News Monday, JANUARY 08th, 2001

By: Libor Kubik

Czech TV chief says won't resign

The embattled new head of public Czech Television has no plans to step down despite mounting pressure from parliament, his staff and the public to quit over alleged political bias. Mr Jiri Hodac contacted his staff by telephone from hospital where he was recovering from exhaustion. Mr Hodac remained defiant after the powerful lower house of parliament called for the Czech Television Council, which appointed him, to sack him if he refuses to go voluntarily. The December 20th appointment of Mr Hodac sparked a strike by staff and street protesters over allegations that the new TV chief was biased towards the Civic Democrats, one of the country's two main parties. Mr Hodac denies the charge. The Civic Democrats are a key parliamentary ally of the ruling Social Democrats. Both parties dominate the council that elected Mr Hodac. The stand-off with the station's staff and the massive public support they have received, have prompted the Social Democrats to withdraw their support for Mr Hodac, which has swung the balance in parliament against him.

Several leading politicians have called on Mr Hodac to step down.

Culture Minister Pavel Dostal accused Hodac and his team of attempts to destabilise the Czech political system. Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said the crisis over the public television could threaten the country's plans to join the European Union. And Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla also called on Mr Hodac to step down. He said Hodac's appointment on December 20 had been a mistake. However, Lower House Speaker Vaclav Klaus has alleged that the TV crisis was intentionally masterminded to drive a wedge between his Civic Democratic Party and the opposition Four Party Coalition. Newscasts prepared by Hodac loyalists failed to bring the news about parliament's appeal for his resignation. Political observers here in Prague agree that the crisis over Czech Television may seriously hamper the main opposition Civic Democrats' hopes for an election victory and their leader Vaclav Klaus's prospect of becoming the next Czech president. The dispute started when he was appointed last month. Striking employees, including journalists, who have occupied broadcasting offices, claimed the new director was subject to political influence.

Rockers protest censorship outside broadcasting centre

Leading Czech rock groups on Sunday staged an open-air concert outside Czech Television's Prague headquarters in support of the station's striking staff. The event, advertised as "Music Against Censorship", attracted thousands of viewers. Popular rocker Ivan Hlas reaped stormy ovations singing the strike's unofficial anthem, "On Your Knees" -- a theme tune from the Czech film, "Years of the Jackal", whose plot is situated in the Communist 1950s. The viewers also saw a newscast prepared by the striking journalists and shown live on an outsize screen.

Former tennis star arrested over insider trading

Former Czech tennis player Milan Srejber was arrested at Prague's Ruzyne International Airport and was remanded in custody pending criminal proceedings against him. He was granted a five-million-crown bail. He was detained shortly after arriving on a scheduled flight from London. The ex-world circuit player, owner of the firm Srejber Tennis Investing, stands accused of stashing away more than 13 million crowns in the mid-1990s. Mr Srejber was also a sponsor at that time of then-ruling Civic Democrats. In a highly publicised tax-evasion case, Srejber's sponsorship gift of 7.5 million crowns to the party in 1997 was administratively split among three fictitious donors.

Czech nuclear plant shuts down again

The controversial Czech nuclear power station at Temelin shut itself down on Sunday after a minor technical problem triggered safety systems. The plant's operator, the power company CEZ, said in a statement that the shutdown occurred after a minor technical glitch. It said the Soviet-designed station's reactor had already begun producing power again. The plant is to undergo a series of tests in the next few months following an agreement by the Czech and Austrian governments before it goes into full operation in the spring.

Czech weather report

And finally, a look at the weather in the Czech Republic.

Monday will be a wet day here in the Czech Republic, with scattered snow showers at higher elevations. We expect maximum daytime temperatures between one and five degrees Celsius, and around freezing point at altitudes over 1,000 metres above sea level.

On Tuesday, the skies will remain cloudy, with scattered rain and snow showers. Early morning lows between zero and four degrees below, daytime highs between zero and four degrees above freezing point.

Wednesday should also bring us some scattered snow showers and nighttime lows between one and five degrees below freezing. Daytime highs from zero to plus four degrees Celsius.