‘Jack of all trades’ Radek John stuns politicians, journalists with new job

Radek John, photo: Filip Jandourek

Radek John, MP and head of the small opposition party Public Affairs, has announced a rather unusual career change; Mr John confirmed that as of today he was returning to his original profession of journalism, joining a large publishing house as head of current affairs. Nothing so strange about that you might think – except Mr John says he has no plans to resign as MP and party leader.

Radek John,  photo: Filip Jandourek
There’s been a sharp intake of breath in both the political and media worlds after Radek John made the surprise announcement he was joining the Empresa Media publishing house as of November 1st. The post will see him formally in charge of current affairs at the popular news magazines Týden and Instinkt.

He will, however, stay on as an MP for the small Public Affairs party – which was in government until splitting in two earlier this year and now sits in opposition. Most controversially of all, Mr John – a former interior minister - will retain his post as chairman of the parliament’s security committee, giving him access to the sort of covert information a journalist can only dream of. Mr John explained his decision on the Czech Radio programme Ozvěny Dne:

“It’s clear to me that the media doesn’t publish some information that the public should know about. Some scandals strangely fail to appear in the media altogether. Others are swept under the carpet by the media. Sometimes dirt on politicians is ignored by the media. And I’ve discovered that this octopus of corruption that’s gripped the Czech Republic in its tentacles and is sucking the life out of the public finances can’t be beheaded by political means. So it’s necessary to defeat it by using the media, that means by informing the public of all the dirty things that are going on here.”

The response to Mr John’s new dual role in politics and the media has raised many eyebrows. One of Mr John’s two bosses – the head of the lower house Miroslava Němcová – told Czech Television the idea was insane. President Václav Klaus has spoken of his great surprise at the news. Prime minister Petr Nečas told reporters Radek John needed to make up his mind who he wanted to work for.

But it’s fellow journalists who’ve expressed disbelief that Mr John - a popular TV presenter and reporter for TV Nova before he entered politics - could be so brazenly unprofessional. Most have said it’s a clear and inadmissible conflict of interests. Jindřich Šídlo, chief commentator for Hospodářské noviny, points out the role is not, in fact, unprecedented: London mayor Boris Johnson served as an MP while simultaneously editing The Spectator. But Jindřich Šídlo says he believes the move has less to do with cutting off the many heads of corruption and more to do with Radek John wanting to secure his immediate future:

Jindřich Šídlo,  photo: Marián Vojtek
“As a politician he’s dead. He’s dead in the water. I think he’s not going to run for re-election, and even if he did he’d have no chance because his party is as dead as he is. So in eighteen months that’s the end of his career. So he has to find a new job and he’s found one! Sure, it would be much better for both sides – I mean journalists and politicians – if he leaves parliament. But we, and politicians, have no way how to make him do it.”

That would appear to be true; Mr John is breaking no laws. But Empresa Media’s owner Jaromír Soukup may have been unprepared for the reaction of his employees. Renata Kalenská, Týden’s respected interviewer, announced her resignation just hours after news of Mr John’s appointment. And according to Lidové noviny newspaper, at least four more senior reporters are to follow suit.