New dispute looming over Czech Television as rebel journalist faces sack

Jiri Hodac

Now, it's more than three months since the end of the Czech TV crisis, when rebel journalists at Czech Public Television went on strike in protest over the appointment of Jiri Hodac as the new Director General. Massive street protests eventually forced Mr Hodac to resign, and a new law was passed which, at least so claim the politicians, will make the appointment of Czech TV's management less vulnerable to political interference. But the dispute isn't quite over yet, and some of the rebel journalists are finding themselves under increasing pressure from the new management. Rob Cameron has more.

The Czech TV dispute was probably the biggest cause celebre in the country since the overthrow of Communism in 1989, and Adam Komers, the chief spokesman for the rebel journalists occupying the TV newsroom, was right in the thick of it. Before the dispute, Komers was a little-known reporter and head of Czech TV's regional broadcasting. After several days, however, he was a household name, appearing in nightly interviews to defend the rebel cause.

Now, however, he finds himself under pressure from the new men in charge. Director General Jiri Balvin proposed on Thursday that Komers should be sacked. The new management is angry over comments made by Komers in an email to a colleague about the controversial head of Czech TV's Brno studio, Zdenek Drahos. In the email Komers criticised Drahos's decision to hire Jiri Sindar as the new head of news in Brno, an appointment which led to a mass walkout by staff. Earlier I spoke to Adam Komers and asked him to explain his comments.

"The reporters walked out when Mr Sindar was appointed head of news in Brno. They said he had no idea what he was doing, and didn't have any plans for the future of the department - he was merely put there by Mr Drahos to cleanse the Brno studio of rebel journalists. So they all walked out, and the department completely collapsed. Things came to a head when a journalist called Josef Tomas was hired to fill one of the posts. Mr Tomas's previous journalistic work led to a conviction for spreading racial hatred. And all this was the reason for my very harsh words in the email."

I put it to Komers that his radical stance during the dispute had antagonised Czech TV's management, and Mr Balvin's call for his removal could really be down to personal animosity.

"I don't think it's a personal dispute, but I'm convinced that Czech Television's new management want to prove that they're in charge, and that they'll be looking for any excuses to get rid of the journalists who played a prominent role in the Czech TV crisis as soon as possible. And I wouldn't even rule out the possibility that they've been given this task by certain politicians."

Adam Komers says any move to sack him will be unlawful, and he will take the matter to court if necessary. And what's more, several of his colleagues told me he has their full support. It remains to be seen whether the new management can stomach a fresh dispute at Czech Television.