New director of Czech TV promises dawn of new era

Jiri Balvin, the new director of Czech TV

By Daniela Lazarova

Jiri Balvin,  the new director of Czech TV
Jiri Balvin, the interim director of Czech Public Television since January 2001, has been given the mandate to run the Czech Republic's national broadcasting station for the next 6 years. His appointment by Czech TV's supervisory body took place under intense media and public scrutiny, and in his first reaction to the news Mr. Balvin expressed the hope that this was the beginning of a new era for the country's public TV.

"Well, you can't please everybody, but on the whole I expect a positive reaction to my appointment because it means that the period of crisis is coming to an end, that the interim period is coming to an end and this is the beginning of normal, professional day to day work."

Mr. Balvin's election theoretically brings to a close the crisis which unfolded at Czech TV in December last year, after journalists occupied the newsroom in protest of the naming of Mr Balvin's predecessor, Jiri Hodac. Mr Hodac was viewed by many employees as a pawn in a political game, allegedly biased towards the country's opposition Civic Democrats. Thousands of Czechs took to the streets to demonstrate in support of the striking TV employees and their demand for unbiased news coverage. Others viewed the affair as an internal power struggle at Czech Television. After days of protests, the supervisory board resigned, and under the eyes of the media Parliament elected a new board and amended the country's broadcasting law, ostensibly to give TV and radio stations greater independence. Mr. Balvin's main task at Czech TV was to stabilize the situation -a task which he says has proved hard to achieve because of his limited powers as interim director. In his new post he plans to introduce a thorough overhaul. A reorganization of staff, greater transparency in financing, and improved programming . But the most important task of all is to help Czech public TV overcome its lingering identity crisis.

Zdenek Velisek, a veteran reporter and political analyst at Czech TV, says that after only ten years of a free press neither politicians nor the public have a clear idea of what to expect from public broadcasting. He believes that Czech TV needs more time and space to define its new role in society. He says the present intense scrutiny is both unnerving and counter-productive.

"We really try hard to be a public service, maybe too hard. The pressure under which we are working makes us mediocre. There is not enough individuality, not enough courage to do something unique and that is why we appear to be so gray and colorless. We need this pressure to be eased so that we can put more individuality, more courage into our work and then try to match this courage and individuality with objectivity because to be objective does not mean to be mediocre."

Where is the pressure coming from? Is it coming from politicians, the public or Mr. Balvin himself?

"The pressure is in the atmosphere. I wouldn't personalize it. There have been too many changes, changes in the past year, changes still to come, there are rumors and fears in the newsroom so it is not a good atmosphere."

So as I see it Mr. Balvin's main task is to make sure that you have good conditions to work in, to protect you from this pressure?

"Certainly. The main thing is to stabilize Czech TV, to put the house in order and to improve the atmosphere."

Do people at Czech TV think he's the man for the job?

"I think it is important for people to believe that the leadership is the best we can have- that is a prerequisite for good work."

It is not clear yet what degree of support Mr. Balvin will enjoy among Czech TV employees and how successfully he will wield his new powers. One thing is certain - the media scrutiny will continue and his critics will seize on every mistake the new director makes.