Foul play decried in Czech TV director selection

In December, journalists at the country's public TV network, Czech Television, went on strike in protest at the appointment of Jiri Hodac as the station's new General Director. They accused Mr Hodac of being a political appointee, and the politicians of exerting far too much influence on the Czech media. The massive public outcry over the Czech TV crisis led not only to Mr Hodac's departure but also to a new law on Czech Television - ostensibly to make it more independent of political meddling. But as Dita Asiedu reports, selecting members of Czech Television's new governing body is going far from smoothly:

This week, a new Supervisory Board - which appoints the General Director - will be selected by the lower house of parliament according to the new criteria. A parliamentary selection board has narrowed down the list of candidates, who were nominated by Czech civic organisations and NGOs. There are now 45 names left, out of which 15 will be elected to the board.

But Czech TV journalists and many of their supporters, including respected intellectuals and artists, are already protesting against the selection process, saying that it has been far from fair and once again politically biased. Philosophy professor Erazim Kohak was one of the candidates who was taken off the list and many say that he, along with many others who in the past have proven to be independent and suitable for the posts, have not been given a fair chance in the selection process. Earlier today, Mr Kohak told me what his objections were:

"None of the Czech Writers from the Writer's Organisation, none of the dissidents, none of the representatives of the Syndicate of Newsmen, incidentally not a single ecological organisation, are on the list. But there are a whole number of sports clubs, then there are people like the former military procurator who had to resign because of suspicion of corruption, a candidate from the post-communist Club of Czech Writers.

"So, basically what I am distressed about is not my absence from it - frankly, I sort of welcome it - but that to many people it appears as something of a coup of a particular group of people who have rigged the deck so that parliament cannot select from the whole range but gets a pared down list. I think it is worse than last January because now the public is not alert and aware."

A group of people called the "Obcanska liga" or "Civic League" has coordinating opposition to the selection process and plans to go to court. It has also asked several members of the media and selection committees to step down. The group includes actor and director of the Oscar winning film Kolya, Zdenek Sverak and writer Ludvig Vaculik, among others. Radio Prague asked Mr Kohak whether he intended to join them:

"I definitely support what they are trying to do. The only initiative that I am taking personally is that I am trying to write about it, speak about... simply make the public aware of what is happening."

Representatives of the media and selection committees have dismissed the accusations against them, saying the process is lawful and fair. Whether the issue proves to become as explosive as last winter only remains to be seen.