Jan Culik, Glasgow University
Media in the Czech Republic, the current state of affairs(Toto je text přednášky o současné situaci v českých sdělovacích prostředcích, připravený pro výroční konferenci British Association of Slavonic and East European Studies, která se bude konat v britském univerzitním městě Cambridge ve dnech 4. - 6. dubna 1998. JČ)
The most influential broadcast medium in the Czech Republic is the Bermuda owned nationwide commercial TV station Nova Television.
Here is a sample of a run of the mill Main Evening News on Nova TV, broadcast on 26th November 1997:
Male presenter: Good evening. It is half past seven and the Main Evening News is here.
Female presenter: Good evening. The man who several days ago underwent a minor operation is today critically ill at the intensive care unit in the Pilsen Faculty Hospital. Doctors do not know yet whether this might be the disease known as "man-eating streptococcus". In recent years, a similar case occurred in England.
On the spot reporter: According to doctors, a beta-haemolytic streptococcus infected a minor incision in the patient's leg. This streptococcus freely floats through the air and causes common flu. It has fiercely attacked the man's tissues . They are dying. As a result of this massive attack, the man's basic bodily functions have begun to fail.
Interview with a doctor in the hospital: He is currently being treated at the intensive-care unit. We need to support his bodily functions.
On the spot reporter: The medical textbook of infectious diseases does not even mention such aggressive behaviour by the beta-haemolytic streptococcus.
Interview with another doctor: We have managed to isolate the cause of the infection, but we do not know why the streptococcus behaves so aggressively -
On the spot reporter: Doctors are struggling to save the life of the man by treating him with antibiotics. Many of them have not encountered such a seriously life-threatening situation in this type of illness. It will not be until results of special tests are known that the doctors will be able to say exactly, to what extent is this case is or is not connected with the cases of the so-called man-eating streptococci from England.
Male presenter: Last night, a very dangerous repeated offender escaped from the psychiatric hospital in Opava. Although a nationwide hunt for him is currently on, the psychopath has not been recaptured.
Female presenter: The 28-year old Martin Ginter from Ostrava-Hrusov was in detention until June of this year for brutally clubbing to death a man from Bruntal in May. This was not the first time that this offender had been placed in the Opava psychiatric hospital. Yesterday, when he was being transferred to the doctor, he escaped.
Interview with a doctor: It must be said that this is a dangerous, aggressive, violent person, who is currently being prosecuted for grievous bodily harm, which resulted in death.
On the spot reporter: The psychopath may now be anywhere in the Czech Republic. It cannot be ruled out that he has changed his appearance.
Nova Television news is followed daily by some 35 to 40 percent of the adult population in the Czech Republic. You can judge for yourselves what kind of impact this type of television news may have, day in day out, on the general political and cultural atmosphere in the country.
Marek Prorok, the editor in chief of Media Monitor, a Western organisation which analyses the output of the media in various countries, wrote in the Slovo daily newspaper on 9th December, 1997 that Nova TV's news coverage breaks down as follows:
Politics are reported in terms of personal gossip on Nova, says Prorok. This especially concerns Nova's coverage of President Havel.
Information about Havel, broadcast by TV Nova, can be divided into two categories: personal information and general political information. Nova TV broadcasts three times as many items dealing with Havel's private life than items dealing with Havel's work in politics.
Nova TV and the exodus of Czech Romanies to Canada and Great Britain
In the summer and in the autumn 1997, Nova TV made headlines in the West, thus demonstrating that an unscrupulous and unregulated commercial TV station operating within a small Central European country can contribute to the creation of an international problem.
Nova TV broadcast unbalanced current affairs films about the "carefree" life of Czech and Slovak gypsies in Canada and in Great Britain, thereby provoking an emigration wave of Czech and Slovak Romanies to these countries.
Romanies suffer from racist attacks in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia. When TV Nova told them there are countries where they could live undisturbed, hundreds of them left the country for Canada and Great Britain. But Canada imposed renewed visa restrictions on the Czech Republic and Britain took a number of indirect measures to stem the flow of the Czech and Slovak refugees.
TV Nova' s programmes about Czech and Slovak Romanies in Canada and in Britain were seriously under researched. The problem may have been caused by the fact that news and current affairs programming is under financed in Nova TV.
