Czechs have reacted with shock and widespread condemnation to the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his girlfriend in neighbouring Slovakia. The news that the journalist was most likely murdered for exposing corruption in high office has raised concern for democracy and freedom of the press, sparking a debate on the position of the media here in the Czech Republic.
“I am appalled by the murder of a 27-year-old Slovak journalist. I would never have believed that something like this could happen in Slovakia in 2018” Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who himself is Slovak, tweeted minutes after the news broke.
Similar reactions came from politicians across the board. “Journalists are rightly considered watchdogs of democracy and every such attack is an attack on freedom and democracy. The culprits must be found and brought to justice” Speaker of Parliament Jan Hamáček wrote.
"A young journalist and his girlfriend murdered in cold blood in their own home –this must not and cannot be allowed to happen," the head of the Mayors and Independents Party Petr Gazdík tweeted.
The exchange sparked by the incident also focused on the home scene, the conditions in which Czech journalists work and the respect they have - or lack of. A number of politicians criticized President Zeman for statements that denigrated the work of journalists in general, recalling how, on a visit to Moscow, the Czech head of state had joked with President Putin that there were too many journalists around and that they should be “liquidated”.
"Here we see the president’s suggestion being put into practice," Marian Jurečka from the Christian Democratic Party noted – "unbelievable that such words could have come from the Czech head of state," he added.
The president himself failed to respond to the murder, with his spokesman merely tweeting that the president would not be drawn into a debate on an incident abused by his political opponents.
However the silence from Prague Castle spoke volumes and Adam Černy, chairman of the Czech Syndicate of Journalists, said clearly that the Czech head of state was damaging the position of journalists in the Czech Republic.
“The degradation of the atmosphere in relations between the media and politics is not only happening in Slovakia, but also in the Czech Republic. We have heard from the highest placed politician in the country harsh words and even vulgarities about journalists. That is absolutely unacceptable and it is this kind of atmosphere that leads to incidents such as we have seen in Slovakia.
"Five years ago, in his inaugural speech, President Zeman devoted a third of his speech to the media and he compared the media to organized crime. That is absolutely unacceptable and it is proof that something is very wrong in relations between media and politics.”