The threat of media abuse in the Czech Republic will persist until ANO leader Andrej Babiš sells the media (Mafra media group) which he acquired in 2013 and put in a trust fund in order to meet a strict conflict of interest law, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka told journalists in connection with the European Parliament debate on the issue. Mr. Sobotka noted that the fact that the matter had been debated on a pan-European platform could only damage the country’s reputation. The prime minister recently dismissed Andrej Babiš from the post of finance minister on suspicion of tax dodging and attempts to influence media coverage. The move caused a drawn-out government crisis.
The Czech Republic is ranked 6th on the Global Peace Index comprising 163 countries. The GPI is an attempt to measure the relative position of nations' and regions' peacefulness. The survey is conducted by the London-based Institute for Economics and Peace, an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank dedicated to shifting the world’s focus to peace as a positive, achievable, and tangible measure of human well-being and progress. IEP achieves its goals by developing new conceptual frameworks to define peacefulness; providing metrics for measuring peace; and uncovering the relationships between business, peace and prosperity as well as promoting a better understanding of the cultural, economic and political factors that create peace. Countries are rated according to the degree of crime, access to weapons, size of their army and contributions to peace missions.
The European Parliament debated the risks of political abuse of the Czech media on Thursday. The plenary debate was held in reaction to a leaked audio recording, in which the leader of the coalition ANO party, former Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Andrej Babiš, spoke to a journalist about media coverage that would damage his political rivals. Most MEPs noted that while there did not appear to be any fundamental threat to press freedom in the Czech Republic, Andrej Babis’ potential victory in the elections could create a serious problem. MEP Jan Zahradil of the Civic Democratic Party said the problem concerned a single politician and the answer would be to beat him in the elections. There was no formal conclusion to the debate.
Former finance minister Andrej Babiš, whose ANO party is widely expected to win the autumn general elections, has said the Czech Republic should not join the Eurozone. In an interview for the ctk news agency, Babiš said that adopting the euro would only burden the country with foreign debts and strip it of the crown which is an effecting instrument in managing economic crises. Babiš also spoke out in favour of the Czech National Bank retaining its independence. If the country joins the Eurozone it will have fewer opportunities for independent decision-making, Babiš said.
The world-renowned Czech conductor Jiří Bělohlávek has died at the age of 71. Bělohlávek was one of the bright lights on the Czech cultural scene and an ambassador for Czech classical music the world over. He raised the prestige of the Czech Philharmonic, of which he was currently Music Director and Artistic Director, taking the classic music ensemble to the world’s leading stages. Bělohlávek served as Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, of which he is now a Conductor Laureate. He has collaborated with the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, New York’s Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Opéra National de Paris, and the Vienna State Opera, among others. The head of the Prague Spring Music Festival Roman Beloř, said the news was a bad blow for the Czech music scene and would throw a damper on the festival which Bělohlávek traditionally opened. Czech politicians, cultural figures and members of the public are mourning the loss of a great musician. Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said Bělohlávek’s demise was a huge loss not just for Czech but for world culture.
The upper house of the Czech parliament, the Senate, has rejected a government proposal to tighten rules for immigrants in the Czech Republic. Those opposed to the proposed rules said they clashed with the Czech constitution and EU rules regarding human rights. One aspect of the new rules put forward by the interior ministry would have allowed authorities to cancel residency procedures for foreigners if they were found to have lied, forged documents, or not turned up to key meetings without a good reason. An earlier version, not pushed through, has cancelled their right to appeal to a court. The interior ministry pointed out that the proposal had been backed by 148 votes in the lower house, sufficient to overturn the Senate’s opposition and proceed with the proposal.
The future of one of the oldest porcelain producers in the Czech Republic, the Haas and Czjzek facory in Horní Slavkov, West Bohemia, is again uncertain. The factory, which dates back to 1792, was bought by a Prague company with a view to restarting production but that firm is now in insolvency. An auction for the Horní Slavkov factory is now being prepared though there are still ongoing disputes about ownership. The plant had earlier been bought six years ago by a Russian owner which also fell into financial difficulties.
One of the Czech Republic’s biggest telecoms company, 02, announced the collapse of its mobile roaming service on Wednesday saying that calls to numbers outside the Czech Republic and from its customers abroad could not be made. The problem started Tuesday afternoon and was the fault of its foreign telecoms connectivity provider, CETIN. O2 said it was trying to solve the problem. CETIN belongs to the same group that ownsO2, the Czech group PPF. O2 later said CETIN was probably victim of a hacking attack.
President Miloš Zeman said on Wednesday that outgoing education minister Kateřina Valachová has 10 days to rethink her resignation decision. If she has not come to a decision by the time he returns from a visit to Vietnam and Kazakhstan then Valachová will be dismissed, he said. Zeman previously called for Valachová to reassess her departure, sparked by a sport financing scandal at her ministry, underlining her support from sports and education associations. Valachová has said she wants to see some of her work through but at the same time has not withdrawn her resignation, which was given when prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka was putting pressure on ANO leader Andrej Babiš to resign.
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