News Saturday, JANUARY 13th, 2001

By Daniela Lazarova

Parliament approves new law on public broadcasting

At the close of an 18 hour marathon session , the lower house of Czech Parliament approved a new law on public broadcasting aimed at diluting the influence of politicians over the country's public radio and TV network. Following eighteen hours of recriminations and political bickering the right of centre Civic Democratic Party unexpectedly changed tactics, joining the Social Democrats in support of the government-proposed legislation. The right of centre four-party coalition, which said that in its present form the law did not go far enough to protect the independence of public broadcasting, voted against the bill.

The bill's main provision is that in future nominations for the fifteen member Supervisory Board of Czech Radio and Television will come from professional and civic groups, not politicians. However Parliament retains the right to make the final selection of board members as well as the right to dismiss the board, which will remain accountable to the lower house alone. The law still has to go through the Senate.

Parliament recalls current board, takes over powers

In a move aimed at resolving the 3 week long crisis at Czech Television the Lower House likewise recalled the current Supervisory Board of Czech TV, which has been accused of political bias, and took over its powers on a temporary basis. It is expected to elect a temporary general director of Czech Television in the near future.

Reactions to the new legislation

The right of centre four party coalition has expressed disappointment with the newly approved law, indicating that the governing Social Democrats and the Civic Democratic Party, who have a power-sharing deal, had once more joined forces to protect their own best interests rather than the interests of a free press.

The four party coalition failed to push through an amendment which would have made the supervisory board equally accountable to both houses of Parliament and the President.

Meanwhile, the Social and Civic Democrats have accused the four party coalition of whipping up a storm of hysteria to further their own political ambitions, claiming that freedom of the press in the Czech Republic was not at stake.

Srejber to remain in jail

The former tennis star-turned entrepreneur, Milan Srejber, who was arrested recently on fraud charges, is not to be released on bail. Mr Srejbr paid the 5 million crowns bail set by the court, but the state attorney has appealed to the Supreme Court and Mr Srejber is to remain in prison until the Court passes verdict. Mr Srejbr, who attempted to avoid court hearings, was arrested at Ruzyne Airport several days ago. The former tennis star is best known as the man who secretly donated millions of crowns to the right-of-centre Civic Democratic Party in the mid-1990s, a controversial gift which hastened the collapse of the Civic Democrat-dominated government in November 1997.

Temelin–oil leak

A press spokesman for the Temelin nuclear power plant on Friday reported an oil leak from a turbine at the plant. The oil reportedly caught fire but the blaze was extinguished within minutes. The spokesman said the turbine was not operational when the accident happened and stressed that it had not in any way affected the plant's safety.

EC to mediate in Czech-Austrian nuclear power dispute

The European Commission is preparing to mediate in the ongoing nuclear power dispute between the Czech Republic and Austria. Early on in the dispute both the Czech Republic and Austria called on the EU to help resolve the matter and a bilateral agreement reached in the Austrian town of Melk, said that EU mediation would be welcome. The EC is now said to be preparing the ground for three-way talks. EC officials will first travel to Vienna, then Prague and finally carry out an inspection of the Temelin nuclear power plant in order to assess the weight of Austria's protests. Both parties will be represented at all meetings, an EC official said, adding that everything would be "open and above board".

And finally, a quick look at the weather:

We can expect cold, clear weather over the weekend, with brief intervals of sunshine and day temps between minus three and minus 7 degs C. Nighttime lows are expected to drop to minus 15 degs.