The Czech branch of the International Press Institute has called on MPs to exercise maximum responsibility in the choice of two new members of the council overseeing the Czech News Agency wire service. Respekt reported that in a first round of voting ANO backed an anti-Semitic candidate who looks likely to win a place in the second, a situation that has been condemned by the Federation of Jewish Communities. I discussed the journalists’ appeal with Michal Klíma, head of the International Press Institute in this country.
“And we simply do not believe that the people who were elected last time are good candidates.
“For instance, Parliament elected Petr Žantovský, who during the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia was a supporter of Communist suppression of free press.
“And among the current candidates there is, for instance, Mr. [Michal] Semín, who is known for his anti-Jewish proclamations.
“So we are afraid that the election is not going in the right way.”
Do you think there is a real danger that the Czech News Agency, which as you say is a very important news organisation, could lose its independence?
“Exactly, yes. Because the council is an important body.
“It elects the general manager of the agency and so on.
“And of course it can influence the content which is made by the agency.”
In the first round of voting, MPs from ANO voted for Michal Semín, who is a candidate of Freedom and Direct Democracy. What’s your sense of why ANO would support someone like this? ANO is a mainstream party that aims to appeal to voters across the board, rather than more extreme or marginal voters.
“Voting was not open, so we are not sure who supported whom.
“But unfortunately this is a matter of political business and political exchanges.
“And yes, I agree that it is very strange that MPs who belong to a major party probably – and as I say, it is not sure – supported this candidate.”
Some people might say that parties are simply using the existing system – that it kind of makes sense that if certain parties have in a certain period of time a share of power then they would use it to push their own people forward.
“Yes, but the same system is already valid for nearly 30 years and the situation was never so bad.
“Even when there were, let’s say, conservative parties running the country, they still respected the fact that they will also support to the council of the Czech News Agency the candidates of opposition parties.
“So I think what is happening today is not the same as what was happening before.”
Are there implications for other public media organisations? For example, critics say that similar processes could happen with the councils of Czech Television and Czech Radio.
“Yes, of course. Czech Television, Czech Radio and then the so-called ‘big council’ [Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting], which oversees all public media, both TV and radio.
“So this is a danger for all public media services.”
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