people struggled so hard to bring to an end, and in
contradiction with the deeply rooted democratic traditions of the Czech


James Ottaway, Jr.


Marilyn Greene

Executive Director

Ronald Koven

European Representative

Recommended Action

IFEX members are asked to circulate these letters as they see fit, in the
hope that they will be helpful in informing their members, readers and
listeners about a potentially devastating slippage in the Czech Republic's
advancement in democracy

Similar appeals expressing your disapproval of the draft press law can be
sent to:

Appeals To

His Excellency Vaclav Havel
Prazsky brad
119 08 Praha 1
The Czech Republic
Fax: +4202 2431 0853

His Excellency Milos Zeman
Prime Minister
Urad vlady Ceske Republiky
nabrezi Edvarda Benese 4
118 01 Praha 1 -- Mala Strana
The Czech Republic
Fax: +4202 231 2358

Please copy appeals to the source if possible.


World Press Freedom Committee
11690-C Sunrise Valley Dr.
Reston, VA 20191
Fax:+1 703 620 6790
Czech Republic
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