In late November 1997, Nova broadcast an unconfirmed report that former Czech Premier Vaclav Klaus had built a villa in the Swiss town of Davos, which was allegedly at least partially paid for from bribes, provided by firms which participated in the privatisation projects, organised by Klaus's government over the past five years. Klaus was furious. He threatened to sue Nova TV for 2 million pounds.
At the end of 1997, the government of premier Vaclav Klaus and his Civic Democratic Party collapsed as a result of a financial scandal. An early election is being called for June 1998. In the past few weeks, a smaller member of Klaus's coalition government, the Civic Democratic Alliance party, was almost completely destroyed as a result of yet another financial scandal. In the current, pre-election atmosphere, the main opposition party with a substantial lead in the polls, the Social Democrats, has come under attack as well. It is also being accused of financial irregularities, but it is very difficult to assess whether there is much substance to these accusations. In this atmosphere, Nova TV has assumed an openly hostile attitude to the social democrats in its daily news broadcasts, thus becoming a serious political force in the Czech democratic process.
Nova TV is financially very successful. In the first quarter of 1997, it recorded net revenues of $20,665, 000 and operating income of $6,298 000. In 1996, the third year of its operations, Nova TV earned $45 million in station operating income on revenues of $109 million. For 1995, Nova TV paid out a dividend of $12,066,000.
By effective local lobbying and clever use of local political developments, Nova TV's owner, the Bermuda-registered Central European Media Enterprises has managed to neutralise practically the whole regulatory framework, which was supposed to control commercial TV broadcasting in the Czech Republic.
How Nova TV came into being
In 1993, a group of six Czech and Slovak individuals received for free a television licence to set up a hybrid nationwide commercial TV station, which was supposed to be financed by advertising. Apart from entertainment, it was also to broadcast public service, educational and current affairs programming.
The broadcast licence was governed by 31 strict quality conditions, which had been drafted with the help of experts from the British Independent Television Commission. The six Czech and Slovak individuals joined up with Ronald Lauder's Central European Media Enterprises, which provided about 9 million dollars investment to start up the TV company. The money was borrowed from Czech banks. The other backer was the state-owned Czech savings bank.
When the new TV station went on air in February 1994, it became apparent that its programming had nothing to do with the terms of the original broadcasting licence. The station was openly downmarket. It cornered more than 60 per cent of the TV audience and started making money. The Czech parliament gradually abolished all the original conditions of the broadcasting licence.
To begin with, Lauder's Central European Media Enterprises was only one of the partners in the whole venture. Gradually, CME has managed to gain full control of Nova TV. Since August 1997, the Bermuda-based company has owned 99 per cent of Nova TV, although it is not the licence holder.
CME is quoted on NASDAQ. It uses the profits from Nova TV as evidence for its American investors in further and further rounds of share issues that broadcasting in Eastern Europe is potentially highly profitable. Whether this is really the case remains doubtful because in no other East European country is CME likely to be given such favourable conditions as it gained in the Czech Republic.
CME now operates in eight European countries, seven of them post communist i.e. in the Czech Republic, in Poland, in Germany, in Slovakia, in Slovenia, in Rumania, in Hungary and in the Ukraine. In Hungary, it however failed to win two nation-wide TV licences, mostly due to its strong-arm tactics used in the Czech Republic. The Ukraine activities of CME have led to a New York lawsuit. A Scottish-American firm Perekhid Enterprises demands US $ 750 million compensatory damages from CME for alleged underhand activities in the Ukraine which led to Perekhid losing its Ukrainian broadcasting licence.
In the Czech Republic, CME is strengthening its grip. Beseda Holding, a large service company, closely associated with Nova TV, purchased the ailing right wing Czech newspaper Denni telegraf and closed it down on 6th November, 1997. Beseda Holding is preparing the publication of a new tabloid daily newspaper, which is likely to be advertised on Nova TV.
Nova TV has been converging with the second Czech commercial TV station, Prima TV. Prima TV was originally called TV Premiéra and it has developed from a regional broadcaster. It has had minimal viewing figures and from its launch a couple of years ago it has made serious losses. In January 1997 it was re-launched under a new name, TV Prima.
