Reinventing the wheel

Czech Television crisis disappears without providing any real lessons

As with most major publicized disputes, it seems that the fate of Czech public television (CT) will be resolved in typical fashion. Major points will gradually be diluted by less significant ones, ultimately slipping away into oblivion. The only thing that will remain will be the feeling on the part of the public that besides a one-month strike” by tT s workers and the fact that the station stopped broadcasting for a while, nothing really changed. Least of all the fact that even though everyone with a television is forced to pay a public user tax” to the government, no mention of any sort of refund was ever made. History repeats itself, particularly on Wenceslas Square in Prague.

People have been gathering to demonstrate there for more than 100 years. More than 100,000 people gathered there in January to voice concern over the ruling Civic Democratic-Social Democratic coalition s attempt at influencing tT. But just as in 1989, the people came, sang songs, jingled their keys and returned to their homes and taverns, congratulating themselves on a fine showing. And then they waited. Thus, the sense of frustration continues, just as it has since 1989. There are three reasons why the issues around tT won t be solved for some time to come. The first is the unbridled legislative power of Parliament and its media committee. For example, the Senate substantially modified Parliament s bill concerning reform of tT, only to have its modifications thrown out and the bill passed by simple majority on its return to Parliament.

Except for a few specific instances, the Czech Republic does not follow the rule of other democracies, where a higher percentage of votes is needed to override vetoes. Thus, the Senate is left with so-called moral authority,” something that stands up poorly to legislative railroading. Second, we allow our parliamentarians to do as they please. In the Czech Republic, traditional watchdog” organizations that function effectively as civic sector safeguards of democracy have yet to become effective. In the case of tT, the Czech Syndicate of Journalists failed miserably in unifying journalists and focusing the debate, instead remaining in the background without any constructive suggestions or attempts at a leadership role. In young democracies, the big picture is often clouded by smaller details. The ultimate solution regarding tT therefore lies not in examining Czech public television, but rather in addressing television in the Czech Republic as a whole.

As opposed to Czech radio, which has more than 80 registered stations (and therefore, no similar crisis exists), in the Czech Republic there are only four statewide TV stations. Of these, TV Nova has a monopoly that dwarfs any possible concept of balance. As long as tT is placed in the position of being the only reasonable alternative to Nova s standard fare of sex, blood and car wrecks, the problems at tT shall continue. The time is ripe to explore this imbalance and the facts behind Nova s continued television monopoly, such as its relationship with the past government of Vaclav Klaus Civic Democrats, as well as the now-failed Czech banking giant Investicni a Po*tovni banka. Examples of possible solutions already exist. A mere glance across our borders to Germany can provide inspiration. There, numerous alternative programming stations have been allowed to spring up, bringing needed competition to the marketplace. At the same time, if a station garners more than a certain percentage of viewers, it is fined. In the Czech Republic, instead of stepping back and looking around us, we are again reinventing the wheel. 

– The writer is a physician and the publisher of Pritomnost, a journal on Czech society and politics, and its English-language version The New Presence. the new council

Organizations have until Tuesday, March 20 to submit nominees for the Czech Television Council. Under legislation approved during a strike by television employees, the Council was expanded from nine to 15 members, with nominations invited from nongovernmental groups. A special committee of the Chamber of Deputies will examine the submissions and pare them down to a maximum of 45. The Chamber is expected to vote on the makeup of a new body as early as May, although some lawmakers say the tally won t come until summer. Jiri Balvin is acting as interim director of tT after employees went on strike from December to February to protest political interference 


The Prague Post14.3.2001

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