World Press Freedom Day, marked on May 3rd, is perceived as a change to evaluate press freedom around the world and to defend the media from attacks on their independence. In the Czech Republic it serves as a reminder that all is not well in this field – the country slipped 11 places on the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index this year. I spoke to Adam Černý, chairman of the Czech Syndicate of Journalists about what’s hurting press freedom in the country.
“The main problem is the changing structure of ownership in the media. In the 1990s the majority of investors in the media were foreign investors, especially from Germany, but with the economic crisis and the decreasing income from the media branch the foreign investors left and were replaced by Czech investors. The best example of this is the ownership of the country’s leading newspapers such as Lidové noviny and Mladá fronta Dnes which now belong to Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. Of course, his assets are now in a trust fund, but especially in the past year there have surfaced recordings that the country’s leading politician has influenced the content of those newspapers.”
What about the disrespect to journalists shown by some Czech politicians?
“That is another cause for concern because the relationship between journalists and politicians has deteriorated badly. We were not only treated to jokes in very poor taste from President Zeman about the necessity of liquidating journalists but there have been verbal attacks from others such as Mr. Okamura, the deputy-speaker of the chamber of deputies and head of a right-wing populist party. So all this is damaging the public space and in my opinion the deteriorating atmosphere in the media is not only very damaging to the media and politicians but to the whole society.”
What can be done to safeguard press freedom?
“There are two different possibilities. One – which I consider very important – is media education, which is very well done in Finland for example, because an informed and well-educated public can make a distinction between fake news and real news. And the other possibility is support from the state for the media. There are many examples of this in Western Europe, where the media have indirect support from the state in tax-cuts, for example. It is difficult to imagine this in the Czech Republic, but it could really help the media.”
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