Klaus calls for privatisation of public television network

22-12-2000

The protests over the appointment of a new General Director of the country's state-run television network, Czech Television, continue. Thursday saw demonstrations organised by news editors and staff, furious at the hasty appointment of Jiri Hodac, who they accuse of having close links to the right-of-centre Civic Democratic Party. Meanwhile, the leader of the Civic Democrats, Vaclav Klaus, has come up with his own unique solution to the crisis. Rob Cameron reports:

It's been a grim week for Czech Television, which was already having a pretty grim year. There have been several high-profile departures from the station in the last twelve months, including the newly-appointed General Director himself. Jiri Hodac, a former BBC journalist, resigned as Head of News in August after clashing with the outgoing Director, Dusan Chmelicek, over the network's popular political discussion programme, V Prave Poledne.

The dispute erupted after Mr Hodac dismissed the programme's host, whose questions had upset the Civic Democrat leader Vaclav Klaus. Mr Hodac denied that Mr Klaus' anger had influenced his decision, but the sacking did little to allay fears that Czech Television was coming under increasing political pressure. Last week, the tables were turned: Dusan Chmelicek was dismissed as General Director, and replaced with Jiri Hodac.

Observers have urged caution this week in dealing with claims that Czech Television is rapidly becoming a pawn in the hands of the Czech political elite. They say Czech Television is just badly managed, largely thanks to the Council for Czech Television. Mr Hodac himself denies having any ties with the Civic Democrats. Indeed, even the outgoing Director General Dusan Chmelicek says his main criticism of Jiri Hodac is not that he was too close to politicians - he was simply incapable of communicating with his colleagues.

And into this mess has stepped the Civic Democrat leader Vaclav Klaus. Late on Thursday, as the petitions circulated by email and the crisis deepened, Mr Klaus proposed his own unique solution to the Czech Television problem: Privatise it. His call has added a new and bizarre twist to an increasingly tawdry saga. Some strange ideas have come out of the mouths of Czech politicians in the last few years, but privatising public television seems to take the biscuit.

22-12-2000