News and Current Affairs in Czech Television
Jan Culik(Written for the international conference The Profession of Journalism in a Democratic Society: East-West Perspectives, Napier University, Edinburgh, Scotland, September 4-5th 1998)
Question: What is the significance of this interview with Vaclav Klaus, former Czech Prime Minister, head of the "right-wing" Civic Democratic Party and currently Speaker of the Lower Chamber of Czech Parliament? The interview was broadcast on Czech public service television on 28th July, 1998. It took place on the occasion of Klaus having been appointed to the post of Speaker in Czech Parliament. Note that the interviewer, Jana Bobosikova, does not react to Klaus's statements:
Jana Bobosikova: Mr. Speaker, you wish to imbue your post with, as you say yourself, strong political content. What do you mean by this?
Vaclav Klaus: Well, what I for instance mean is that when I organise in response to the request made by the Parliament's Press Department, a news conference for foreign journalists and when we agree that there will be no interpreters and when Czech journalists also come in, I sort of expect that my decision will be respected that this is a news conference for foreign journalists and that Czech Television will not immediately start ridiculing it, as I have discovered here. Because I really think that the Parliamentary Speaker is not elected just to run sessions of Parliament and to organise voting in Parliament, The post of a Parliamentary Speaker is a significant post in this country and I plan to use it for my political purposes.
Jana Bobosikova: In what way?
Vaclav Klaus: Well, naturally, there is a large number of events, opportunities, there is a lot of space for political statements, for political activity, and, again, I repeat again, I am not going to deal only with the problem that when MPs leave the Chamber, they are immediately confronted with television cameras. I feel that my post is about more substantial matters in this country.
Jana Bobosikova: Will you wish officially to change the powers of the Parliamentary Speaker, as they are defined by the rules of the house?
Vaclav Klaus: I have not even thought of starting a punch-up about changes to the powers of the Parliamentary Speaker. If I am not mistaken, I have never said anything to that effect. It has not even entered my mind, such an idea.
Jana Bobosikova: What is your view of parliamentary immunity... (...)
Vaclav Klaus: The most important thing I want to say is that it is necessary to deal with fundamental political matters in this country. I will be very happy when Parliament ceases to be the plaything of MPs' parliamentary questions to Ministers. Parliament should transform itself into a energetic positive-minded body, with fewer procedural games by MPs and with more matter-of-fact debate.
Jana Bobosikova: What do you regard as the most important political task which Parliament now has to tackle? (...)
Needless to say that a news conference given for exclusively for foreign journalists was an unfortunate relapse to the communist past. It was the communist government which dispensed information exclusively, giving it to some and denying it to others. Moreover, Klaus seems to be saying that he wishes to abolish parliamentary questions to ministers. Czech TV's interviewer fails to challenge the statement.
By the way, the Czech political context is unstable. There are few generally agreed rules of democratic conduct, which are immediately clear to everyone. If in Britain a Parliamentary Speaker said on television that he wanted to abolish MP's questions to ministers, a general outcry would probably follow even if the interviewer did not react to the statement. In the Czech Republic, few will immediately notice that this is an antidemocratic statement, unless the statement is analysed by an independent critical commentator. Hence thoughtful independent analysts are even more important in the Czech Republic than in the West. However, they are relatively scarce in the Czech media.
Like the BBC in Britain, Czech public service television suffers from systematic pressure by politicians, who aim to turn it into their own political mouthpiece. While in Britain, the struggle between the media and the politicians seems to be never ending - the forces seem to be more or less equal, over the past six months, Czech public service television has failed badly in its attempt to shake off the yoke of political manipulation.
The above quoted interview was the second time that Vaclav Klaus had returned to Czech Television after a major altercation in the corridors of Czech TV in late May 1998, during a period when Czech TV's current affairs attempted for a few days to assume an editorial line free from political pressure. Then, Klaus was scheduled to give an interview to Jednadvacitka, a half-hour daily current affairs programme broadcast at 9 pm. On arrival at the studios of Czech TV that night he discovered that Robert Dengler, a journalist from the newspaper Pravo, was scheduled also to be present in the studio with Klaus. Klaus refused point blank to sit with Dengler in the same studio. However, the producer of Jednadvacitka did not yield to Klaus' s pressure and so Klaus left the television building in a huff. Jednadvacitka reported the incident on air, the camera showed a close-up of an empty chair and the anchorwoman Jana Bobosikova commented that Vaclav Klaus was evidently unwilling to face some of the Czech voters in what was then a pre-election period.