In September 1997, the Czech Investment and Postal Bank, the owner of the loss-making Prima TV, purchased a forty per cent stake in Beseda Holding. Nova TV needs a second commercial channel and the programming of both Nova TV and Prima TV is now quite similar. The two stations are now co-operating closely in particular in their coverage of sporting events.
"It has proved impossible for us to prevent the convergence of Nova TV and Prima TV,"said Vladimir Koronthaly, Deputy Czech Culture Minister to the Czech Parliamentary Media Commission on 19th March 1998. Suggestions have been made that a third nation-wide commercial TV station should be created, in order to counter the influence of Central European Media Enterprises in the Czech Republic. This is unlikely to happen. Among other things, there are not enough broadcast frequencies.
Public Service Czech Television
It may be too early to judge, but it seems that with the fall of Vaclav Klaus's government in early December 1997, the "post-communist" period came to an end in Czechoslovakia/the Czech Republic. This may have a serious impact on how the media will develop from now on.
Klaus was Prime Minister between 1992-1997. Under his rule, especially in the early years, the atmosphere in Czechoslovakia/the Czech Republic could be characterised, with only a little exaggeration, as "communism in reverse". Klaus presented himself to the Czechs and to the international public as a highly experienced economist with a reliable and competent plan how to privatise state property and how to quickly bring about economic prosperity in the Czech Republic.
Klaus saw himself as a right-wing politician, as a follower of Margaret Thatcher. He persuaded much of the Czech public and almost all of the Czech media that there was no alternative to his economic reform programme. Whoever tried to question this was an enemy, an unreconstructed communist or a socialist, "jeopardising the fragile Czechoslovak democracy and wanting a return before 1989". For much of the time when Klaus was in office, most of the Czech media followed his line slavishly. There was little unencumbered public debate. The Czech public were happy to have what they saw as a strong, competent and confident leader, who would solve all their problems for them and lead them into Paradise.
This intolerant post communist model started to crumble after the June 1996 general election, when Klaus' government failed to win an outright majority. Serious economic problems became apparent in 1997 and the whole Klausian programme had been discredited by lawlessness, banking and financial scandals.
As a result, the relatively monolithic, conventionalised attitude of the Czech media began to change somewhat. A public discussion is starting in the Czech Republic about the above described shortcomings.
On 18th March, 1998, Czech historian Emanuel Mandler said in the daily Mlada fronta Dnes that since the fall of communism, Czech media had been suffering from "a national media convention", a silent conspiracy of the majority of Czech society determining what things can and cannot be said in public. This conspiracy suppressed unconventional, provocative and stimulating views.
On 10th March, the participants of a debating programme on Czech television ("Snezi") rebelled on air against the proposal against the statement that the Czech Republic has freedom of speech. They supplied a number of examples showing where the Czech media have refused to report uncomfortable views and facts.
Major developments seem to have occurred within Czech Public Service television over the past few weeks. They are supposed to come into effect as of the 1st April, 1998. It remains to be seen whether the turn of Czech Television towards professional, impartial and investigative reporting can be sustained within the Czech context.
Czech Public Service Television is financed from a licence fee, set by Parliament. Its broadcasting activities are supervised by the Council for Czech (public service) Television, a non-party political body of nine individuals, who are chosen by Czech parliament. The current Council for Czech Television was elected in February and in April 1997.
The Council for Czech Television appoints the Chief Executive of Czech TV for a period of six years.
On 4th February 1998, the Council of Czech Television expressed its wish to do away with the post-communist ethos of Czech TV by appointing a total newcomer to the post of Chief Executive. He is 28-year old Jakub Puchalsky, formerly Head of the Prague bureau of the BBC Czech Service. His proposal of improving the workings of Czech Television has been inspired by BBC practice.
Public service Czech Television competes with NOVA TV on two nation-wide channels, one of them popular, one of them art-orientated. Ivo Mathe, the outgoing Chief Executive of Czech TV said at his last news conference on 30th March, 1997 that according to estimates, Czech TV now commands thirty seven per cent of the television audience.
