Minister of Human Rights slams public broadcaster for showing communist era news


Old TV news has been in the news recently here in the Czech Republic. Michael Kocáb, the human rights minister, has slammed the public broadcaster Czech TV for showing daily bulletins from the communist era. It is the same, he says, as if German TV showed Nazi-era news in the 1960s. Sarah Borufka reports.

News reports from the 1980s would often praise the achievements of the coal and electricity sector in meeting the demands of Czechoslovakia’s planned economy. They can be watched even today, in a program called “25 years ago”, a ten-minute abridged version of the TV news from the communist era that is shown every evening before the regular news on public broadcaster Czech Television.

Now, the Czech Minister of Human Rights, Michael Kocáb, has harshly criticized the station for airing the program. He said he found it indefensible that Czech TV is broadcasting propaganda produced by the Communist Party.

But not everybody agrees. In fact, some – like political analyst Petr Just – believe the old news bulletins could have some positive value.

“I feel that what Czech Television does by broadcasting the news from 25 years ago is a reminder of the past. And it is said that a nation that doesn’t know its past cannot be successful in the future. So I think it’s quite important, especially for the younger generation, to know what happened in the past, how it was broadcast and interpreted by the media at the time that it happened. I don’t think that it is some kind of propaganda. I think it’s just a reminder of our past and history and it shows how easy it was for a non-democratic regime to spread the information.”

Some people I spoke to on the streets of Prague seemed to agree with this assessment.

Michael Kocáb
Middle aged man: “I think it’s good that younger people can see what it was like then here. I don’t think they can imagine what living under communism meant. My son is only 6 and won’t start school until next year, and I think this TV program will help him be able to imagine what it life was like here 25 years ago.”

Middle aged woman: “It’s a part of history and I think they should show it so that people don’t forget about our country’s past.”

Young Man: “I have to admit I’m not sure. I think maybe sometimes we don’t have to look back at the past all the time. And in this specific case, I find looking back a bit pointless.”

The Czech human rights minister’s criticisms went even further. He said if Germany had played out Nazi TV news 20 years after the end of World War Two, there would have been outrage. He thinks the communist broadcasts are just as offensive.

However, political analyst Petr Just says showing either regime’s propaganda is not necessarily a bad thing.

“There is some logic to comparing the two regimes, but I don’t think that it would be inappropriate in Germany to broadcast daily bulletins from the Nazi regime. I would even think that in some programs, they are broadcasting such material, from the 1940s and so on, because it’s a reminder of the past. I don’t feel that the action of broadcasting either material from the Nazi or the communist regime would somehow be inappropriate.”

Czech Television, which has been broadcasting the communist era news bulletins for three years, has so far refused to comment on Mr. Kocáb’s criticisms.