A few notes on Puchalsky's departure
Back in May 1998, as Ivan Kytka was being forced to resign as the head of Czech Television news, I looked into the eyes of a frustrated Jakub Puchalsky and said, "If you let them pressure you into getting rid of Ivan, you know that you'll be next, don't you?"
"I know," he said fatalistically.
In the event, we were both wrong: I was the next to be forced out from my job as co-producer of "21," and the excellent presenter Jana Bobosikova had to leave a few months later.
As his allies and potential allies in the all-important news department fell to political pressure he was too inexperienced and too poorly connected to prevent, Jakub Puchalsky increasingly found himself surrounded by those who would resist his well-intentioned attempts at reform. But, of course, Jakub Puchalsky was only given the directorship of Czech Television because he was inexperienced and poorly connected: the politicians wanted someone they could push around. So, they pushed him around - and then they pushed him out.
Minor controversies such as the re-airing of Major Zeman were just a smoke screen. The real reason for the political pressure on Jakub Puchalsky concerned the news department. No one really cares what films and sitcoms appear on TV, but the two main political parties, aiming to continue their monopoly on power, were not about to tolerate the type of coverage the "verejnopravni" station was offering them.
Rather than the balanced, impartial coverage we had all hoped to create at the beginning of Jakub Puchalsky's directorship, the newsroom in the absence of Puchalsky's reformers turned into little more than a Freedom Union propaganda station, giving that party far more attention than it merited based on its popularity. To the party hacks in ODS and CSSD, this situation was intolerable.
Mind you, ODS and CSSD would hardly have ever accepted what our original intention was - impartiality - either. The ideologues in those parties seek to control the news through whatever means possible. Like the political handlers in all Czech political parties, they dictate to pliant programme producers who may appear on a programme, and they have even been know to write the questions their politicians will be asked in interviews. The entire concept of independent, unbiased news coverage is something that has evaded public television broadcasting in the Czech Republic for the past decade. Czech Television has never been able to accomplish this, and it is hard to see how it ever will.
The shorthand description of what Jakub Puchalsky was trying to do at Czech Television usually refers to reforming it along the lines of the BBC in the UK. The incredible difficulty of such a task was never grasped from the start.
The fact of the matter is that the political establishment in Prague is not mature enough to accept something like the BBC. Even in a relatively mature and established democracy such as Britain, the public broadcaster occasionally finds itself in hot water for falling under political influence. Why did any of us ever think that our TV reforms could escape the will of the power-hungry Prague political elites and the Manichean-minded media elites still fighting bygone ideological windmills?
And why didn't we protect ourselves from them better at the outset?
Until the Internet is as available as TV in the Czech Republic, I don't think there is anything that can be done to halt the decisive influence of political parties on the personnel of Czech Television. The political elites are simply not going to give up their control over a resource they see as their cheapest and most effective method of selling their lies to the Czech public.
About the only solution I see is to privatise it - if not all of Czech Television, then at least the news department. Yes, it would be privatised by those same corrupt political elites and probably end up in the hands of someone very partial to Mr K and/or Mr Z. Yes, it may very well create a Nova 2 and kill TV news in the Czech Republic altogether. No, it would not stop biased news reporting and political control of news broadcasts. In fact, it would bring no improvement in the quality of TV news whatsoever. But at least the Czech citizen's money would not be going to fund party political broadcasting every night.
Links to earlier articles on CT: