Nora Fridrichová is one of the Czech Republic’s leading broadcast journalists. On Czech Television, she is the host of her own news program, 168 Hours. When I met her recently in a Czech TV studio, we talked about her bold reporting style, love of dark humor, and future career goals. But first, Nora Fridrichová discussed how her show has changed and evolved in the three years it has been running.
“At the beginning, when we were about to put the pieces together, and to prepare a new program, we were not precisely sure what it was supposed to be like. We knew we wanted to make a weekly, which was going to be commenting on the main news of the week in the Czech Republic and in the world as well.
“A necessary part of the program is humor, which we all are very fond of, mainly if we talk about politics. When we cover major political issues, we use humor a lot.
“And what we found out later, and we didn’t know about, was that Czech politicians don’t really like it. They’re not really happy about that. They, as I found out, they enjoy it if their political opponents are in the center of our black humor, but they’re not really happy if they are the center.
“And the second part, we are focusing on the major events of the week and also we want to cover our own stories, which we find out by ourselves. We do quite a bit of investigative stuff, which we want to reveal in the program.”
You studied journalism at Charles University and then you got your Masters Degree in human rights in London and then you also spent time in the United States. You must have observed politics in all of these different countries, how do they compare, all of these, Czech politics, British politics, and American politics?
“The media I admire most, and it’s the goal which the Czech media will probably never reach, is the way how the British media deal with politicians. They are really tough on them. They don’t really excuse them anything. The treatment the politicians get from the media is really something which the Czech politicians probably wouldn’t deal with at all.
“The American media is sort of similar to this approach. The American journalists give politicians questions which are really not easy to answer, but I’d say that the British media somehow really plays the role as the watchdog, in the best way.”
And why do you think that the Czech media won’t be able to reach that level of the British media?
“I’d say it’s got many things to do with the history. After 1989, basically all the journalists were corrupted with the previous regime. So a new generation of journalists needed to be found, and so far we are in a situation where the journalists are still learning how to be tough journalists.
“Also, I’d say that it’s not very common in Central European countries that the journalists will really be very tough on politicians. I experienced a few situations where politicians were complaining about me, on my way of interviewing, that I’m ‘cheeky’. So they call tough questions ‘cheeky’, which is very uncommon with British experience.
“The Czech politicians, if they had to face the British journalists’ questions, they would die. I think it’s got much to do with the mentality that the politicians are used to sort of a softer approach than in Western Europe.”
Speaking of media problems here in the Czech Republic, there was recently the law passed that bans journalists from publishing police wiretaps. How does that affect your job and the job of journalists in the Czech Republic?
“It’s a disaster. And I would say that, like yesterday, we had a discussion with some journalists about what the media would do if it receives something, which is contrary to this law. And we all agreed that we would publish it anyway and then we would wait to see what is going to happen.
“And also I think all the media are waiting on what the Constitutional Court is going to do with it. There are some signs that the Constitutional Court could cancel this law.
“The funny thing is that the law was approved in a big silence suddenly. Basically, the media found it out later or in the procedure. It was approved very silently and the other funny thing is that almost all politicians agreed on it. Suddenly, there was no coalition, no opposition. All of them were claiming the same talking about freedom and justice and blah blah blah. It’s always nice when they talk about that if it’s got something to do with themselves.”
You’ve covered everything from Roma rights to airport security to flood coverage, and, of course, politics. What is there left that you haven’t done that you would like to do in your career?
“I’d say that the journalism which I admire, and I might sort of end up in this field, is advocacy journalism. I really enjoy all the programs where the media fights for the rights of an individual, especially in the Czech Republic where individuals come into conflict with the state or state authorities very often.
“And all the cases are the same in one thing—it’s the arrogance of state authorities. So I might say that the advocacy journalism might be my professional goal, one day of course.”
And you’ve been reporting on Prague and the Czech Republic for over ten years, are there any misconceptions that people have of the Czech Republic that you would like to clear up or anything you would like an outsider to know about the Czech Republic?
“I’d say that there might be a wrong picture of the role of men and of the role of women in the Czech Republic. The cliché, which is common, is that the Czech men are macho and Czech women are weak victims of them.
“I wouldn’t disagree with the first fact, that Czech men are macho, but I would disagree with the fact that the Czech women are weak victims who are serving their macho men and not able to change their destiny, sort of.
“I’d say that the society is quite interesting and bizarre at the same time. The role of men and women are quite balanced, in a way, if we don’t talk about salary of course, if we don’t talk about male opinions on that. But I would say that what is undervalued is the role of women. The role of Czech females is stronger than it seems to be.”
Finally, have you encountered any obstacles as a female journalist that your male colleagues in journalism haven’t?
“Probably not, because Czech politics is occupied by men, it’s a strictly male thing. So if there’s a woman reporter and she also works for a major media, for example television, the politicians are usually very ready to give her an interview – if they’re not really unhappy about the interview itself.
“It’s ironic, but a woman as a journalist has got it quite easy,
because the majority of people she must deal with are men.”
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