Under Ivo Mathe, Czech television retained a number of practices from the communist era, primarily inflexibility and a certain amount of secretiveness. Under communism, television in Czechoslovakia was supposed to distract the viewer and deflect his interest from public affairs. This escapist tendency on Czech Public Service television survived under Ivo Mathe. Mathe was somewhat obsessed with Nova TV and attempted to compete with it.
With regard to news and current affairs, Czech Public Service television systematically limited the duration of news items on its Main Evening News to a minimum, in order to attract viewers to the same, pseudo-dramatic, fast-paced, titillating style of news presentation.
The practice of the Czech Television's Main Evening News has been primarily to report foreign political events (7 per cent of the overall news output), the Czech government's economic policy (6 per cent), security and parliamentary politics. Under the influence of the commercial stations Nova and Prima, the reporting of crime and catastrophes was on the increase (5 per cent in September 1997, 8 per cent in October 1997).
Czech television has been less critical of the government than Nova TV. There are reports that there were close links between Czech TV and the presidential office and Václav Havel under Ivo Mathe. In fact, the outgoing Chief Executive of Czech TV has now been given a job in the presidential office. Czech public service TV has rarely criticised controversial property wrangles between Václav Havel and members of his family.
To date, Czech TV has had no regular programme like British TV's Newsnight or Panorama, in which it could analyse a single topical political issue in depth for fifteen, thirty or forty minutes. There have been many, rather badly moderated, political studio debates and very little independent in-depth analysis. The budget for news and current affairs has been very small. In fact, Czech TV currently spends the same amount of money per hour on news and current affairs as the BBC medium wave station Radio 5 Live.
On 19th March, 1998, the Ivo Mathe was strongly criticised by the Czech Parliamentary Media Commission for low levels of professionalism and objectivity in Czech TV. Especially discussion programmes on Czech TV were found to be biased. The Main Evening News tended to be pro-government, even though the MPs admitted that this slant may be subconscious.
Jakub Puchalsky, the new Chief Executive of Czech television, is planning to introduce the principles of objectivity, openness and professionalism into the broadcasting schedules of Czech Television. One of the most respected Czech journalists, Ivan Kytka, currently the London correspondent of Czech television, has been appointed Head of News and Current Affairs under Puchalsky.
Radical improvements in the structure of news gathering and reporting, in the ethos and the philosophy of the broadcasts are being prepared. The changes should take effect soon after 1st April, 1998. It remains to be seen whether the Czech public and the other Czech media will accept these changes and will not reject them as alien imports.
The print media
The credibility of the Czech daily newspapers is somewhat undermined by the fact that the two most influential dailies, the pro-government Mlada fronta Dnes and the anti-government Pravo were stolen after the revolution by the members of their editorial staff.
In 1989, Mlada fronta Dnes was owned by the Socialist Union of Youth. The Union was abolished. The editorial staff elected a new management. This group of people set up a new company, slightly changed the title of the daily newspaper (from Mlada fronta to Mlada fronta Dnes) and took over the existing subscribers, the existing readership and the existing distribution system, worth probably hundreds of millions of Czech crowns.
The same "privatisation method" was used by the daily Rude Pravo, now Pravo. It is very difficult to expect journalists working for these papers to go in for independent investigative journalism. If they were to highlight financial irregularities elsewhere, they could be easily accused of having stolen their own newspapers. (And in fact are now being accused of this.)
The same privatisation method was subsequently used by other newspapers. Thus, for instance, the evening paper Vecerni Praha had become Vecernik Praha.
At the time, the Czech government failed to produce good laws, preventing this type of asset stripping, and so these newspapers were stolen "legally". It is only now that it is becoming public knowledge that the most important Czech newspapers were privatised in a rather "irregular" manner. The facts are casting a shadow over the reputation of the newspapers.
There are far too many newspapers in the Czech Republic. The country has 10,3 million inhabitants. There are seventy daily newspapers. Three quarters of these are regional dailies, 10 newspapers are nation-wide dailies and the remaining titles are special projects (English newspapers, stock market reports, weather reports).
Out of the 10 nation-wide newspapers, 8 are relevant for the purposes of advertising, since Halo noviny and Spigl, extremist papers, do not publish any information about their print runs.
The 8 nation-wide newspapers control 61 per cent of newspaper advertising.
