For many listeners UK means Churchill and Beatles not cosmopolitan reality, says Czech Radio correspondent Jiří Hošek

Jiří Hošek

As Czech Radio’s correspondent in London, Jiří Hošek is for many of his compatriots one of their main sources of news from Great Britain. When we met recently at the bustling St Pancras train station, our conversation took in everything from listeners’ perceptions of the UK to the challenges of working alone. But I first asked Hošek – who has been in London for three years – what kind of stories his editors in Prague were typically interested in.

Jiří Hošek | Photo: Alžběta Švarcová,  Czech Radio
“Actually it’s written in my contract that the primary focus is of course on events that have something to do with the Czech Republic; some Czech link either directly or indirectly.

“This of course is quite rare in the United Kingdom. But, for instance, now with the negotiations about new conditions for British EU membership – that’s typically an interesting and important story for Czech listeners.

“From a broader perspective, my role is actually to cover all events that you can possibly imagine – all the way from politics and diplomacy through economics, culture, sports and science.

“So it’s fair to say that there are no two days in a week that would be identical.

“One day you cover and analyse an important speech by David Cameron in the House of Commons. The next day you meet a junior doctor who’s going on strike. The third day you travel to Northern England and meet a Czech football player.

“This is also something that for me is very important – that this is everything else but a dull and boring job.”

You just pronounced the name Cameron in the British way. When you broadcast in Czech do you have to say it in a Czech way?

“That’s a very good question. Sometimes I receive critical emails from listeners saying that I actually exaggerate the English pronunciation.

“So I try to find some rather more moderate way of pronouncing English names in my contributions.”

You were telling me you’ve been here for over three years. What have been the most interesting or memorable or challenging stories you’ve covered in that time?

“I think the most memorable event was shortly after my arrival: coverage of the London Olympics, not only from the sports perspective but the way the Brits handled the organisation and made it such a lively and colourful event.

Jiří Hošek,  photo: archive of Jiří Hošek
“It was really amazing and spectacular and I have some very nice memories linked to the London Olympics.

“I’d probably also emphasise the Scottish referendum in September 2014, when I realised that many Czechs have many wrong perceptions about the UK.

“Again going back to some feedback from my listeners, many of them were surprised: Why did Scotland want to leave such a fantastic country as the UK?

“They had no idea that the UK is everything else than a homogenous country.

“Also for me it was quite shocking to see that the actual reality in Scotland – and I really visited Scotland a lot in this crucial period – was so different to mainstream media coverage. Not only worldwide, but also in London.

“This for me was also something that was really, really memorable.”

You said that many listeners might be surprised to hear that Scots want to leave such a wonderful country – do you find in general that Czechs have a very positive attitude to Britain?

“Absolutely. I think it’s this kind of sentimental historical cocktail of Winston Churchill, the Battle of Britain, a very positive perception of the royal family, Queen Elizabeth, Wimbledon and strawberries, the Beatles.

“I think all of these phenomena are deeply anchored in Czech minds and deeply anchored in a positive way.”

Do you have any way of gauging what stories of yours? Do you get much feedback?

“Sometimes it surprises me… I’m not a big fan of the royal family, but there was a huge response when William and Kate’s first baby was born.

“There was a really big fuss, not only in the UK but also in the Czech Republic and that was something that surprised me to a certain extent.

“On the other hand, it does not surprise me that a majoritarian listener of Czech Radio is not so much into British politics.

Jiří Hošek | Photo: Archive of Jiří Hošek
“I always have to be very careful about my choice of topics.

“Sometimes the issues that are really high on the agenda in the British media – number one and number two stories – would be extremely difficult to explain, given the extremely short time you’re given for your contributions.

“And actually these are topics that don’t matter to Czech listeners. Because who really cares about the Liberal Democrats’ conference?”

Do you often get to leave London on reporting trips? And have you found yourself in any particularly strange or unlikely spots?

“I think it’s an obligation to leave London as often as possible, because you want to show the country in all its facets.

“Already just a couple of miles outside London you explore a different country – economically, socially, culturally.

“It’s very similar to Prague – if you travel 50 kilometres outside Prague you discover a completely different country.

“So I think staying in London would be like staying in a certain artificial bubble and you wouldn’t really get an idea about what life in the UK is about.

“[As regards interesting spots] it’s difficult to pick one particular case. I think travelling to the north of Scotland was a very nice experience. The hospitality of the people and their willingness to talk about just about anything was quite amazing.