Similarly, Jan Ruml, formerly, Klaus's close colleague in the Civic Democratic Party and since the autumn of 1997 Klaus's bitter rival, refused to join Klaus in the studio during that week in May when Czech TV was taking an independent line. On air, Jednadvacitka again informed its viewers of this. Ruml was stunned. Subsequently, he released an official statement saying that he had indeed refused to appear on 21 with Klaus but that his refusal was not meant to be definitive (sic).
However, the chief executive of Czech Television Jakub Puchalsky failed to back up the new independent practice of his journalists. When asked in a radio interview, broadcast on 27th May, 1998, a few days after the above mentioned incidents, publicly to support the new bold approach of his current affairs programmes, he responded with an evasive statement: "We will continue to name problems, if there is need and space". The people who had been hired in the spring of 1998 to make Czech television news and current affairs professional, critical and independent, were ousted within a matter of weeks. The person responsible for Jednadvacitka was immediately sidelined and forced to quit Czech TV soon afterwards. The end-of-July interview with Vaclav Klaus, as the new Parliamentary Speaker, quoted above, was a confirmation that matters were now firmly back to normal and that politicians need no longer fear uncomfortable questions from the interviewers of Czech public service television. In the July interview, Vaclav Klaus positively gloated that Jana Bobosikova, who had exposed his manipulatory practice on air in May, had now been reliably tamed.
Political clientelism seems to be a problem in Czech Television. However, unlike in some other post-communist countries, Czech Television has not recently been a mouthpiece of a single political party, although the questioning of certain major issues remains firmly out of bounds.
(For instance, Czech TV systematically broadcasts fulsome praise of NATO and the European Union - indeed its reports from Brussels are partially financed by the EU (this has been confirmed from two independent sources), although this is not officially acknowledged from within Czech TV. The statutes of Czech TV say that it is the role of Czech TV to serve public interest, to contribute to the creation of a democratic society and to support the integration of the Czech Republic into European structures" (sic!) It would appear that Czech TV could not broadcast an interview with British Eurosceptics, who are deeply critical of European integration.)
Czech politicians have grown accustomed to using the weak news and current affairs team in Czech TV as a docile instrument for the dissemination of their views and pronoucements. These remain unchallenged and unanalysed.
How does this mechanism operate? By about midday every day it is agreed which politician should appear on the live current affairs programme in the evening. By noon the politicians agree to come, but as the afternoon progresses and it is increasingly more difficult to find a replacement participant for the programme, the politician' s spokespersons start telephoning Czech TV, saying that the politician cannot really make it tonight, unless certain interview conditions are fulfilled.
Ota Cerny, who was for seven years the anchorman of Czech TV's flagship discussion programme Debata, broadcast on Sundays at lunchtime, has unwittingly included numerous examples of pressure, applied by politicians to the programmes in which they were supposed to appear, in his recently published memoirs (also in book form). Cerny has even included a direct quote from Vaclav Klaus's former press officer: "Ota, don't be silly, or Klaus will not come!"
Martin Fendrych, Czech Deputy Interior Minister in 1993 - 1997, has testified in his memoirs Jako ptak na drate (Like a Bird on a Wire, Torst, Prague, 1998, pp. 129 - 131) that when his boss, interior minister Jan Ruml, was to be challenged by opponents in the discussion programme Arena on Czech TV, it was actually Jan Ruml's own Interior Ministry advisers that wrote the questions that Ruml then answered on air. Fendrych added, "I was told that we can even influence up to a point who should be Ruml's opponent, invited to the studio. "
To date, there are no official structures which might attempt to safeguard Czech TV from political clientelism. Since Ota Cerny stated openly in his memoirs that in the past, top Czech politicians chose the topics for the debating programmes they were due to participate in and even determined who their opponents should be in the studio, we asked Zdenek Samal, the current Head of News of Current Affairs what measures he has taken to prevent this corrupt practice. Samal replied he was unwilling to answer such questions, which were apparently "motivated by a biased, highly offensive, hostile, goebbelsian approach".
Vaclav 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. Recently, the Czech economy began to contract, The Czech gross national product fell by about one per cent recently.
