Illustrative photo – Chairman of the Pirates parliamentary club Jakub Michálek at a meeting of the House of Representatives.
Prague – The ANO opposition movement delayed the approval of an amendment in the House of Representatives, which a group of coalition MPs wants to tighten the ban on media ownership by top politicians. To criticize the proposal, ANO deputies used almost the entire debate on the draft, which, according to the government's idea, should change the management of the Office for Supervision of the Management of Political Parties and Movements. After approximately 3.5 hours of negotiations, the chairman of the ANO faction, Alena Schillerová, requested a break for the club's meeting until the end of today's meeting. She called on the other factions to agree on the constructive form of the amendment.
The proposed tightening of the ban on the ownership of political media and the acceptance of subsidies and investment incentives in the provisions of the conflict of interest law, which is known as the lex Babiš, was described by ANO deputies as a “sticker”. They unsuccessfully tried to suspend the debate either until the end of 2024 or at least until the next meeting of the House. Helena Válková (ANO) proposed to return the discussion to a phase in which it would be possible to modify the proposal of the coalition MPs headed by Jakub Michálek (Pirates). The lower chamber will decide on her request only after the interrupted debate is over.
Michálek rejected ANO's claim that the changes he is promoting are directed against one person, i.e. ex-prime minister and chairman of ANO Andrej Babiš. “It is not the case that the law is against one person, rather one person is against this law,” said the deputy. ANO representatives nevertheless accused him of being obsessed with Babiš. “His obsession with Babiš is already unreal. It's really a diagnosis. It's a normal diagnosis. He should be treated like that,” said Berenika Peštová (ANO), for example. Jan Berki (STAN) reproached Peštová for disparaging the submitter instead of focusing on the content of the amendment. “He was elected in the elections,” defended Michálka.
The lower house then rejected the proposals of ANO MPs Milan Brázdil and subsequently Jana Mračková Vildumetzová to postpone the approval of the amendment until December 31 or until December 30, 2024. According to Marek Výborny (KDU-ČSL), these demands were “obviously obstructive”. “You're just trying to provoke us to perform so that you don't have to come up with much of what you're going to talk about,” Michálek commented on the procedure of the ANO legislators. Radek Vondráček (ANO) also failed with the proposal to suspend the discussion of the amendment until the next parliamentary meeting.
Zuzana Ožanová (ANO) reproached Michálek that the government had reservations against the original pirate amendment from 2021, which the deputy did not deal with in the current proposal. As an example, she stated that the proposal does not address the ownership of internet media. Michálek objected that he had consulted the Ministry of the Interior about the amendment under discussion and had made changes that he considered possible and reasonable. Válková stated that Michálk's proposal for the amendment was submitted without detailed oral justification in the middle of last December, and the deputies did not have the opportunity to propose amendments to it.
In particular, the parliamentary amendment amends the provision that prohibits public officials from operating radio and television broadcasts and publishing periodicals. In order not to circumvent the ban, it should apply to the actual owner of the media operator and not to the controlling person. The same should be the case with companies in the case of the ban on receiving subsidies and investment incentives, which is aimed at members of the government.
The bill also regulates fines for violating the ban on the operation of certain media. According to the proposal, the supervisory authority could impose a sanction of up to three percent of the company's assets on an official who commits an offense through a company. In addition, before the fine, the authority would first impose “appropriate measures”, such as the sale of the media, which was part of the government's reservations.
After the provisions on the prohibition of media ownership and obtaining subsidies and investment incentives came into force in 2017, Babiš put shares of his of Agrofert and SynBiol to trust funds. Agrofert also includes the Mafra group, which is one of the largest media houses in the Czech Republic.