Former Czech PM Babiš Ordered to Apologize to Journalist for False Claims

Former Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš apologized to investigative journalist Pavla Holcová for falsely claiming that she was paid to undermine his pre-election campaign.

PAVLA-HOLCOVAPavla Holcová: "I am convinced that as journalists who uphold ethical standards we should stand up to politicians who too often paint targets on our backs and encourage their fans to bully us." (Photo: Uiwqc, Wikimedia, License)He posted his apology on Facebook on Tuesday after the Regional Court in Prague, Czech Republic, ordered him to do so and keep the post up at least for seven days.

Holcová is the founder and editor-in-chief of the Czech independent media outlet and the Central Europe editor with OCCRP.

In her contribution to the Pandora Papers project — an international journalism investigation — she unveiled Babiš' undisclosed purchase of real estate in France through offshore companies, which he should have reported according to the law.

The investigation also described how Babiš invested almost CZK 400,000,000 (US$ 18,144,712.00) of unknown origin through companies in the British Virgin Islands, Washington, and Monaco.

This was never denied by Andrej Babiš, and currently, he is under investigation by French prosecutors.

Possibly in response to Holcová's revelation, in April 2022, then-Prime Minister Andrej Babiš shared a collage on his Facebook page featuring a photograph of her along with a comment alleging that she had been hired by billionaire and philanthropist George Soros to undermine his candidacy a week before the elections.

The Czech court has ordered Babiš to publish the apology on his Facebook page within three days of the ruling taking effect.

"I apologize to Mrs. Pavla Holcová for unfairly hurting her personal rights through the publication of a false post titled 'It happened by Whatsapp' on the website on April 2, 2022. Andrej Babiš," the post said.

Additionally, media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on Andrej Babiš "to stop smearing Pavla Holcová," a reporter who played a significant role in uncovering Babiš' acquisition of a castle in France through offshore accounts, raising suspicions of potential money laundering.

The court previously ordered the removal of his initial Facebook post, stating that it was not intended to spark a serious discussion but was rather a retaliatory act to harm Holcová in response to the Pandora Papers project.

The court noted that Babiš should have been aware that his contribution could have incited hateful reactions towards the reporter. He did not moderate the discussion or clarify that it was intended as a joke or exaggeration, as he later claimed.

Despite Holcová's request to remove the comments voluntarily, Babiš did not take any action.

According to Reporters Without Borders' report on Press freedom in the Czech Republic, "online insults or threats" during the Covid-19 pandemic, and "some women journalists have been the direct targets of hate-filled comments."