“Going to places where Agatha Christie grew up in Devon was a very nice story to remember as well. Basically every trip was I’ve made outside of London was a real joy.”

The same question I could ask any Czech Radio foreign correspondent, but how do you find working solo? You’re always a one-man band.

“I got used to it. It’s basically an obligation. You’re choosing this sort of lonely destiny.

“And actually many people don’t get it. Almost every week or once in a fortnight I receive an email from either a British journalism student or a Czech student who would like to work for me on some part-time basis.

Jiří Hošek,  photo: archive of Jiří Hošek
“From this email communication I have a very strong suspicion that there’s a nice Czech Radio office in London with a receptionist and a number of junior producers...”

Next door to the BBC.

“Exactly… And somewhere on top of this pyramid Jiří Hošek is sitting and giving orders and only signing off on individual contributions.

“That of course is a fundamentally wrong perception, because it is a one-man band. You are your own driver, cook, hairdresser, producer, editor, everything.

“But that’s part of the job and it gives you independence and quite a lot of autonomy, which I enjoy. You have a really big space for being creative.

“I would really enjoy having a producer. But if you find the right balance, it’s pretty much OK.”

What happens if something really, really big happens? If, God forbid, there were some equivalent [in London] of the Paris attacks, are you basically expected to work around the clock in that situation?

“Very much so. It happened to me already in the past, during my stay in professional career.

“For instance, I arrived in Madrid shortly after the deadly attacks on the commuter trains. It was, I think, 72 hours of continuous work. It would be something very similar.

“I cannot exclude that my colleagues would probably send a colleague of mine to support me, so that we would divide the assignments to a certain extent.

“Probably one of us would be doing live interviews and the other would be doing a lot of recording and sending authentic reports back to the Czech Republic.”

Your previous posting was in Berlin. Could you compare the two postings?

“I think the cities of London and Berlin have a lot in common in the sense that they’re incredibly cosmopolitan. For a foreigner it’s a real joy to live in both Berlin and London.

“Even if my noisy kids are travelling on a noisy double-decker bus and are yelling at each other and pushing and shoving, nobody says, At least the kids should be shouting in English, or something similar. So that’s really, really comfortable.

Berlin,  photo: Robert Debowski,  CC BY 2.0
“Concerning a comparison of work, I can see one fundamental difference that is a very negative evaluation of the situation here in the UK.

“My life as a correspondent in Berlin was a lot easier. Admittedly being a journalist from a neighbouring country made my life a lot easier.

“But I think the work ethic of press offices, either of private companies or government offices, in Germany were of much, much higher standard than of their UK counterparts.

“Of course, the Czech Republic is a relatively small, unimportant country.

“But I keep hearing the same stories from my French, German, Japanese or Chinese colleagues here in the UK – that it is extremely difficult in some cases to get even a simple response from this or that press office, not to mention getting the green light for an interview or to visit some facility or event.

“So this is something which is very frustrating. And it was quite a big surprise to realise it after my arrival in the UK.”

As a radio professional, I’m sure you take great interest in radio. How do you find British public radio compares with that, say, in the Czech Republic?

“Oh, it’s incomparable. Just the size of the markets and the tradition. We’re running years and years behind the UK.

“What I really envy is the quality of the discussions and the contribution of the public to programmes of the BBC, but also other radio stations, and how mature this discussion is.

“I also have huge admiration for the tradition of using podcasts. It’s something absolutely amazing.

“Especially on Mondays on the bus or the Tube I can see hundreds and hundreds of people listening to their favourite programmes on their gadgets.

“This is something where we have a lot of ground to make up in Czech Radio, but I’m carefully optimistic that we’re slowly but surely moving in the right direction.”

Finally, you’ve been here for over three years – who much have you enjoyed the experience?

“In 10, 20, 30 years I will always remember my stay in London as one of the most beautiful parts of my professional and also private life, for reasons I’ve already partially mentioned.

“It’s such a nice place to live, as a foreigner, as a Czech.

“Of course, being a journalist it probably gives you some additional… maybe protection is not the right word, but you know what I mean.

London,  photo: Cnbrb,  Free Domain
“My family enjoys life in London very much. I have two children, at the age of seven and 10. They attend a very normal state school in North London and they’ve had the most amazing experience with their teachers.

“And the overall hospitality in the UK has been absolutely amazing. So to sum up, I have not regretted moving to London even for a split second.”