Klaus' s government fell amidst a financial scandal in November 1997. An early election was called for June 1998. The two main Czech political parties, Vaclav Klaus's "right-wing" Civic Democratic Party and Milos Zeman' s Social Democratic Party ran a highly confrontational election campaign. Klaus warned the Czech electorate that Zeman was a "bolshevik" and that the options available were either to vote for the return of communism (i.e. Zeman' social democrats) or Vaclav Klaus. Zeman accused Klaus and his party of conducting a "scorched-earth economic policy" in the Czech Republic over the past few years. Zeman' s Social Democrats won the election, Klaus' s Civic Democratic Party was second. Neither party could form a government on its own. Thus Klaus and Zeman came to a tacit agreement, excluding all the minor parties from government. Zeman formed a social democratic government with Klaus's consent. Klaus has become Speaker to Czech Parliament.
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 newcomer to the post of Chief Executive, the then 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 was inspired by BBC practice. Puchalsky appeared to be primarily interested in improving Czech TV' s news and current affairs.
On 19th March, 1998, the outgoing Chief Executive of Czech TV 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. A number of other analyses of Czech TV's News and Current Affairs had been published, all of them highly critical. Changes were deemed to be urgently needed.
Jakub Puchalsky, the new Chief Executive of Czech television, was expected 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, previously the London correspondent of the Czech News Agency and of Czech television for six years, was appointed appointed Head of News and Current Affairs under Puchalsky with effect of 1st April, 1998. As of 1st May, 1998, Kytka brought over Andrew Stroehlein, a 30-year-old American political analyst and specialist in Czech affairs, to help edit Jednadvacitka, a daily half-hour political programme broadcast at 9 pm., imbuing it with the spirit of critical impartiality. Kytka set about implementing Puchalsky' s reform project, item by item, in News and Current Affairs.
Andrew Stroehlein firmed up the backbone of Jednadvacitka and revealed some instances of political pressure applied on Czech TV, in one case by the American Embassy, some of whose officials seem to think that when American politicians visit the Czech Republic, they should have an automatic right to appear on Czech TV.
Kytka had been aware of a number of serious factual and professional shortcomings in Czech TV's news and current affairs output. Czech TV news did not respect the principles of accuracy. It used doubtful sources and was sycophantic towards the government. Editors suppressed reports critical of Vaclav Klaus.
Czech TV's news and current affairs department did not have a clearly defined management structure. The editor-in-chief did not run the Department. He spent his time liaising with the outside world, going to lunches and dinners with politicians. Like in many other Czech institutions, Czech TV's news and current affairs department was run by an informal group of five or six individuals, mutual friends, who met in the canteen, in the corridor or in the smoking room and decided there and then what was to be put on air, what line to follow. This informal set up was structured in such a way that nobody was accountable for mistakes. The department worked a little like a secret paramilitary organisation: a number of individuals informally assumed large decision-making powers in order to make themselves indispensable. Kytka attempted to break these informal decision-making structures, wishing to create a transparent, accountable decision-making hierarchy. This made him unpopular among the individuals whom he had stripped of their informal powers.
The news and current affairs department produced about 7 different programmes. These did not have their individual identities. The approximately 70 journalists circulated from programme to programme, contributing reports to all of them. Kytka intended to give each programme a permanent team of reporters and a concrete editorial policy. Individual editors were to bear responsibility for the quality of what was broadcast.
Kytka wanted to sharpen Czech TV's interviewing techniques and to create independent, news gathering and news researching structures. He terminated the almost obligatory broadcasting of reports from the regular news conferences, given by the political parties.
"It was the purpose of Kytka's reforms to turn a propagandist system for political parties into an independent information system, which could not be used by any political party. Kytka's greatest success was that he managed to break the propagandist system for a few weeks," wrote Andrew Stroehlein.
The intention was that Czech TV should be able to help people to orientate themselves within their country and today's world and to anticipate and to analyse important trends of future developments.
But the cultural clash was too strong. When Ivan Kytka removed an ineffectual interviewer from Jednadvacitka, the man complained to his favourite MP in parliament, and the MP called an extraordinary session of the parliamentary media commission. The young chief executive Puchalsky got a fright and he forced Kytka to resign on 21st May, 1998, within 51 days of being appointed. The ineffectual interviewer was promoted to being Head of the Domestic News and Current Affairs. Andrew Stroehlein was out of Czech TV within two months of his appointment.
Some critics have pointed out that Kytka may have acted to fast in his reforming zeal. But Kytka argues that he could not afford to implement his reforms gradually because according to Czech law, as Head of News and Current Affairs he was personally responsible for the content of the news and current affairs output and personally liable for any inaccuracies. He could not tolerate gross unprofessionalism. When he took over his post, he had been given a pile of serious, concrete complaints against the shortcomings of Czech TV news and current affairs. There was also an outstanding lawsuit. The brief from the Council for Czech TV was to institute reforms as quickly as possible.
