Czech republic: The battle around Czech State Television

In the Czech Republic, political competition has made television into an unscrupulous battleground for ambitious bureaucrats, reflecting a government led by rival parties, the rightist ODS and the leftist CSSD, who each want so badly to govern that they have forged an unlikely "opposition agreement."

In Czech Republic is existing a minority government of Social Democrats (CSSD) supported by the civic democratic party (ODS, it´s leader is Klaus the architect of economical reforms), a right-wing split-off from ODS is the Freedom Union (US) that is building a coalition with the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL). The country’s key media bodies, including the television council that appointed Hodac, are almost entirely conditioned by their party affiliation. Public TV – Czech Television (CT) 1 and 2 – is controlled by the television council of CT. This council is voted by parliament and is only composed by representatives of political parties. The nine-member television council, counts four members of the CSSD and three from the ODS. One member, who belongs to the center-right Freedom Union, resigned last year to protest the dismissal of the previous CT general director.

On Dec. 20 the television council voted back the old TV director and named Jiri Hodac as general director; three days later, he tapped Jana Bobosikova as news director. Hodac and Bobosikova announcement heated up the tension. Hodac had once applied to be the spokesman for conservative former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus, the Civic Democrat (ODS) leader, while Bobosikova, was the economic adviser of Klaus for six months in 1999. "We believe the [appointments were] motivated by an attempt to politically influence Czech television news," said Filip Cerny, a spokesman for the journalists. In a statement, the TV employees noted that the Television Council was enjoined by law to act apolitically in picking a director. Unless Hodac was removed or resigned, it continued, "CT will become an instrument of the persons currently in power." The crisis, the statement added, was "about political arrogance which pins its hopes on lack of interest and weariness on the part of our population." "The employees of CT see these steps [the appointments] as an attack on the television’s role, as well as a personal threat," read an early communique by the dissenters, which also warned ominously of political "cleansing." Czech Television journalists and crew members of the Czech Television staff began a sit-in at the Kavci hory complex to protest against the appointments of Hodac and Bobosikova. This led to a split of the CT, with Hodac´s mainstream group running one staff and his opponents, who occupied the newsroom and prepared independent news, both from inside the Czech television complex. For four days beginning Dec. 24, management and opponents traded broadcasts – until Hodac closed all non-satellite transmission and shut down all broadcasting for one day on Dec. 28. After the shutdown, the rebels turned to cable and satellite links. Hodac’s repeated calls for police intervention went nowhere, as authorities preferred a more cautious sideline view before acting in the New Year.

The journalists formally went on strike Jan. 1, demanding that Hodac stop barring their broadcasts, but in reality it has been an occupation strike since the 23rd of December. Every day at 19 o´clock there where demonstration in front of the Czech television complex to support the striking journalists, with at least 1.500 participants. On December the 3 rd a 100.000 people strong demonstration took place in Prague, with lot´s of youth, actresses, sportsman and other well-known people, to support the strikers, who were depicted as combating not only their bosses, but a whole political culture that polls suggest the public sees as wasteful, corrupt, and, worst of all, inept. They calles against politicians, especially against ODS, but also against CSSD. Crowds demanding Hodac’s resignation formed in Prague, Brno and Ostrava. On Thursday the 4th Hodac came to the hospital, totally tired from the whole situation. The CSSD government prepared a new TV law, which could be voted in Parliament between 5th and 12th of January.

On the demonstration of January the rd Socialistická alternativa – Budoucnost – ( Czech section of the CWI-comittee for a workers international) distributed 1.000 leaflets (only because we didn´t have more), sold 18 newspapers and 100 leaflets against school-fees with invitation for our next public meeting.

In the leaflet for TV-protest we called for a one day general strike, a new TV Council based on 1/3 from TV trade unions (they led this strike), 1/3 from professional organizations (actresses, film producers etc.) and 1/3 from state, including slogans against unemployment, closure of factories, postponing of wages, for democratic trade unions and for a new workers party. One of our comrads took the slogan for a general strike to his trade union branch and got support for this. This is now on the Web page of the official TV-support.

The television incident also brought to the forefront growing popular disdain for the Czech party system, criticized in many polls as top-heavy, corrupt and exclusive. "The reason this happened, and the reason it has political consequences, and the reason people will be on the streets, is simply the performance of Czech politicians," said Irena Valova, who heads the Syndicate of Journalists.

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