From November 1994 to April 1996 the overall print run of the nation-wide daily newspapers fell from 1,5 million daily to 1,25 million daily. Generally, the share of the individual papers remains stable.
MFD, Pravo and Sport have kept their share, Zemske noviny has gone up by four per cent, Slovo, Lidove noviny and Prace has lost some 1 to 2 per cent. Slovo, Lidove noviny and Prace are lossmaking. Blesk is profit-making.
The strongest newspapers are:
Perhaps the most successful daily newspaper, which until recently slavishly followed the government line, is Mlada fronta Dnes (Today), with a daily print run of more than 200 000 copies. Having been "privatised" by the editorial staff, who turned the paper into their own property, MFD was later bought out by a French owner and is now owned by Rheinisch-Bergische Verlag from the German Rheinland.
The journalists working on Mlada fronta Dnes often exercise self-censorship. As late as March 1998, the paper was still manipulating its political coverage, displaying gross bias against the Czech social democratic party. Mlada fronta Dnes produces a cleverly manipulated mix of tabloid and semi-high brow material on its pages in order to keep its readership.
Another newspaper, which until recently followed the government line quite mechanically, is Lidové noviny. Its fall from favour with Czech readers has been spectacular. Lidové noviny was founded by the dissidents in 1988 in an attempt to resurrect a highly reputable interwar Czech newspaper.
After the fall of communism, Lidové noviny became a daily. Originally dominated by Czech dissidents, it was supposed to become the Times of the Czech Republic. These hopes were never realised.
From its inception, Lidové noviny suffered from vague, essayistic journalism. Within a few years, a right wing coup took place in Lidové noviny and most of the dissidents left. The paper became a right wing ideological organ. Towards the end of 1997, Lidové noviny had a daily print run of only some 60 000 copies. Former premier Vaclav Klaus advertised his policies by publishing his own political articles once a week in Lidove noviny.
New staff and a new editor were hired in the summer of 1997, but perhaps too late. In November 1997, the owner, the Swiss firm Ringier, announced it was selling Lidove noviny, perhaps as a preparation for a fight with the new tabloid daily newspaper, to be sold by Beseda Holding, associated with CME. At the moment, Lidove noviny is trying to make it as an independent newspaper.
Denni Telegraf was partially owned by Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party and was a mouthpiece of the party. As a result, it lost credibility and most of its readership. It was purchased by a company closed to Nova TV and closed down in November 1997.
The former Communist Party daily Rude právo, now just Pravo, has become a successful daily newspaper with a print run of several hundred thousand copies. It publishes independent comment on its pages, but politically the newspaper is left of centre. Recently, it has transpired that Pravo will not publish material, critical of its advertisers. This seems to be somewhat hypocritical in a paper which assumes a left-of-centre stance.
In 1996, Práce, formerly a trade union daily, was purchased by a highly controversial entrepreneur, Vladimir Stehlik, who was irresponsibly given the Poldi Steel works in the town of Kladno, west of Prague, by the former Czech Trade and Industry minister Vladimir Dlouhy, as a private asset.
Stehlík brought the steel works to ruin. Using the Prace daily, Stehlik disseminates his views, attacking the Czech government, somewhat like when in Britain, the entrepreneur Tiny Rowland used the Observer newspaper in his struggle against the Al Fayed brothers. In the autumn of 1997, Prace failed to appear several times because it had not paid its bills at the printing office.
A middle-of-the-road, slightly left-of-centre newspaper is Slovo. The paper is now owned by the large, state-owned chemical conglomerate Chemapol. The Slovo daily has been ailing. At the beginning of 1996, Slovo was relaunched with a slightly improved graphic layout, but it has not helped its popularity.
Slovo does not have competent editorial management. Thus people who write for it have been able to follow a surprisingly independent political line. The daily sale of Slovo is estimated to be under 50 000 copies. Recently, Chemapol has put up Slovo for sale.
Traditional daily newspapers in the Czech Republic are now possibly under threat from Metro, a free daily paper, which is financed by advertising. The paper was launched in the summer of 1997 in the city of Prague. It is semi-tabloid and it allegedly has a print run of 200 000 copies daily only in Prague. Metro plans to extend its activities to other cities in the Czech Republic. It may well take away most available advertising from the traditional daily newspapers, which could cause many of them to go under.
