The European Parliament debated the risks of political abuse of the Czech media on Thursday. The plenary debate was held in reaction to a leaked audio recording, in which the leader of the coalition ANO party, former Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Andrej Babiš, spoke to a journalist about media coverage that would damage his political rivals. Most MEPs noted that while there did not appear to be any fundamental threat to press freedom in the Czech Republic, Andrej Babis’ potential victory in the elections could create a serious problem. MEP Jan Zahradil of the Civic Democratic Party said the problem concerned a single politician and the answer would be to beat him in the elections. There was no formal conclusion to the debate.
The European Commission and European Parliament are examining complaints put forth by Czech MEPs and free press advocates that ANO leader Andrej Babiš’s influence over certain media outlets pose a threat to Czech democracy. Also under the microscope are recent comments made, supposedly in jest, by President Miloš Zeman to Vladimir Putin about the need to liquidate journalists.
The lower house of parliament on Wednesday approved a government proposal paving the way for the switch to a new digital television frequency and making room for the expansion of high speed mobile internet. The switch should be completed by 2021. The proposal has been controversial with satellite tv companies saying that Czech households will be landed with costs of around 5 billion crowns for new tvs and set top boxes. They also argue that the proposed law represents substantial and illegal state aid to the country biggest tv frequency provider, České Radiokomunikace.
An angry war of words has broken out over government plans to pave the way for a new frequency for terrestrial tv broadcasters as part of moves to free up space for mobile data to be transmitted around the world. Satellite companies say the government move is a massive multi-billion crown giveaway with the country threatened by costly international arbitration proceedings.
The European Parliament has confirmed that it has scheduled a debate on the possible abuse of the media in the Czech Republic on June 1. The debate is not expected to conclude with a final resolution. The debate has been sparked in part by the release of tapes purportedly featuring ANO leader Andrej Babiš and a journalist about the release of material to his Czech newspapers discrediting other politicians. The European Commission would normally be expected to take a position over the issue. Babiš owns two of the country’s biggest national newspapers as well as the country’s biggest commercial radio station. The tapes appear to discredit his pledge that his does not involve himself in editorial coverage.
Deputy prime minister and Christian Democrats chairman Pavel Bělobrádek has proposed that the BIS secret service examine leaked recordings featuring the voice of ANO leader Andrej Babiš. Mr. Bělobrádek suggested on Tuesday that the recordings, which have been posted online, could represent a threat to the essence of the Czech constitutional system. They appear to show Finance Minister Babiš giving orders to a journalist and being handed materials by the same reporter from an ongoing police investigation. The ANO boss says that they are fake and are part of a campaign against him.
During a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in China, Czech President Miloš Zeman took a characteristic swipe at the media. Caught on mic just ahead of a joint press briefing with Mr. Putin, Mr. Zeman noted that there were too many journalists present and that they should be “liquidated”. While the joke raised a polite smile from Mr. Putin, it triggered a volley of negative reactions in the Czech Republic where media freedom and efforts to influence the free press are now very much in the spotlight.
President Miloš Zeman raised eyebrows on Sunday with a comment just caught
on mic ahead of a press conference in China with Russian President
Vladimír Putin. Mr Zeman joked that there were too many journalists and
that they should be liquidated - reaction to the apparent presence of
'still more' press at the event. His counterpart reacted with a
smile and indicated that such measures were not required but that
journalists could be "reduced". Mr Zeman's at times hostile
view of journalists is well known.
On Sunday, Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek expressed a strong objection to Mr Zeman's joke, suggesting that such a discourse was inappropriate with Mr Putin or anyone else. The president's spokesman Jiří Ovčáček, meanwhile, described Mr Zeman's remarks as a mere witticism or bon mot. The president's words have since drawn sharp criticism on the social networks and were slammed by numerous politicians including MEP Pavel Telička who tweeted that the joke was evidence that Mr Zeman's re-election bid did not deserve support.
Czech MEPs are trying to get a planned debate on possible abuse of the media in the Czech Republic off the European Parliament’s agenda. The debate, initiated by the leadership of the EP’s strongest faction, the European People’s Party, is planned for June 1st. In a letter to Manfred Weber, chairman of the European People's Party group, Michaela Šojdrová of the Christian Democrats and five other Czech MEPs argue that although the situation gives cause for concern, the Czech Republic is addressing the problem and will resolve it. Czech MEPs have slammed the Czech finance minister, Andrej Babis for putting the country in this shameful position.
Czech Television is taking part in the four country cooperation to make a two-part series about the life of empress Maria Theresa. The 300th anniversary of the birth of the sole empress of the Habsburg empire is being marked this month. The co-production between public service broadcasters from Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary features actors from all four countries. Czech actor Vojtěch Kotek is play the empress’ husband. The various nationalities speak in their own native language with the final result dubbed. Some of the scenes for the series are being shot at Czech stately homes.
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