Last Updated: Thursday, 24 July 2014, 13:56 GMT

Reporters Without Borders Annual Report 2002 - Czech Republic

Publisher Reporters Without Borders
Publication Date 3 May 2002
Cite as Reporters Without Borders, Reporters Without Borders Annual Report 2002 - Czech Republic, 3 May 2002, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/487c525028.html [accessed 25 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Questions of freedom of information highlighted the political debate in 2001 in a country that should soon be joining the European Union.

The conflict in December 2000 that violently pitted several dozen journalists of public Czech radio and television (CT) against its general management calmed down progressively at the beginning of the year, then lastingly with the election at the end of May 2001 of a new board for public television. The concerns expressed by Czech journalists during the crisis fed a debate that was closely watched by the other emerging democracies of eastern Europe on the minimal guarantees of independence and impartiality in the management of public television. In October questions posed by a weekly magazine about the integrity of government members provoked a sharp reaction from those in power.

Pressure and obstruction

On 9 February 2001 Jiri Balvin (former head of the artistic section of CT) became temporary director of CT, public Czech television. The conflict opposing several dozen CT journalists to the managerial staff beginning in December 2000 returned to calm with the election at the end of May 2001 of a new board for CT, thanks to a new law's being adopted about public-sector television that was passed in January. Jiri Balvin has now assumed his position as director general. In December 2000 several dozen journalists of the Czech public-sector radio and television (CT) had rejected the appointment by CT's board of the new director general, Jiri Hodac. The protesting journalists occupied the television offices, claiming that the new director general and the new news director's appointments were "essentially due to political considerations that were incompatible with the minimum guarantees of independence and impartiality by the management of public-sector television". Jiri Hodac was considered to be too close to the rightwing Civic Democratic Party, whose president, Vaclav Klaus, was also president of the chamber of deputies in charge of appointing the nine members of the board of public Czech television. The journalists demanded the resignation of the recently appointed director general and news director and that parliament revise the conditions for appointing officials of public television. The network's new managerial staff had sent letters of dismissal to the striking journalists, had interrupted programming on several occasions and threatened to use force to expel the strikers from the TV's offices.

In June despite a veto by President Vaclav Havel the lower house of parliament voted for a law on regulating the audiovisual sector, enabling television channels and private radio stations whose licences had come to term to continue broadcasting in payment of a prohibitively high tax. The law also limited ownership in the audiovisual sector by stating that a single group could possess no more than two radio or two television networks. President Vaclav Havel considered that the law did not take the needs of the public sector sufficiently into account.

On 15 June journalist Tomas Smcerk, accused of having revealed a secret governmental document during an interview in 1994 on private television, was finally declared not guilty. The document in question was said to prove that Jiri Ruzek, a politician who had become head of the state security services (BIS), had tried to quash the charges against a friend accused of drunk driving. Tomas Smcerk might have received an eight-year sentence.

On 23 July Richard Samko, a journalist of gypsy origins working for the state television, CT, was prevented from embarking on a flight for the United Kingdom at Prague airport by the employees of the British Office of Immigration. His colleague, carrying the same travel documents, was allowed to embark. In February 2001, a Czech-British convention instituted controls in the Czech Republic aimed at stemming the flow of Czech citizens into the United Kingdom. Most of the people refused embarkation are Gypsies. On 9 November the spokesman for the British embassy stressed that the people were checked "at random".

In September after the events of the 11th, the fear of attacks led the Czech authorities to place a sizeable security contingent in front of the headquarters of the American radio network, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE-RL) based in Prague. Barricades and armoured vehicles were positioned in front of the radio station's buildings. On 11 October Sonia Winter, spokeswoman for RFE-RL, announced that the radio's headquarters might be moved out of Prague to a more inaccessible location. On 2 November the head of the Czech secret services, Kiri Ruzek, revealed that the Iraqi secret services "might be interested" in the offices of Radio Free Europe in Prague.

On 22 October 2001 Prime Minister Milos Zeman announced that the government and seventeen ministers would sue the weekly, Respekt, because of an article published the same day alleging that "from the youngest to the eldest", all the ministers were corrupt. Each of the ministers demanded 10 million crowns (about 300,000 euros) in damages. The Prime Minister declared that he wanted an "equal to equal partnership with the media" but that "when they lie, journalist shouldn't be surprised when the government has an allergic reaction". The magazine, Respekt, belongs to the R-Press group, mainly owned by former chancellor and millionaire, Karel Schwartzenberg, who felt that "instead of growing closer to a country like Belgium, we grow closer to Belarus". On 25 October Jaroslav Tvrdik, Minister of Defence, declared he was against the suit. The Minister of Justice went no further than to demand apologies from the magazine, while the Ministers of Culture and Trade and Industry supported the government's joint lawsuit but gave up the idea of suing individually. The same day Petr Holub, editor-in-chief of Respekt, decided to appeal to the Constitutional Court. On 9 November the magazine sued Prime Minister Milos Zeman, accusing him of hatred and inciting violence. On 12 November Milos Zeman declared that Respekt is the "rubbish bin of the Czech media".

On 24 October Pietr Bilek, editor-in-chief of the weekly, Reflex, announced that he would appeal a verdict by the Prague courts ordering him to apologise to Karel Brezina, a minister without portfolio who was caricatured on the weekly's front page as a naked sex maniac.

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