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The BBC's Peter Brod in Prague
"Evidence that Hodac would politicise Czech TV is fairly weak"
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Thursday, 4 January, 2001, 17:58 GMT
TV dispute focuses public anger
Protest in support of striking CT journalists, Prague, 3 Jan 2001
Scenes reminiscent of the Velvet revolution of 1989
By BBC News Online's Catherine Miller

The sight of hundreds of thousands of Czechs demonstrating for freedom of speech in Prague's Wenceslas Square on Wednesday evoked nostalgic images of the country's bloodless Velvet Revolution of 1989, when the communist regime was toppled.

Jiri Hodac
Jiri Hodac: accused of being too close to former prime minister Vaclav Klaus
But the situation of the demonstrators supporting rebel TV journalists in 2001 is very different from the people-vs-regime situation of those days.

Rebel journalists at Czech public television (CT) say their impartiality is being threatened by their new boss, Jiri Hodac - whom they accuse of being too close to the main opposition Civic Democrats (ODS) and their leader, Vaclav Klaus.

One hundred thousand people were there [at the protest] because they dislike the opposition agreement

Vaclav Zak
Listy editor-in-chief

But it seems unlikely that Mr Hodac's appointment would have brought people on to the streets, were it not for wide-spread disillusionment in the Czech Republic.

The so-called "opposition agreement" - a power-sharing agreement between Prime Minister Zeman's minority Social Democrat government and Mr Klaus's ODS - is strongly disliked in the country.

"One hundred thousand people were there [at the protest] because they dislike the opposition agreement. They believe these two parties are trying to monopolise power in the Czech Republic," says Vaclav Zak, editor-in-chief of the bi-monthly political magazine, Listy.

Protest in support of striking CT journalists, Prague, 3 Jan 2001
Wide-spread disillusionment has made it easy to galvanise support for the protest
The two parties have discussed plans to change the constitution and many fear that public television - and consequently freedom of speech - is next on their list.

Smaller opposition parties have not missed the opportunity to make the most of this discontent and the catalyst the TV dispute has provided.

"What originated as an internal labour dispute, has been turned into a political conflict," says Jan Culik, publisher of the internet daily Britske listy.

Political conflict

"The journalists aligned themselves with an opposition party - the Four Coalition - and turned the whole issue into a political crisis," he says.

He says genuine anger at the opposition agreement, particularly at Mr Klaus's Civic Democrats, means the journalists' cause - as well as their emotive presentation of it on their satellite and cable broadcasts - has sparked people's imaginations.

"People don't like the communists, they don't like the opposition agreement, so what else?" says Vaclav Zak, who agrees the coalition of four smaller right-of-centre parties has benefited.

Where will it end?

An amendment to the law on Czech TV is currently before an emergency debate in the Czech parliament.

President Havel
Could President Havel bring down the government?
The law would change the way the board of governors is appointed, allowing civic organisations to propose members. The current board of governors have faced accusations of political meddling over their sudden appointment of Mr Hodac to the director-general's job.

Mr Zak says that if the law is passed, a new board will be elected and is very likely to sack Mr Hodac. But the situation may, he thinks, escalate even further.

"President Havel deeply dislikes the opposition agreement. He deeply believes these two men are damaging the country," he says.

The president, he predicts, may use his powers to dissolve parliament and call early elections.

That is a situation the Czech Republic has faced before.

Early elections were called in 1998 after an administration led by Mr Klaus collapsed. The result was the current opposition agreement which is now proving so unpopular.

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See also:

04 Jan 01 | Europe
Czech rally demands press freedom
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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