Jakub Puchalsky's reform project, on the basis of which he was appointed Chief Executive of Czech TV in February 1998, includes a number of concrete critical suggestions with regard to the news and current affairs. For instance, Puchalsky complains in the project that
It may well be significant that 5 months after assuming the post of Chief Executive, Puchalsky still has generally not managed to rectify these shortcomings. Moreover, when an application was made to Puchalsky to publish the project on the basis of which he was appointed head of this public service organisation, so that it could be assessed independently how his reforms are progressing, Puchalsky refused to do so. The Council for Czech Television has supported him in this respect, saying that Puchalsky holds personal copyright over his reforming project and is under no obligation to make it publicly available. Thus a suspicion cannot be ruled out that the reform has failed, it has been shelved and the project is now being kept secret so that the embarassing truth does not come out.
Former Chief Executive of Czech TV, Ivo Mathé, now a Chancellor to President Havel, argues that under his leadership, Czech TV was much more politically independent than it is now. In his view, the Council for Czech TV appointed the 28 year-old Puchalsky as Chief Executive ("just a child", in the view of one of Puchalsky' s former collaborators in the Czech Service of the BBC) so that politicians could directly manipulate Czech television.
What are the main shortcomings of Czech TV's news and current affairs output?
1. There is an almost absolute dependence on the national Czech News Agency. Under communism, the Czech News Agency was the main source of news for all the media. The habit to copy news-items verbatim from the news service of the Czech News Agency survives to this day, so much so that different newspapers occasionally carry news reports where whole paragraphs are identical. Czech TV does not do almost any independent investigative work. Indeed it often seems as though Czech TV is afraid to break significant news. Czech TV invariably seems to wait until controversial news has first appeared elsewhere. There are a few exceptions to this rule, but the editorial judgment in Czech TV is flawed. Usually, when it breaks fresh news, it is either sloppily researched, based on unreliable sources or the news is irrelevant. (An example from mid-August 1998: An eccentric Czech emigre in Oxford goes on hunger-strike in protest against the appointment of a social democratic foreign minister.) It is symptomatic that political revelations are made to major newspapers, and generally not to Czech television news.
2. Reporting is passive, unimaginative and without independent critical thought. In fact Czech Television prides itself on mechanically conveying information, without placing it in context, questioning it or analysing it. It sees its public service remit in terms of passive communication of information. It fails to provide analysis and professional judgment.
3. There are far too many news items in the news bulletins. This makes the news items excessively short and superficial. News reports are often read by the reporters at hectic speeds, often with substandard, unprofessional pronunciation. Many reporters of Czech television news are in their early twenties. They impose their "disco" attitude on the rest of society. (One of the duty editors (vedouci smeny) on Main Evening News is a third year student at Prague's Charles University. After attending lectures and seminars, he goes to Czech Television and edits the Main Evening News for the nation.)
4. News reports and interviews are often badly structured. They rarely delve under the surface of an issue. Since there is no proper professional research backup in Czech television, Czech TV's news and current affairs fail to explain issues clearly and cogently, failing to show how the issue has developed from the outset. The limited amount of time, devoted to a single topic means that the coverage is often misleading and confusing. Foreign news coverage is perfunctory and lifeless, relying heavily on news agency footage. Czech TV rarely attempts to show the viewer what is going on in the outside world on the basis of individual human experience. As a result, the events that take place outside the Czech Republic are presented as though through an opaque glass, as something that is irrelevant to life within the Czech Republic, in spite of the fact that in this globalised world, these foreign events often have a direct major impact on developments within the Czech Republic. Even news reports dealing with the Czech political scene often create the impression that Czech TV does not know what is going on in Czech society, that "life is elsewhere".
5. When graphics are used to explain a point, the text on the screen usually differs from the voice-over which is broadcast at the same time. This is extremely confusing for the viewer who has to concentrate hard to take in two different information inputs at the same time. Even with normal footage, commentary occasionally does not correspond to what is being shown on the screen.
