War of words between Social Democrats, editor of left-leaning newspaper

05-03-2009

An unlikely war of words has erupted between the editor-in-chief of the left-leaning Právo newspaper and the opposition Social Democrats. Editor-in-chief Zdeněk Porybný claimed in an editorial published in Právo this week that he had received repeated warnings that if he continued to publish critical articles about the Social Democrats, he would see advertisers from the state sector begin to desert him.

Jiří ParoubekJiří Paroubek At first glance Zdeněk Porybný’s claims appear to make little sense, for two reasons. First, Právo – the only national daily not owned by a foreign company - is a left-leaning newspaper which is close in political outlook to the Social Democrats. Second, the Social Democrats are an opposition party, and therefore do not control the companies under the state’s ownership or influence who will allegedly cancel their advertising contracts if Právo doesn’t start writing nice things about the party.

Zdeněk Porybný himself said he was well aware of this paradox, but wrote in his editorial that “someone” was apparently betting on the fact that there are some in the current business and political elite who are already counting on a Social Democrat victory at the next elections, and that person wanted to earn a few brownie points with the presumed future masters by bringing “untamed” newspapers such as Právo to heel.

The editorial provoked an angry reaction from Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek, who accused Mr Porybný of venting his frustration at his own business failures and called on him to apologise. Mr Porybný responded in an interview with the Czech News Agency that he had nothing to apologise for.

“I never claimed someone from the Social Democrats was behind it, and so I have no intention of apologising. I stick to what I’ve written, and I consider Mr Paroubek’s reaction to be so unreasonable that I’m not even going to comment on it. All I was trying to do was draw attention to a problem, and in that I believe I’ve succeeded.”

Mr Porybný declined to say who he thought was behind the warnings, and responded with a firm “no comment” when asked if it was the Social Democrats’ election campaign manager Jaroslav Tvrdík. Mr Tvrdík himself denied any involvement in an interview with TV Nova.

“I haven’t spoken to Mr Porybný in six weeks. I have the greatest admiration for Mr Porybný both personally and professionally, and I have no information about the allegations you mention, there’s nothing more I can say. I’ve got no idea what this is all about, but I think it’s probably some sort of misunderstanding which will undoubtedly be explained.”

Certainly relations between Právo and the Social Democrats are not terribly warm at present, with some in the party accusing Právo – supposedly one of their natural allies - of being a “government” newspaper. Mr Porybný denies that, and vows not to bow to pressure from anyone. It’s the readers, and not the party insiders, he said, who judge whether we write the truth.

05-03-2009