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The BBC's Peter Morgan in Prague
"The people here will not surrender lightly"
 real 56k

The BBC's Ray Furlong in Prague
"Speaker after speaker called for the new management of the station to resign"
 real 28k

Thursday, 4 January, 2001, 00:25 GMT
Czech rally demands press freedom
Protest in support of striking CT journalists, Prague, 3 Jan 2001
The crowd was the biggest since the Velvet Revolution
Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Prague on Wednesday night to support striking journalists who are demanding the removal of Czech Television's new director.

Some estimates put the crowd in Wenceslas Square at 100,000, which would make it the largest public protest since mass demonstrations in the same square brought down the communist government in 1989.

Journalists at state-run Czech TV (CT) have been holding a sit-in since the 20 December appointment of Jiri Hodac, who they say is a political stooge put in place to compromise the station's editorial independence.

Jiri Hodac
Mr Hodac says he will defend editorial independence
After separate meetings of leading politicians and the station's board of governors on Tuesday, the lower house of parliament will meet in emergency session on Friday to try to defuse the crisis.

The broadcasters claim Mr Hodac has close ties to the centre-right former Prime Minister, Vaclav Klaus.

Mr Hodac, a former BBC Czech service journalist who worked briefly as head of Czech TV news last year, denies that he would make the station into a mouthpiece for any party.

Resignation calls

But at the demonstration on Wednesday night, an array of speakers - including artists, actors, politicians and journalists - called for him to resign.

"It is very clear why we are here. The independence of television is at stake," said one protester.

Protest in support of striking CT journalists, Prague, 3 Jan 2001
Speaker after speaker called for Jiri Hodac to go
Rebel journalists are holding a sit-in at the station's newsroom and broadcasting alternative news bulletins by satellite and cable.

Mr Hodac has little political support, except from Mr Klaus's powerful Civic Democratic Party, which has a power-sharing agreement with the governing Social Democrats.

The Social Democratic cabinet met on Wednesday in an effort to resolve the problem.

Change proposed

Ministers have proposed an amendment that would change the way members of CT's board of governors are appointed, giving political parties less control of the process.

The protesting journalists do not dispute the legality of Mr Hodac's appointment by the station's board of governors, but say that having politicians name governors infringes upon editorial independence.

Prime Minister Milos Zeman
Prime Minister Milos Zeman is considering changing the broadcasting laws
But the proposed amendment is just a first step towards a possible solution, and a final decision rests with the lower house of parliament.

The rebel staff say the new law will take too long to come into force, and that only the immediate departure of Mr Hodac from the helm of CT offers a way out.

BBC Prague correspondent Ray Furlong says a chain of betting shops is now accepting wagers on how long Mr Hodac will last.

Popular support

There is widespread popular support for the journalists' stand, and more than 120,000 people have signed a petition backing their protest. Czech President Vaclav Havel has also expressed support for the strikers.

The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has also voiced its full support for the journalists' strike.

"This is a moment of truth for press freedom and democracy," said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White on the organisation's website.

The upper chamber of the Czech parliament, dominated by the centre-right opposition and independents, approved a resolution on Wednesday calling on Mr Hodac to resign.

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See also:

03 Jan 01 | Europe
Inside the Czech newsroom
03 Jan 01 | Media reports
TV bosses make own news
02 Jan 01 | Media reports
Press views implications of TV row
02 Jan 01 | Europe
Talks fail on Czech TV crisis
02 Jan 01 | Europe
Analysis: The Czech TV rebellion
25 Dec 00 | Europe
Fight for control of Czech TV
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