6. Czech TV rarely attempts to draw parallels with developments outside the Czech Republic. It almost never shows in depth how problems, currently plaguing the Czech Republic are dealt with elsewhere. It rarely reports public debates on major issues in other countries, thereby stimulating discussion on the same issues within the Czech Republic. It reports life in other countries in terms of headline news, never attempting to explain how these countries function internally. As one commentator put it, I paraphrase, "We see streets in foreign cities and people in these streets but we do not know what motivates their actions, how their lives are structured, what they are concerned with, what makes them work." Thus, the Czech Republic survives in splendid isolation. There are a handful of home-grown "experts", usually from the fields of finance and economics, whom Czech TV frequently consults. Many of them are young and from an international point of view, of a very low calibre. These experts perpetuate received ideas which keep circulating thoughout the Czech Republic unchecked by intellectual competition from the outside world.
7. In extended interviews and debating programmes, the interviewers usually prepare a set of not very imaginative questions in advance of the programme. The interviewers are generally incapable of following the studio debate and moderating it sensitively, interrupting a politician when he starts evading the issue or changing the subject. Their brains do not work fast enough to come up with pertinent supplementary questions. Some interviewers feel that they should be rough with politicians, but they are insensitive and interrupt them in all the wrong places. Other interviewers are meek and allow politicians to go on for long minutes without interruption.
8. In the Arena programme, Czech television uses telephone polling throughout the live transmission of a political debate. The results of the polls are misleading because they are not based on a fixed, representative sociological sample of the population. Moreover, there is space for cheating. (You can telephone as many times as you like.) Czech TV knows that the practice is manipulative but continues to use it in order to bolster up its viewing figures. Ambiguously, Czech TV includes a warning before the programme that the polling should not be taken seriously, but many people, including politicians, do take it seriously.
9. Editors of programmes do not have the right instinct for what is the main news of the day. Under communism, the news headlines were dominated by reports about the Communist Party Central Committe in session, etc. This attitude still survives. Czech TV often feels that it first has to show on Main Evening News that Parliament and the Government is in session. Only after these initial, perfunctory reports, space is made for what should be the main items of the day.
10. Stereotyping. As Tomas Pecina has pointed out, rather than bothering labouriously to analyse what is actually going on in society, Czech TV is actively engaged in myth-making. It creates permanent characteristics for politicians which rarely correspond to fact. Once each of the major politicians are defined by a single, facile characteristic, they are thrown into play and a shadowy, highly misleading, but attractive and simple to understand show may begin.
11.The choice of guests, invited for interviews in the studio is often clumsy, uninspired and wrong. For instance, after a controversially excessive police action against an ecological demonstration in Prague earlier this year, Czech television eventually, on 15th July 1998, invited a police official to explain the action. The interview degenerated into comedy because whenever he was asked a question, the police official said that he was not the right person to be asked this and could not answer. Czech TV also repeatedly invites for interviews "specialists" who cannot express themselves. Here is an example of one such expert:
Daniela Drtinova: Mr. Zahradnik, what do the economic figures tell us? Is the Czech economy in recession?
Petr Zahradnik, macroeconomist, Prague Securities: I am convinced that those economic indicators,well two of them are very positive, the rate of inflation and the development of industry, the other two, building construction and unemployment, they are associated with an exclamation mark. Whether or not the Czech economy is in recession, that is difficult to bear witness to. Recession is a phenomenon which is characteristic for stabilised market economies and it is characterised by the fact that the gross national product let us say drops or stagnates for two - or three quarters in succession. It is possible to notice this in the Czech economy, nevertheless rather than saying the Czech economy is in recession I would like to say that the Czech economy is struggling with certain unfinished tasks inherited from the past period and that rather than being in recession there are simply obligations inherited from transformation.
Jednadvacitka, 10th August 1998
12. In debating programmes, Czech TV invites far too many participants to the studio. In the current flagship V prave poledne (High Noon) debating programme on Sunday at lunchtime, there are four politicians plus an interviewer. (On 17th August, Jakub Puchalsky implied that the number of participants of this programme may be limited, but his announcement was very vague. However, the new moderator, Roman Prorok, who interviewed Klaus and Zeman on Sunday 16th August, was not very assertive. There have been complaints that the two politicians could speak perfectly unopposed.) As a result of too many participants, the interviewers, who are usually weak, slow and not very well briefed, lose control over the discussion which degenerates into unstructured ramblings, only occasionally punctuated by the moderator bringing the debate back to the original structure. Sometimes, Czech politicians are capable of producing such a stream of consciousness that they would be the envy of James Joyce. Here is an example from V prave poledne (High Noon), 19th July 1998: The answering politician is Ivan Langer, Parliamentary Deputy Speaker for Klaus's Civic Democratic Party. First comes a somewhat fuzzily formulated question by the interviewer, Miroslav Dittrich:
Miroslav Dittrich: Mr. Langer, you are -er - a member of a party which had a dominant position in the government when this country was affected by last year's floods and thereafter. What do you think of what the Vice Chancellor of Ostrava university has said, i.e. what is your view of the role of the state? Is the state - should the state have - not only using money , but by some other way, an organisational way - taken better care of these regions, these individual regions?
