President Signs Stricter Law Banning Senior Politicians From Owning Media
The law is dubbed “lex Babis”, in reference to ex-PM Andrej Babis, who owned the giant Agrofert chemical, agricultural and media holding. Credit: vlada.cz.
Prague, Aug 10 (CTK) – The ban on media ownership by senior politicians and the rules over acceptance of subsidies and incentives will be stricter as of next year, as Czech President Petr Pavel signed these amendments to the conflict of interest law today.
For example, politicians will not be able to transfer media to a close person or to a trust fund, and there will be higher fines for breaches.
The tightening of the law dubbed “lex Babis” does not apply to online media due to the lack of regulation. It refers to ex-PM and former finance minister Andrej Babis (ANO), who owned the giant Agrofert chemical, agricultural and media holding that he later transferred to trust funds to comply with conflict of interest laws.
The changes are part of a law on political parties that amends the organisation of the Office for Supervision of the Management of Political Parties and Movements. Some of the powers of the chair of this office will be taken over by a new five-member board from next year, consisting of the chair and other members of the office.
The approval of the amendments in the Chamber of Deputies was hindered by the opposition ANO movement.
The amendment gives politicians who will be affected by the new media regulations a 60-day deadline to deal with it.
In particular, the draft tightens provisions that prevent MPs, senators, members of the government and now also the president from broadcasting and publishing periodicals. To ensure that the ban cannot be circumvented, it will apply to the real owner of the media operator, not to the controlling person. The same will be true of companies in the case of the ban on receiving subsidies and investment incentives, which is aimed at members of the government and now also the head of state.
The approved amendment includes exceptions for media companies. The ban would not apply to cases where the periodical is published by political parties, their institutes or companies controlled by them, nor to media whose operators are not required to publish an annual financial report.
The draft also sets out fines for breaches of the ban on certain media outlets. An official who commits an offence via a company could be fined up to 3% of the company’s assets by the supervisory authority. In addition, the authority could first impose “appropriate measures” such as the sale of the media outlet before imposing a fine.
The approved amendment also eases the recently adopted restriction on the use of data from asset disclosures of senior politicians. The provision that any information held in the register of notifications “may be used and further processed only for the purpose of establishing a possible breach of the public official’s duties” will again apply only to selected officials.
The government says the amendment is intended to better balance the roles of members and the chair of the party watchdog. It will allow the members of the Office to be entrusted with the coordination of supervisory or methodological activities in a given area of the Office’s competence. The authority’s board will decide on internal regulations or the plan of action, approve legislation, methodological guidelines and opinions, and decide on appeals against decisions issued by the authority. The president of the authority will continue to direct the activities of the institution.
The Office oversees how political parties and movements comply with the legal requirements for transparency in their management. It examines their annual financial reports, conducts its own audits, adjudicates on administrative offences, and imposes sanctions. The focus of the Office’s work is on overseeing the transparency of election campaigns.
President Pavel warned, in a letter to lower house chair Marketa Pekarova Adamova (TOP 09), that certain flaws in the new amendment prevent him from meeting his new duty to submit his property statements. He asked Pekarova Adamova to “consider steps” to submit another draft that would remedy these issues so that he could meet his legal obligation.
The changes to the government-proposed conflict of interest law were inserted into the bill, which otherwise concerns the supervision of parties’ financial management, by the lower house on the proposal of a group of coalition MPs. Based on the changes, the law now also applies to the president, who is thus obliged to annually file a property statement. The other obligations also apply to him, including the ban on media ownership.
Pavel wrote that he agrees with such a change, but that inclusion of the president in the law was not reflected in other related provisions, mainly the provision on listing the authorities that enter public officials in the register of notifications maintained by the Ministry of Justice. The registered officials are subject to the duty of filing their notifications of activities, assets and income and liabilities.
“Thus, the law requires me to file these notifications, but does not address how and when to do so,” Pavel wrote to Pekarova Adamova.