PM Topolánek embroiled in fresh media scandal

The Czech government is embroiled in a fresh scandal which could further weaken its shaky position in the lower house and hurt its image with the public. Czech TV revealed on Monday that Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek had indirectly asked one of the TV station’s reporters not to air a report that would expose a former Social Democrat MP who defected from the party and has since supported the government in a number of key votes.

Mirek Topolánek, photo: CTKMirek Topolánek, photo: CTK Lobbyist Marek Dalík is a trusted and close friend of the Czech prime minister’s. Although he holds no official position either in the government or in the ruling party, Mr Topolánek has often used his services, which usually raised an outcry by transparency watchdogs. Mr Dalík’s latest mission has ended in a major embarrassment.

Prime Minister Topolánek asked him to come to the rescue of MP Petr Wolf – a deputy who was elected for the Social Democrats but who quit the party and has since helped bolster the government’s shaky position in the lower house by voting with the coalition in a number of key votes. Now Mr. Wolf is in hot water for allegedly mismanaging grant money he received from the government and the country’s public broadcaster, Czech TV, was going to report on the case. Mr Dalík met with the reporter and asked him to drop the story but the reporter outsmarted him, and secretly taped their conversation.

On the tape, Mr Dalík is heard saying that he had been authorized by the Prime Minister to ask the reporter to drop the story. It would cause too much damage to the MP in question and to the government. MP Petr Wolf told Czech TV on Monday that he appreciated Mr Topolánek’s intervention, although he had not asked for it.

Petr Wolf (above) and Mirek Topolánek, photo: CTKPetr Wolf (above) and Mirek Topolánek, photo: CTK “I think this a very humane reaction on the part of the prime minister. He saw someone was being hunted by the media and tried to help. I do not support PM Topolánek in everything but this attitude is very positive from the humane point of view.”

The Prime Minister’s reaction was nothing out of the ordinary. He angrily told reporters on Monday that he had no time to follow all the sneaking that went on in the Czech media. He denied asking his aide to contact the Czech TV reporter, but he did admit that he had asked him to assist MP Wolf with the handling of what he called “a witch hunt”.

“MP Wolf has been under a great deal of pressure since the presidential elections. He has been threatened, he has been isolated and pressured by his own colleagues and people around the Social Democrats. I did not know about the meeting with that Czech TV person, I don’t do things like that. But it’s true that I did ask Marek Dalík to help Mr. Wolf with the media pressure and with managing the situation.”

I asked political analyst Jiří Pehe if he thought that this case confirms what the opposition has been saying all along: that the government corrupts some MPs who support the cabinet despite having been elected as members of the opposition Social Democrats.

“Perhaps we could say that the government has been engaged in protecting some deputies who defected from the opposition, perhaps promising them that it would slow down, or even stop, their prosecution. One could call this corruption, if one wants to use strong words, but it certainly seems to me that this is a practice that is very harmful for our democracy.”

In response to the scandal, Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek said on Monday that his party would push for a no-confidence vote in the government at the nearest possible date.

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