05-01-2001

As the crisis at Czech Television continues to deepen, all the national dailies today carry extensive coverage of the conflict which, they say, may potentially have a devastating impact on society in general and the political establishment in particular.

MLADA FRONTA DNES believes that both main parties -- the ruling Social Democrats and their opposition allies, the Civic Democrats, were intent on using the Czech Television Council, the public broadcaster's supervisory body, as a vehicle for establishing tight control of over the station. Now, when a majority of Czechs are solidly behind the station's rebellious staff and trade unions, the two parties have begun to sound the retreat and assure the public that an amended law on Czech Television will almost certainly help break the stalemate.

Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla tried to appease protesting crowds in Prague's Wenceslas Square on Wednesday by trying to suggest that the new bill would automatically relegate the discredited council to history. This is nonsense, the paper writes, as the council would stay in office for at least another two months after passing the bill. The paper calls for the Czech TV Council to be disbanded immediately, and for the station's controversial boss, Jiri Hodac, to step down now. Naturally, the two main political parties are reluctant take such a radical step, as that would be tantamount to admitting that naming the puppet council was a conspiracy aimed at seizing control of Czech Television.

PRAVO says that the opposition Four Party Coalition should also make concessions now that the two heavyweights have reluctantly agreed to accept a legislative state of emergency, the aim of which is to speed up the passing of the new media law. But the paper is sceptical that this move alone could defuse tensions and resolve the crisis that threatens to divide Czech society.

ZEMSKE NOVINY quotes a well-known lawyer, Tomas Sokol, as saying the damage caused to Czech Television by Mr Hodac's irrational decision last week to shut the station down for almost two days, will be hard to estimate. The fact is, Sokol said, that the blackout cost the television station many millions of Czech Crowns in lost advertising revenue.

On a more pleasant topic, CESKE SLOVO features a story on positive trends in the Czech tourist trade. 2000 was a good year, the paper notes. Last year, foreign tourists spent four billion dollars in the Czech Republic, contrary to much bleaker forecasts a few months ago.

Incoming tourism, the paper says, has been given a new lease of life, because Czech hotels have improved their policies and adopted many of the common decency norms that are usual in the West. At long last, hotel proprietors have learned that one doesn't get rich quick, and that if you take care of the pennies, the pounds will take care of themselves. Exorbitant prices for mediocre services are a thing of the past, the paper notes.

March 1 will witness a decisive point in the Czech 2001 census, LIDOVE NOVINY reports. Under Czech law, all Czech citizens and everybody who is on Czech soil at that point in time, will be obliged to provide visiting census officials with complete, truthful, correct and timely information. This will include private data, such as possessing a mobile phone, or how many people a given person employs. Failure to do so carries a fine of up to 10,000 Czech Crowns. But the Czech Statistical Office says it has no leverage on undisciplined residents, who may or may not allow the census officials into their apartments. There has been a discussion underway for quite some time on whether sensitive information should be protected by the personal privacy act.

And finally, heirs of the 20th-century Czech poet Frantisek Halas have been shocked to see that an unauthorised volume of his poetry has become available in all good bookstores throughout the country. MLADA FRONTA DNES reports that in his irresponsible youthful days, Halas, a certified lyricist, who sang his mother's praises and marvelled at the beauty of bubbling brooks, wrote a collection of poems of explicit eroticism and lewd obscenities. He later distanced himself from this transgression -- but now, the cat's out from the bag. Frantisek Halas, whose poems are compulsory reading for Czech schoolchildren, indulged in highly risqué verbal pornography.

05-01-2001