04-01-2001

Readers picking up Thursday's papers will experience a feeling of deja vu, transporting them back to the heady days of the Velvet Revolution 11 years ago. Front pages carry snapshots of a hundred thousand strong crowd jamming Prague's historic Wenceslas Square, waving flags and banners, demanding freedom of the press. After last night, there is no question of what's going to happen, says Petr Fisher in Lidove Noviny. The fun and games are over, and the public has said "enough". There can be no further speculation as to who's right and who's wrong. The management's news broadcast which managed to ignore 100,000 people protesting in the street on Wednesday evening, is so evocative of communist times that there is no more to be said. One thing the Czech Republic does not need is censorship of its public television, Fisher concludes. In the meantime, the rebel journalists holed in at Czech TV headquarters since December 24th, have only to voice a wish and it is granted, says Lidove Noviny. Outraged by the news that the controversial general director had cut off their water supplies and telephone lines and had barred them from using the toilets, people have rallied to help the striking journalists overcome every hurdle. Chemical toilets were there within a few hours, there is a constant stream of food and drink deliveries, cigarettes, warm clothes and heaps of flowers, says Lidove Noviny. Zemske Noviny notes that the crisis at Czech Public Television reflects the power-struggle on the Czech political scene: the Civic Democrats and their Social Democratic Party allies on the one hand - the right of centre Four Party Coalition and President Havel on the other. Commentators agree that nothing short of a foolproof new law, made to guarantee the independence of Czech Radio and Television, will help. But how soon can it be approved - and with Parliamentary elections due in 1992 - will the two houses of Parliament put aside their own best interests in the interest of freedom of the press? "I am ashamed to be a politician," Freedom Union leader Karel Kuhnl told the crowd on Wenceslas Square. "We have approved a law that will guarantee the public media full independence," promised deputy prime minister Vladimir Spidla. The booing which marked his arrival turned to cheers after hearing this news. Yet, will the new legislation make it through the lower house, when most Civic Democrats will be against it? Pravo says that, since they will not be able to rely on their opposition allies, the governing Social Democrats will have to court the right of centre Four Party Coalition for the extra votes they need to get the bill approved in the lower house. Although the Four Party Coalition has reservations regarding certain articles of the law - they know only too well that the public will remember who was constructive in this crisis and who was not, the paper concludes.

04-01-2001