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Tuesday, 2 January, 2001, 22:11 GMT
Analysis: The Czech TV rebellion
Rebel journalists have been staging a sit-in in the newsroom
By Ray Furlong in Prague

The Czech Republic is currently going through its biggest crisis in years - a crisis that has seen television transmissions interrupted, thousands protesting on the streets every night, and politicians accusing each other of seeking to undermine democracy.

supporters bring food
Supporters bring food to journalists staging a sit-in in the newsrooms
The core of the conflict - the appointment of a new General Director, Jiri Hodac, at Czech Television - is raising fundamental questions over the very nature of its democracy.

Opponents of Mr Hodac complain that he was put in place by a Board of Governors who are themselves hand-picked by the leading political parties - that means the ruling Social Democrats, and the Civic Democrats of former prime minister Vaclav Klaus, who are keeping the minority cabinet in power.

Protesting staff at Czech Television say journalistic freedom is at stake, and have been occupying the station's newsroom for several days.

Strange sights

When I visited the building, thousands of people were outside watching a rebel newscast put out by the protesting journalists on big screens.

It was an odd sight: a crowd of people cheering or jeering depending on what a newsreader was saying.

Odder sights have followed. Since my visit, the new management at Czech Television have decided to lay siege to the building.

Supporters have been hoisting food through the windows to the journalists inside, and even delivered chemical toilets - after security men sealed off the building's lavatories from rebel staff.

Battle of wills

It is a battle of wills: the staff are living in claustrophobic conditions, trying to maintain morale, but Mr Hodac is also under immense psychological pressure.

Jiri Hodac
Public support seems to be against Mr Hodac
Public opinion seems to be completely against him, as does the majority of the staff at Czech Television.

The Czech President, Vaclav Havel, has called on him to go - as have scores of famous artists and celebrities, along with the trade union movement and small opposition parties.

Support for Mr Hodac

But the Social Democrats and Civic Democrats have given some backing to Mr Hodac.

They point out that his appointment was legal. And they have accused the smaller parties of seeking to make political capital out of the protests - in particular, when some members of Parliament joined the newsroom sit-in.

The Prime Minister, Milos Zeman, compared the occupation to a "Maoist cultural revolution." But other leading Social Democrats have sided with the protesters, causing a split in the cabinet.

Damaged beyond repair

It seems that whatever happens, Czech Television will be damaged beyond repair. The losing parties will feel they are not getting fair coverage.

And the crisis is also damaging the Czech Republic's international image. The country is a leading aspirant for membership of the European Union - but the events at Czech Television are more like something from the Balkans.

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See also:

03 Jan 01 | Europe
Czech rally demands free speech
02 Jan 01 | Europe
Talks fail on Czech TV crisis
02 Jan 01 | Media reports
Press views implications of TV row
26 Dec 00 | Europe
Czech TV sacks rebel journalists
25 Dec 00 | Europe
Fight for control of Czech TV
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