Ivan Langer: I am - I am almost one hundred per cent sure that even if the state had acted much much more, it is one hundred per cent sure that it would not have been possible to remove all the consequences of the damage which had been caused, in such a way that all citizens in Northern Moravia, in Silesia, would have said, we are happy with what has happened. And I really want to ask you very much, let us structure this problem on the level of the government, on the level of the village and town representation, and then also the personal responsibility of the individual, of those persons who live in these areas that have been affected. And I do not believe that that seemingly harsh attitude of the government was really excessively harsh and that it was too liberal in emphasising the personal experience of those persons. I am convinced that it all starts from every one of us, naturally, and if I have any property, it is my in fact logical duty to attempt to, within the limits that constrain me, to take care of it, that is for instance I mean insurance. But allow me to go back to talk about the government. I think that the government - and here I agree with the ViceChancellor here that the government reacted very operatively in those in those early days I think that the assistance flowed very quickly at that at that first stage. The problem came later as a consequence not so much of the government, but the parliament, in the following period, when when other means were being sought to be rel - - err- for the release and for the rectification of that damage and if we promised ourselves me and my colleague Zaoralek that we might clash about this in this debate, well, then I think that the clash is starting even here because it was I remember the work of the parlimentary chamber , negotiations were under way to release some five billion crowns, four billion crowns from the Fund of Nation - from the means of the National Property Fund and it was the Social Democratic Party at that point which for various reasons in fact blocked this decision to which the Parliament returned later, but just like me doing research in those damaged villages, well, in 1998, really and truly there occurred a slow-down in the availability of money and and things that had been started well, they were not finished exactly because the money had not arrived where it should have arrived."
No wonder that the viewing figures of Czech public service television seem relentlessly to go down these days. As you can see, it is very difficult to follow programmes like V prave poledne. Viewers tend to regard Czech TV's news and current affairs output and docile, timid, unoriginal and boring.
In the absence of structured, hard-hitting, meaningful debate, viewers switch over in droves to the American-owned commercial station Nova TV, which is run by Bermuda-based Central European Media Enterprises. However, Nova also offers only a substitute to intelligent political debate. Recently, it has started broadcasting the programme Kotel (Cauldron) which is seen by some as a hard-hitting interrogation of politicians, who are yelled at for three quarters of an hour by the assembled audience and an interviewer.
The questions from the audience are inane. Politicians like to take part in the Kotel programme because participation implies bravery. In fact, the questions are easy to answer or to brush aside, because in most instances they are little more than inarticulate growls:
Anchorwoman Michaela Jíková: Who has a hard question for the politician?
Audience (yelling): Me! Me! Me! Me!
Member of the audience: Mr Chairman, where do you plan to get the billions of money for what you have promised the citizens and voters of this country? I mean social security, housing, support, bringing down unemployment, simply if I am not mistaken the Czech Republic - (whistling)
Anchorwoman: But do you have an argument why you think that Mr. Chairman does not know where to get the money? (whistling)
Miloš Zeman, head of the Social Democrats: I am happy to answer your question, democratically, if you allow me to answer.
The same member of the audience: Look, you are planning to throw our country in debt. Yes. (Laughter, whistling, yelling) Are you thinking at all of future generations, if you please? (Yelling)
Miloš Zeman: My dear -
The same member of the audience: At least four generations to come will have to pay back your debts. Do you think of your children and grandchildren and great grandchildren at all? (Whistling) (Clapping, yelling)
Miloš Zeman: My dear lady, I am really glad that there are still a few supporters left on the side of the propagandists, praising the government economic miracle.
What is the way out? In the interest of the country, The Council for Czech Television should reject the shadowy pantomime which is currently going on in Czech TV and should insist on the proper implementation of the reform programme. The Czech Parliamentary Media Commission should set firm quality guidelines to commercial television operators, insisting that in return for profits, commercial television stations should produce high quality investigative journalism. But, as Milan Smid will be reporting this afternoon, a missing definition of public interest is the main obstacle to the new media legislation in the Czech Republic.
17th August, 1998