Parliament approves new law on public broadcasting in marathon session
The lower house of the Czech Parliament has approved a new law on the country's public television network, Czech Television, which MPs say will dilute much-criticised political influence on the station. After a marathon 18-hour session, frequently marked by bitter disputes, the opposition right-of-centre Civic Democratic Party unexpectedly changed sides and joined the ruling Social Democrats to support the new bill. The opposition Four-Party Coalition, however, said the law didn't go far enough to protect the independence of public broadcasting, and voted against it. They accused the two parties, bound together by a power-sharing pact, of acting to protect their own interests, rather than the freedom of the press. The Civic Democrats, however, succeeded in passing a motion stating that press freedom in the Czech Republic was not in danger.
The bill's main provision is that in future nominations for a new 15-member Supervisory Board of Czech Television will come from professional and civic groups, not political parties. However the process of electing members of the board will still be decided by the lower house of Parliament alone. The lower house also retains the sole right to dismiss the board. The law still has to be passed in the Senate, and signed by President Vaclav Havel. The lower house rejected the Four Party Coalition's proposal to split the election of board members between the lower house, the Senate and the President.
Earlier in the evening the lower house also sacked the present supervisory board, whose decision in late December to appoint Jiri Hodac as the new General Director of Czech Television led to the crisis. Mr Hodac resigned on Thursday, one week after 100,000 people gathered on Prague's Wenceslas Square calling for him to step down for alleged political bias. The lower house will run Czech Television until a temporary General Director is appointed. The new Director will be expected to sack several executives appointed by Mr Hodac who have refused to resign. They include the controversial head of news Jana Bobosikova, who is accused of producing heavily biased coverage in the early days of the protest. Striking journalists who occupied the newsroom in protest at Mr Hodac's appointment said on Saturday that they would remain on strike until everyone appointed by Mr Hodac had left Czech Television. Meanwhile colleagues have described Mr Hodac as 'a broken man.'
And turning to other news now, the former tennis star-turned entrepreneur, Milan Srejber, who was arrested recently on fraud charges, is not to be released on bail. Mr Srejbr paid the 5 million crowns bail set by the court, but the state attorney has appealed to the Supreme Court and Mr Srejber is to remain in prison until the Court passes verdict. Mr Srejbr, who attempted to avoid court hearings, was arrested at Prague's Ruzyne Airport several days ago. The former tennis star is best known as the man who secretly donated millions of crowns to the right-of-centre Civic Democratic Party in the mid-1990s, a controversial gift which hastened the collapse of the Civic Democrat-dominated government in November 1997.
A press spokesman for the Temelin nuclear power plant reported an oil leak on Friday from a turbine at the plant. The oil reportedly caught fire but the blaze was extinguished within minutes. The spokesman said the turbine was not operational when the accident happened and stressed that it had not affected the plant's safety in any way. The environmental organisation Greenpeace has called for new safety tests at Temelin following Friday's incident
And the European Commission is preparing to mediate in the dispute over Temelin between the Czech Republic and Austria. Early on in the dispute both the Czech Republic and Austria called on the EU to help resolve the matter and a bilateral agreement reached in the Austrian town of Melk, said that EU mediation would be welcome. The EC is now said to be preparing the ground for three-way talks. EC officials will first travel to Vienna, then Prague and finally carry out an inspection of the Temelin nuclear power plant in order to assess the weight of Austria's protests. Both parties will be represented at all meetings, an EC official said, adding that everything would be "open and above board".
And finally, a quick look at the weather: we can expect cold, clear weather over the weekend, with brief intervals of sunshine and day temps between minus three and minus 7 degrees C. Night-time lows are expected to drop to minus 15 degrees.
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