27-12-2000

The battle for Czech Public Television overshadowed all other events during the four day Xmas break and no doubt thousands of Czechs were scrambling to get hold of Wednesday's papers in order to learn more about what exactly is going on. The fact that Czech Public TV has been broadcasting two rival news programs since December 24th - and few people have had access to both versions - doubtless increased the public's hunger for information.

Front pages reflect the drama of the past four days - there are snapshots of the new TV management among a hostile crowd of journalists in the newsroom, a crowd of two thousand people chanting "freedom of speech" outside Czech television's main building, and snapshots of two rival evening news broadcasts. "Rebels Fight Second Velvet Revolution" reads a Mlada Fronta Dnes headline, and "Czech Television Paralyzed By Controversy".

The paper says that while Czech TV employees have clearly violated the conditions of the Labour Code they deserve sympathy and support because they are fighting for the independence of public television. There are times when moral principles must override the Labour Code, the papers says, and as a former journalist, Culture Minister Pavel Dostal is clearly aware of that, as are an increasing number of Czech politicians.

Hospodarske Noviny echoes that sentiment, saying that the new Czech TV management has regrettably failed to realize that having the law on their side is not everything. It is revealing that both police and private security agencies called to evacuate the newsroom by force refused to do so, the paper points out.

In a move akin to the rival news broadcasts, Lidove Noviny carries two parallel editorial commentaries. Tomas Zahradnicek claims that the Civic Democratic Party's ambition to control Czech Public Television has led to a number of grave mistakes. The Civic Democrats managed to push their candidates into the two hot seats - general director and head of news - but even they must be shocked by the clumsiness and arrogance displayed by the new television bosses, the editor says.

Miroslav Korecky has an altogether different view of the crisis, saying that a group of anarchists in Czech Television are effecting a well-orchestrated campaign aimed at cutting Czech Television off from the influence of politicians and thus indirectly moving it beyond public control. "By what right do these journalists fight for freedom of speech in the name of the public when unlike politicians they have not been voted into office by the public to serve public interests?" Korecky asks. "What we are seeing at Czech TV is a small Bolshevik revolution that casts doubt on the workings of democracy and the rule of law in the Czech Republic," he says.

Not so, argues commentator Jan Urban in Mlada Fronta Dnes. Public interests, national interests and the interests of democracy do not necessarily always coincide with the best interests of politicians and political parties and they must be defended without regard for the latter. As for the rule of law - the "higher principles" which now demand action -never threaten good legislation or a morally principled government. However they do challenge bad legislation and immoral politicians. There have been plenty of occasions in history when stupid and immoral politicians hid behind "the rule of law" so let us not be deluded by these arguments, Urban concludes.

In Pravo, Alexander Mitrofanov speculates on how strange it is that the governing Social Democrats have failed to issue an official statement on the crisis - especially when it is clearly the Civic Democrats who stand to benefit if their proteges manage to weather the storm in Czech Television. Is this or is this not a part of the Social and Civic Democrats power sharing deal? Mitrofanov is inclined to think it is. Not all Social Democrats are willing to play that ball game though, and several have spoken out on their own behalf.

And finally - what is the President's view of this unprecedented media crisis? Although the President is known to be very outspoken on matters such as this, on this particular occasion he has kept his own council. Lidove Noviny notes that we are likely to learn more in a few days when the President is due to go on Czech Public Television with his New Years address to the nation. Will he pre-record it or read it live? Will he cooperate with the rebels or the management? Or will he speak only on Czech Public Radio? His close friend from dissident years, Senator Jan Ruml is urging him not to cooperate with the present TV management, others are pointing out the implications of siding with the rebels... The president's office is bombarded with questions, but it will be another 4 days before we get an answer, Lidove Noviny concludes.

27-12-2000