No end in sight to Czech Television crisis

29-12-2000

The crisis over Czech Television continues. Thousands of people gathered once again outside the news building on Thursday evening, the latest in a series of demonstrations against the appointment of General Director Jiri Hodac. Rob Cameron was there, and brings back this report:

Czech Television's new Head of News, Jana Bobosikova, was forced to make her way through a hostile crowd of demonstrators shortly after leaving the news building on Thursday night. For a few tense moments the good-humoured mood of the crowd turned ugly, as word spread that the woman who probably has more enemies in the Czech Republic than anyone else was walking in their very midst. People heckled and pushed Mrs Bobosikova and her entourage of bodyguards as they strode briskly to a waiting car and sped off into the night.

The incident illustrated that what has up until now been a peaceful protest does have the potential of turning violent. The mood at the nightly demonstrations outside the news building has so far been good-natured but resolute. Indeed the atmosphere on Thursday night was more like a pantomime than a demo - Mr Hodac's every appearance on the giant screen was met with a chorus of boos and cries of 'Shame!' Indeed Mr Hodac, with his goatee beard and slightly demonic gaze, does make a rather good pantomime villain, while the rebel journalists, leaning out of the windows of the newsroom and waving cheerfully at their adoring fans, dishevelled and unshaven after a week sleeping rough on the studio floor, do exude a certain revolutionary charm.

But the complexities and the facts behind the Czech Television crisis have been largely obscured as the people cry 'freedom' and the TV screens go blank. The media - both Czech and foreign - have on occasion presented the crisis as a cut-and-dried case of one party - the right-of-centre Civic Democrats - attempting to take control of the country's public television network, which is far too simple an interpretation in a complex and bitter political environment.

But for now, all eyes are on Czech Television's newsroom. The Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting ruled on Thursday that Czech Television must start broadcasting again. Some semblance of normal programming has returned, but the TV screens remain blank at news time. Mr Hodac and Mrs Bobosikova have admitted they are incapable of producing a credible news bulletin as long as the building is occupied by hostile journalists. At some point, presumably, they will have to evict them. This, however, will be impossible without the use of force and a serious escalation of the crisis. What has so far been for the most part farce, still has the potential for tragedy.

29-12-2000