The quality of Czech reporting
All Czech daily newspapers have the format of a tabloid. This means that there is not enough space for proper analysis of issues. Most articles are short. Most coverage must be superficial. There was an attempt to start a large format daily newspaper, Prostor, a few years ago, but the paper failed.
According to Ondrej Neff, a journalist and writer who has worked for Mlada fronta Dnes for several years and left it because he became dissatisfied with its ideological line, the reason for the low quality of Czech newspapers is economic. The Czech economy is not strong enough to provide sufficient amounts of advertising to make the newspapers truly independent.
Former Pravo journalist Tomas Rychly wrote in Listy No. 6/1997 that new, controversial and stimulating ideas appear rarely in Czech newspapers because Czech journalists are afraid of freedom of speech. Thus most journalist tend to repeat innocuous clichés. They hide behind the concept of "balance" and "impartiality". They are afraid that non-conformity could annoy publishers and advertisers. The main advantage of being without definable views, concludes Rychly, is that should there be a revolution, journalists without views would be acceptable even for a new regime.
Rychly analysed frequent clichés and prejudices of various Czech media.
In order to preserve the semblance of "impartiality", Czech media has resorted to using "independent experts" to comment on all pronouncements by politicians, regardless how insignificant. Most of these experts are routine commentators who just regurgitate received wisdom without a single original thought.
What does the Czech media believe in?
Rychly summed up the recent beliefs held and perpetrated by the Czech media as follows:
At the end of November 1997, it seemed for a moment that the Czech media could be shaken out of its lethargy. Two serious financial scandals concerning Klaus's ruling Civic Democratic Party were leaked, as a result of internal infighting within the Party.
Temporarily it seemed that the Czech media, especially the daily Mlada fronta Dnes had adopted the techniques of independent, hard-hitting investigative journalism.
It transpired subsequently that the inside revelations, published by Mlada fronta Dnes, were not the result of any systematic, professional investigative work, but of leaks from the highest echelons of Klaus's party. Once the leaks stopped, MFD reverted to what it had been doing before.
No Czech newspaper or television station has been to date willing to put up the money to invest into truly professional, long term investigative journalism.
To read Czech newspapers is confusing and tiresome. Their coverage is superficial and non systematic. They frustrate their readers and disorientate them.
The most serious Czech daily newspapers pretend to their readers that they are high brow but they print news frequent items which would be classed as tabloid in Britain.
In an analysis of the negotiation process connected with the Czech-German declaration and of the reactions of the Czech media to it, Andrew Stroehlein has pointed to an interesting dichotomy in the Czech newspapers.
Inside the papers, its commentaries presented the view of Czech intellectuals, arguing for agreement with the Germans. But the papers need to be sold: so, on the front pages they printed shocking headlines, warning against the dangers of the perfidious Germans, playing to the basest emotional prejudices of the Czechs.
Until 1996-1997, most Czech daily newspapers had a simplistic ideology and a fixed political agenda. By not properly understanding how the market economy and democracy works in the West, these journalists shook the belief in democracy and pluralist capitalism in the eyes of many Czech citizens.
Over the past few months most newspapers have lost this firm political line, but they have replaced it with confusion.
Probing questions by journalists have not been encouraged in the Czech Republic. They have often been seen as "offensive". A politician will deflect a difficult question by saying, "Don't be so impolite/aggressive."
It is quite difficult to ask government ministers firm, searching questions at official press conferences. To do so, you tend to attract the label as an "extremist" or a gutter press journalist in the Czech context. Ministers have tried to apply indirect pressure to journalists whom they regard as far too independent.
In an interview in the Czech internet daily Neviditelny pes, Jan Stern, the editor of Czech television's political debating programme Arena said that top Czech politicians, including premier Vaclav Klaus, refused to take part in the programme, fearing that they might be asked far too searching questions. Unfortunately, whenever this happened, Czech television failed to publicise it.
Until recently, whenever Czech television attempted to open up a controversial political theme, powerful right-wing daily newspapers accused it of using gutter press techniques, said Petr Studenovsky, the outgoing head of news and current affairs in Czech Television.
