Czech public TV still under pressure from politicians despite improved legislation, study finds

How independent and free of political pressure are public TV stations in the Czech Republic and elsewhere in Europe? That is a subject addressed in an extensive new study entitled "Television Across Europe" by the non-governmental organization Open Society Institute. On the eve of the report's launch in Brussels on Tuesday, I discussed its findings with one of its authors, Marius Dragomir.

"We found that in the Czech Republic television and media legislation in general has improved a lot in recent years. However, there is still a high degree of politicisation of the media and broadcasting regulators, and at the same time we found that there are a lot of political and economic pressures on broadcasters here."

When you say political pressures what do you mean? What form does that take?

"Usually the political pressure and political interference with broadcasters is done via the appointment procedures of the members of the Broadcasting Council here in the Czech Republic, or the appointment of members of the council of Czech public television."

Have you found more direct influence? Say politicians phoning up journalists to complain, that kind of thing.

"Well, those days are actually gone. In most eastern European countries in the early 1990s there was a lot of overt political pressure on journalists working in television broadcasting in the region.

"However in recent years in central Europe countries like the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia they made a lot of progress. They adopted improved legislation.

"So the ways that they interfere with the editorial line of journalists working with various broadcasters became more sophisticated and more complex."

I know you looked at 20 countries in this study, everywhere from western Europe to states like Albania or the Baltic states - how does Czech television compare with TV in other countries in Europe?

"When we talk about media legislation there are still a lot of problems in the Czech Republic. Again we have to say that the Czech Republic has made a lot of progress, and lots of improved legislation has been adopted in this country.

"So it cannot compare at this point with countries like Romania, where there are still overt pressures, both economic and political, on broadcasters and regulators. Or countries like Albania where there is still huge legal chaos.

"But at the same time the Czech Republic hasn't made as much progress as for example countries in the Baltics, like Estonia which has now a more developed system of regulation, which doesn't leave much room for such interference."