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The BBC's Ray Furlong in Prague
"The talks ended in mutual recrimination"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 2 January, 2001, 21:25 GMT
Talks fail on Czech TV crisis
TVs in a Prague shop
Broadcasts have been seriously disrupted by the dispute
A meeting of the leaders of the four main Czech political parties on Tuesday has failed to resolve the crisis at Czech Television (CT).

Meanwhile CT's director general, Jiri Hodac, whose appointment is at the heart of the dispute, appears to have the backing of the station's board of directors, who were also meeting on Tuesday.

A group of journalists is striking in protest at Mr Hodac's appointment, which they say was politically motivated. They are staging a sit-in at the station's newsroom and broadcasting alternative news bulletins by satellite and cable.

Prime Minister Milos Zeman said after the political leaders' meeting that he believed a new law on public television, which the cabinet will discuss on Wednesday, would help solve the situation.

The law would change the make up of CT's board of governors, though it is still unclear how it would work in practice.

Protestors have said the changes would take too long to implement and that only Mr Hodac's resignation will solve the crisis.

There will be emergency sessions of parliament this week and on Wednesday a mass demonstration in support of the strike has been called in Prague's Wenceslas Square.

Plan rejected

At Tuesday's meeting, the two smaller opposition parties called for the new director-general, Jiri Hodac to step down or be sacked but this was rejected by the ruling Social Democrats (CSSD) and the main opposition Civic Democrats (ODS), who are in a power-sharing agreement with the minority CSSD government.

Jiri Hodac
Jiri Hodac's appointment is seen as politically motivated
The meeting rejected a plan presented by former prime minister and head of the ODS, Vaclav Klaus, which called for an end to the current newsroom strike.

Mr Klaus said Mr Hodac should keep his job if he called a halt to the dismissal of rebel journalists, and that if Mr Hodac did lose his job, the protesters should also not be reinstated.

Mr Hodac has already fired 30 of the protestors and brought criminal charges against some of them.

Political differences

The BBC's Prague correspondent, Ray Furlong, says that the failure of the talks has highlighted political differences.

The CSSD and the ODS have accused the smaller parties of trying to gain political advantage from the crisis.

Several senior political figures, mainly from the small Freedom Union (US) opposition party, have joined protesting journalists at the sit-in.

But the Social Democrat cabinet has also been split by the cabinet, with individual ministers taking different sides.

The first deputy chairman of the CSSD, Vladimir Spidla said that the protestors had the right to strike without limitations and called on Mr Hodac to resign, according to the Czech news agency (CTK).

Czech opposition leader Vaclav Klaus
Mr Klaus has stood by Mr Hodac
Only Mr Klaus's ODS - which supports the minority Social Democrats under a power-sharing agreement - has been unwavering in its support for Mr Hodac.

It is Mr Hodac's alleged connection to Mr Klaus that the journalists are protesting against.

Frail democracy

Mr Klaus has voiced concern that the crisis is harming the Czech Republic's international image at a time when it is a leading candidate for membership of the European Union.

Correspondents say the battle for control of Czech television underlines frailties in democracy there.

Journalists' organisations from all round Europe have voiced solidarity with the protesting CT staff, backing what they see as a battle for journalistic freedom.

But Mr Hodac has insisted that he would maintain impartiality and the ODS and CSSD have pointed out that his appointment was legal.

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See also:

02 Jan 01 | Media reports
Press views implications of TV row
02 Jan 01 | Europe
TV row hints at wider problems
01 Jan 01 | Europe
Strike declared at Czech TV
25 Dec 00 | Europe
Fight for control of Czech TV
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