Civil Defamation and the Media in the Czech Republic and Slovakia
This interdisciplinary research strives to explore and explain the operation of civil defamation law in cases involving the media in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The research is driven by an empirical puzzle. Although the two countries share identical basic defamation provisions, anecdotal evidence suggests that the law operates rather differently. While in the Czech Republic, there have been very few reports of using defamation against the media, Slovak journalists view it as a means to chill criticism of the government. The project thus explores and compares how defamation is used and how it influences journalistic practices. It does not simply examine whether defamation produces a “chilling effect”, but rather whether this is unacceptable and detrimental to public debate and democracy. The research seeks to understand the operation of defamation from the perspective of both the plaintiffs and the media. The more challenging task is to explain the puzzling divergent experience of Czech and Slovak journalists. Hence, the various factors that interplay with defamation law in shaping journalistic practices will also be examined. This research will contribute to our understanding of how legislation can influence the media’s ability to perform their normative roles. This is particularly important in post-communist states where the media are perceived as critical for successful democratisation, but failing. A popular explanation attributes this failure to politicians’ use of legislation to thwart criticism in the media. Besides academia, the findings of this project could thus be of interest to the media, legal practitioners and policymakers. The research is guided by an analytical framework drawing on Cohen and Arato’s concept of civil society, later adopted by Habermas. It conceptualises law as being formulated, interpreted and implemented in the interactions between actors operating at different levels of society. These interactions are, at the same time, informed and constrained by law, as well as the structural and cultural contexts, and the broader environment of that society. How defamation law functions in cases involving the media may thus be explained by the particular institutional constellation and cultural trajectories of any given country. The project adopts a comparative, exploratory research strategy, implementing small-N and case study methods. It employs the most-similar systems research design, taking Slovakia and the Czech Republic as its cases. I will gather various documents, including judgements, and conduct interviews with actors involved with defamation. The data will be coded and analysed through descriptive statistics and thematic analysis.