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IPI condemns exclusion of journalists during Babiš-Orbán press conference

IPI condemns exclusion of journalists during Babiš-Orbán press conference

Several Czech and foreign journalists blacklisted and denied entry to prime ministers’ joint press conference.

 

The IPI global network today joins its Czech National Committee and the Endowment Fund for Independent Journalism (NFNZ) in condemning the discriminatory exclusion of certain foreign and domestic journalists from a joint press conference held by the prime ministers of Hungary and the Czech Republic.

On Wednesday, September 29, journalists from various European and Czech media were denied admittance to an afternoon press briefing by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš in the Czech city of Ústí nad Labemof, which focused on defence, migration and the coronavirus pandemic.

Among those denied entry were Jean-Baptiste Chastand and Magdalena Sodomková from French daily Le Monde, Martin Nejezchleba from the German weekly Die Zeit, and journalists from the German regional public broadcaster MDR and the Czech news websites Seznam Zprávy and Investigace.cz. Other investigative and freelance journalists were also barred.

The press department of the office of the government said the decision was taken due to capacity constraints. However, images of a list of reporters who had applied to attend with some names highlighted in red were circulated on social media. Those barred applied for accreditation well in advance. According to a correspondent for Czech Radio, there was ample space in the event hall.

“IPI strongly opposes this unnecessary obstruction of free journalistic work and condemns the discriminatory policy of barring journalists from certain media from attending press conferences”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “Worryingly, this is a tactic we see used all too often by the governments of both Orbán and Babiš, and across the Visegrad region, to side-line critical press and shield politicians and public officials from challenging questions.

“While independent and critical journalists in Hungary have been routinely denied access to publicly held information without explanation and denied accreditation for official events for years, similar incidents have recently been on the rise in the Czech Republic. We urge both prime ministers and their governments to respect press freedom by providing fair and equal access and allowing journalists to carry out their work free from arbitrary obstruction and restrictions.”

Last year, IPI and the partner organisation of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) sent an open letter to the government of the Czech Republic raising concerns about its side-lining of critical media during similar press conferences.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, journalists from certain media outlets, including Forum 24, were repeatedly denied accreditation and barred from attending online government press conferences or questioning officials on their handling of the health crisis.

In May 2021, the head of the Office of the President of the Czech Republic, Vratislav Mynář, announced the office would stop providing information to several media outlets, including Respekt, Seznam Zprávy, Deník N, Czech Television (CT) staff working for 168 hours and other reporters from the public television.

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Slovak journalists denied entry to press conference on high-level…

Slovak journalists denied entry to press conference on high-level corruption case

IPI joins leading Slovak media in protesting move.

The IPI global press freedom network today condemned the decision of the Slovak general prosecutor’s office to arbitrarily bar journalists from joining a press conference on a matter of major public interest on September 2, 2021. IPI urges the general prosecutor’s office to ensure that such incidents are not repeated and to grant journalists free access to press conferences in the future. 

On September 2, the office of Maroš Žilinka, the Slovak general prosecutor, organized a press conference to which several media outlets were denied entrance. During this conference, Žilinka was due to offer an explanation of the controversial dropping of charges of several people, including an ex-spy boss. Journalists from the media outlets Denník N, Sme and Aktuality.sk arrived at the scene to report, after hearing about the 2pm press conference by accident, but were not allowed to attend. According to Sme, only journalists from four selected TV channels were allowed into the press conference, which the general prosecutor accredited to a lack of space. The general prosecutor did not publish a list of invited media.

“IPI joins leading editors in Slovakia in protesting against the unacceptable decision to block reporters from three leading media from accessing the general prosecutor’s press conference”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “There was no basis for this exclusion, which runs counter to democratic norms. There can be no discrimination against the press when it comes to access to information in the public interest. We urge the general prosecutor’s office to review its practices and ensure that similar incidents do not occur in the future.”

In response to the decision, the editors of the three outlets sent a letter to the general prosecutor in which they condemned the discriminatory decision. They also asked for an explanation as to why his office had violated the Press Code, which states that journalists have free access to information. “It is not clear to us by what criterion you excluded journalists from the three major news media from informing the public”, the letter, signed by Beata Balogová (Sme), Peter Bárdy (Aktuality.sk), and Matúš Kostolný (Denník N), stated. “The argument about lack of space is very poor and we cannot take it seriously.”

The editors call it “incomprehensible” that the prosecutor general’s office ignores the press law, which guarantees free access to information for journalists. “We urge you not to continue a similar selective approach to journalists and not to hide from critical media issues that are irreplaceable for democracy”, the letter concluded. The decision of the general prosecutor to ban the journalists from the conference was also criticized by politicians from several parties, such as Juraj Šeliga of Za Ľudí, Kristián Čekovský of OĽaNO and Ondrej Dostál of Sa.