21-12-2000

Rarely are the three major papers in this country, Mlada Fronta Dnes, Pravo and Lidove Noviny, so united over a big issue. Today they all soundly condemn the supervisory board of Czech Television for appointing Jiri Hodac as Czech TV's new boss. And their reasons are pretty much identical.

If the board wanted to prove that it was independent of political pressures, writes Jiri Leschtina in Mlada Fronta Dnes, this was its opportunity. Instead it has done the exact opposite. Not only was Mr Hodac incompetent both as a manager and journalist during his days as director of news in Czech TV, but he is also closely linked with the Civic Democratic Party, and at one time was even interested in becoming the party's spokesman. Hardly a recipe for political independence, reckons Mlada Fronta Dnes.

In Pravo Jiri Hanak writes that Mr Hodac will be nothing more than a puppet for the politicians - from both the ruling Social Democrats and the Civic Democrats, the party which keeps them in power. These two parties were directly responsible for appointing seven of the nine members of the supervisory board, a situation that would be quite normal in Lukashenko's Belarus or Meciar's Slovakia, but not in a modern democracy. It is shameful, he concludes, that no-one outside the closed world of the lower house of parliament has the slightest say in who sits on the board.

And in Lidove Noviny Petruska Sustrova points to yesterday's resignation of the Protestant minister, Milos Rejchrt, from the TV board. It is no coincidence, she reckons, that he was its only member who had an impeccable record from the past as a moral authority - as former dissident and spokesman of Charta 77 - and without political allegiance. She also writes that Mr Hodac will effectively be unable to run Czech TV, because its journalists are so outraged at his appointment that his only option will be to undertake enormous personnel changes. It will be hard to interpret such radical changes as anything other than a political purge, concludes Petruska Sustrova in Lidove Noviny.

If the future of Czech Television is looking less than certain, then today's Ceske Slovo suggests that the Czech armed forces are in a similar mess, but for rather different reasons. Firstly it points to the success with which the army during the 1990s managed to shed its traditional image as an overfed, incompetent and overstaffed dinosaur, as new people came in and helped prepare it for NATO membership. But time has shown that these individuals have not managed to change the army as a whole. It has been discredited again and again by scandals showing that many officers are continuing in the tradition of milking the army of its resources. TV cameras recently captured one officer peddling army equipment right outside the gates of his barracks, and there are also signs that the Defence Ministry is in a bureaucratic morass. Due to one mistake, it paid Czech army employees stationed abroad hundreds of thousands more crowns than they were entitled to due to a bureaucratic error. The army is in danger of becoming an embarrassment, concludes Ceske Slovo.

But amid all this doom and gloom, Lidove Noviny carries a more uplifting story. On its front page it reports that this Christmas Czechs are being more generous in giving money to charity than at any time in the past. It quotes the example of Irena Placha, who organizes pre-Christmas charity concerts every year. In 1991, she says, they raised about two million crowns. This year the figure was a staggering forty million. And it's not just businesses that are getting more generous. The general public is also giving more. The Czech Republic may not yet be among the world's wealthiest countries, writes Lidove Noviny, but many people compare their own relative wealth with the hardship of those who have nothing.

And finally Ceske Slovo carries an article that illustrates the need for such support. The first really cold weather of the winter, with ice and snow in many places, has meant that homeless shelters throughout the country are rapidly filling up. For example, the Salvation Army shelter in Czech Republic's second city of Brno is now full to capacity and the situation is similar in the city of Ostrava. But some people prefer to remain in the open air. The article is illustrated with a photograph of a group of homeless men, who camp out throughout the year in improvised shacks in the woods just outside Ostrava. For some of them this will be their seventh Christmas under the stars.

21-12-2000