Challenges in the Czech press, 16 years on.

Last Tuesday the American Information Center presented a panel discussion about changes in the Czech Republic in the 16 years since the Velvet Revolution. Emphasis was placed on press freedom, the effect that the last 16 years have had on the quality of publications available in Prague today, and how those publications face new challenges in their struggle to survive. After the discussion, Alena Wratislavova talked to the organizer Jan Krc, who summarized some of the issues discussed.

"Most of us would of course agree that there have been tremendous improvements from the dark days of Totalitarianism, when the media was completely controlled by the Communist Party, to a very freewheeling open media where everybody would agree there is considerable press freedom in this country. Of course with the press freedom come problems new to the Czechs but not so new to us in the West. That is of course the pressures of commercial imperatives.

"In other words publications are free but the publishers have to make money and publications have to survive and in that sense there have been a number of publications that have failed. There was speculation about others that are hanging on only because of private donors and sponsors. So you know now a day it's also a question of running a business and any business can obviously go under if it is not financially strong enough to survive the competition. With the openness of the media scene here come new problems, problems that we faced in the West and financial pressures are one of the most important ones that they face."

Could you please comment on the mystery surrounding English publications? There was mention of that as well.

"One of our panellists Mr. Best brought up this issue and raised a good point. The English language media here in Prague played a very important role in setting certain standards. There are some fine publications like the Prague Post that exist here and in the initial years of the transformation they at least set an example.

"Now of course the question is, what about their future? There again we get into the commercial issue will they survive? Will they be sufficiently competitive? Is there a need for them in the future now that the Czech media scene is so much more robust and where the problems of the communist past have been overcome mostly?

"I certainly hope, personally, that the English language media does survive. It does provide an alternative and there are now many Expatriates living here who's Czech is not sufficiently good enough to be able to follow the Czech press. I think there is always some role for an English language press so I hope it does survive here."