News Friday, JANUARY 12th, 2001

By: David Vaughan

Czech TV boss resigns

The head of Czech Television, Jiri Hodac, has resigned, after a three-week bitter dispute with television employees that has led to a nationwide political crisis. In a written statement Mr Hodac said that he was resigning for health reasons, a week after being admitted to hospital suffering from exhaustion. Mr Hodac's statement bitterly criticized his opponents claiming that he had been the victim of a disinformation campaign. Czech TV employees, most of whom are taking part in a symbolic strike in protest against Mr Hodac and his management team, welcomed the decision, but they added that the strike would continue as not all their demands had been met. They claim that Mr Hodac was appointed for political reasons. Other members of Mr Hodac's team have said that they do not intend to resign.

Reactions to Hodac resignation

Just after Mr Hodac's resignation was announced, two government ministers, Vladimir Spidla and Pavel Rychetsky, said that they welcomed his decision. However, Ivan Langer of the opposition Civic Democrats - the one party that has consistently expressed support for Mr Hodac - said that Mr Hodac had been at the receiving end of a campaign of hatred and hysteria.

Parliament debates Czech TV

The lower house of parliament is holding a special session today and is expected to dismiss the current supervisory board of Czech TV that appointed Mr Hodac three weeks ago. On Thursday two further members of the board resigned, leaving only six of the original nine members in place. Parliament is also expected to approve a bill changing the way that the board is appointed, in the hope of preventing a repetition of the current crisis. The bill aims to reduce the involvement of political parties in the decision-making process. The lower house is also likely to approve special measures, that will put Czech Television under the direct control of parliament until a new supervisory board is appointed, which will choose a successor to Mr Hodac.

Big demonstrations against Hodac

Meanwhile further demonstrations, that were called before Mr Hodac announced his resignation, have been held throughout the Czech Republic in opposition to his management. For the second time in seven days tens of thousands of people filled Prague's Wenceslas Square to express solidarity with the striking journalists. Several thousand people attended similar demonstrations in other Czech cities.

OSCE assesses TV crisis

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe has welcomed the level of public debate around the future of Czech Television. The organisation's commissioner for freedom in the media, Freimut Duve, said that such debate was important in any OSCE member country, and especially those with past experience of state media control.

Historian dies

One of the Czech Republic's most respected historians, Josef Polisensky, has died at the age of eighty-five. He was a specialist on modern Czech history, but was also well known for his research into British, Dutch, Spanish and Latin American history. In the English-speaking world he is best known for his work on the historical links between Bohemia and Britain. In his long career Josef Polisensky published more than 120 books, and taught at universities around the world.

Party leaders to meet over new aircraft tender

The Prime Minister, Milos Zeman, has invited the leaders of all the parties in Parliament apart from the Communists to discuss one of the most important military tenders in the Czech Republic since the fall of Communism. The tender, which was announced on Tuesday, is for fighter aircraft to replace the country's aging fleet of Soviet-made MiG's. Representatives of the three right-of-centre parties in parliament criticized Mr Zeman for not calling the meeting before launching the tender, saying that the terms of the tender should have been the subject of open political debate.

Electronics giant continues battle with landowner

The battle continues between the electronics giant Philips and the owner of a small piece of land in the town of Hranice in the east of the Czech Republic. A lawyer representing Marketa Regecova, has said that he will appeal for planning permission to be withdrawn for a huge Philips plant currently being built in the town. Mrs Regecova has refused to sell her two-acre plot on the site to the town council, claiming that they have not offered her a real market price. Earlier this week a local court rejected the town council's application for a compulsory purchase order to be imposed. The row has attracted nationwide attention, as the plant, which will manufacture television screens, is expected to create over three thousand jobs in an area of high unemployment.

Trade deficit expected to fall

The head of the state foreign trade agency, Czechtrade, has predicted a ten percent fall in the foreign trade deficit this year. In an interview for the CTK news agency Martin Tlapa said that the figure should fall to around two-point-eight billion US dollars from a little over three billion. He said that falling oil prices and the strengthening Euro gave him cause for optimism, and he also pointed to improvements in the structure of the Czech economy, especially concerning exports to the European Union.

Russian minister to visit Czech Republic

The Czech foreign ministry has announced that the Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, is to visit the Czech Republic next month, on the invitation of his Czech counterpart Jan Kavan. Czech-Russian relations have not been warm in recent years, especially since the war in Chechnya and since the Czech Republic joined NATO two years ago. There have been few top-level diplomatic exchanges, and a Russian foreign minister last visited the Czech Republic in 1994.


And finally a glance at the weather...

Snowfalls in the last 48 hours have brought pleasure to skiers, with the pistes now open in most of the country's main mountain resorts, but the snow has also created difficult conditions on roads, with a spate of accidents throughout the Czech Republic. There will not be much snowfall over the next few days, but we can expect cold clear weather, with daytime temperatures between minus five degrees Celsius and freezing point, and nighttime temperatures as low as minus twelve.