Against my better judgement, I went along to Miloš Zeman's "friendly meeting with journalists" last Thursday. Mr Pecina's refusal to attend on the grounds that large meetings of politicians and journalists ought not to be by invitation only was, of course, correct, but I thought I'd go and see what was happening anyway.
I figured that as I have been paying absurdly high taxes in this country for years and have never received much in return from the state, I might as well go and get some free grub: after all, I paid for it.
I cannot claim that I managed to eat the equivalent of what I have paid in taxes, but I have to admit, it was a pretty nice spread. They fed us journalists quite well; in fact, many journalists seemed to have their mouths so full of food that they were incapable of asking any intelligent questions. Then again, maybe the alcohol had affected their journalistic judgement.
Sitting in front of the fireplace, Zeman looked fatherly, and the journalists all gathered around him in comfy chairs to listen to him speak. By their third or fourth glass of champagne, both Zeman and the journalists were all feeling well satisfied with themselves and nearly forgot their reason for being there altogether.
The reason for this "friendly meeting," however, became clear once Zeman announced what topic he had decided (!) to lecture about: the budget. This was nothing more or less than an attempt to win over the hearts and minds of journalists and commentators before the looming budget debate. It was a damage-control exercise before the damage: Zeman was "getting his revenge in early" to borrow a phrase from the politics of Northern Ireland. Only time will tell just how successful he was in this effort: keep an eye on how the budget battle is covered in the press.
In a sense, I feel a bit sorry for today's Czech journalists and commentators. For many years, most of them have been so resolutely pro-government and anti-HSSD, that now, they must be experiencing great mental anguish and stress figuring out what to write when the government is comprised of Social Democrats (HSSD). Unconciously, each must be asking him or herself, "Should I continue to mindlessly reprint the government's statements or should I continue to attack the Social Democrats?" Well, the Social Democrats invited me to such a fine buffet, so maybe...
The lazy coziness of the whole meeting was a good example of what is wrong with the Czech media today: too much schmoozing with the bigwigs, not enough investigating their lies. Meetings should be slightly less "friendly."
I would exaggerate if I claimed that each and every journalist was simply obediently writing down Zeman's words without question, but overall, the opportunity to ask tough questions was squandered. There were one or two questions that tried to hit the mark, but Zeman easily avoided them in long-winded explanations. The journalists only interrupted Zeman once (as described in Friday's BL), and follow-up questions were weak if they existed at all.
One journalist complained that the Premier had not answered his question, Zeman brushed him aside saying that the time had come to hear other questions, "So everyone could get a chance." Get a chance to have his questions avoided, it seemed.
With the "friendly meeting" not really captivating my attention after an hour or so, I looked around the lavish room and noticed a painting on the wall. The faded picture showed a shepherd surrounded by sheep. How appropriate, I thought.