Until 1996-1997, many Czech newspapers were proud to follow the government line. They adopted a pseudo right-wing ideology, which had many surviving communist features.
Czech journalist and commentator, Jiri Hanak, now working for Pravo, gave a number of reasons in Kmit magazine (which deals with media matters), why many Czech journalists followed uncritically the government line:
First, it is a matter of habit. Most journalists, currently working for Czech newspapers, also worked for them under communism. They are used to communist ways. Under the former regime, they did not need independent thinking, faith in their own judgment or an ability to run risks. Such qualities would have threatened their jobs. These journalists know even now that if they support the 'powers that be', life will be easier.
Second, laziness. It is much easier to produce a servile newspaper than a critical newspaper. The Czechs have always regarded as pleasant to bask in the heat radiated by the powerful.
Third, the younger generation in the Czech Republic has fallen prey to ideology. These market oriented young Stalinists have been given a new God. They worship him using a rite from the communist past. These young people see any criticism of the government as an assault on democracy.
Fourth, there exists, in the Czech Republic today, a group of (pseudo)intellectuals, who had collaborated with the communist regime more intensely than was customary. These people have tried to overcome their past by dramatically switching sides. They want to be as right wing as possible, more pro-government than anyone else, more intolerant than anyone else. The influence of these people in many newspapers is strongly felt. Western owners of Czech newspapers, unacquainted in greater detail with the situation in a post-communist country, have often given a free editorial hand to these individuals in the Czech Republic.
Fifth, pragmatic calculation. After the 1992 elections, which was won by the Civic Democratic Party, the Czech newspapers realised that the Civic Democratic Party was likely to rule the country for eight long years. Thus Czech newspapers switched to the side of the government, as ever. Should the Social Democratic opposition win the forthcoming elections, it is highly likely that Czech newspapers will stick to their long tradition of servility. For fifty years, Czech journalists have obediently served the owner of their papers and the powers that be, no matter what they were like and what they demanded.
V. G. Baleanu, in his study Mass Media in the Post Communist East-Central Europe, published by the Conflict Studies Research Centre of the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst, UK, states that "for the time being the standards of the Czech media are still low, not only because comprehensive programmes able to examine official policies and attitudes in depth are rare, but also because the majority of socio-political programmes simply accept the official positions or simply attack them without any kind of analysis."
Postscript: the Internet?
The Internet is a certain counterbalance to the traditional media such as newspapers, radio and television. In the past year or two, most of the paper-printed Czech daily newspapers and some weeklies have became available on theInternet, primarily courtesy of the Prague Media Server (http://www.mediaserver.cz/). The newspapers are accessible for free, although the Internet publication of some of them is delayed by a few days, in an attempt to make people purchase paper copies first.
According to RIPE (The European Co-ordination Information Centre), There were 53 032 IP addresses in the Czech Republic on 1st September 1997. But one IP address can be used by a whole intranet within a firm. (These are probably only IP addresses, connected to the internet via a fixed line. It seems to be impossible to estimate the number of internet subscribers, using dialúp providers in the Czech Republic.) It is roughly estimated that approximately 250 000 people are connected to the Internet in the Czech Republic.
Poland has 78 231 IP addresses, Slovakia 11 162, the Ukraine 11 675, Bulgaria 5 755, Hungary 44 178. European parts of Russia have 79 779 IP addresses.
680 businesses are connected to the Internet in the Czech Republic. 30 per cent of these are computer and software firms.
There is a large amount of varied information now available from the Czech Republic on the Internet.
While the popularity of the Internet in the Czech Republic came later than in countries like Britain or the United States, in 1996 the number of Czech-speaking Internet users started rising dramatically. The number of accesses to the above-mentioned Prague Media Server rose sixteen times during 1996. In January 1996, the Media Server recorded some 150 000 accesses per month, in November 1996 it recorded almost 2,5 million accesses.
Most Internet users access the Net from work in the Czech Republic. One third of the Czech Internet users belong to middle and higher management, one third are university students and one third are computer specialists. Czech Internet users are between 20 and 40 years old. Seven times more Czech men than women accessed the Internet in 1996.
26th March, 1998
Latest information on political and media developments in the Czech Republic can be obtained from the Czech-language Internet daily Britske listy (some of the material is also in English.)