News Wednesday, DECEMBER 27th, 2000

By Daniela Lazarova

Czech Public TV in turmoil

The battle over the future of Czech Television continues. The newly-appointed management of Czech Television attempted to fire twenty rebel journalists on Tuesday as they struggled to regain control of the station's news broadcasts. They warned that electricity and water supplies would be cut off and that the newsroom would be cleared by force if necessary. The news team have refused to accept the dismissals and are occupying the newsroom in protest.

The majority of Czech Television's employees have refused to accept last week's nomination of Jiri Hodac as the new director general, on the grounds that his alleged ties to Czech politicians would seriously threaten the station's independence. The newly appointed news director Jana Bobosikova, who allegedly has close links to the opposition Civic Democrats, has likewise failed to gain acceptance.

For the past three days the rebel journalists and the new management have been putting out rival newscasts, accusing each other of pirate broadcasting. The executives control terrestrial transmitters and block signals coming in from the newsroom, but the "rebel" news casts can still be seen on satellite and cable.

Culture minister calls on General Director to resign

After five days of turmoil, Culture Minister Pavel Dostal stepped into the fray on Tuesday calling on the new General Director to resign. He publicly advised the station's new management against the use of force, saying this could spark a serious crisis. "We have a serious problem on our hands and we need a compromise solution," Dostal said. "The only way to create room for negotiations at this point is undoubtedly the resignation of Mr. Hodac". A majority of the station's top managers under Hodac have also called on him to resign.

Support for the rebels grows

While both the Television's management and the two parties accused of trying to influence news output have denied the allegations, other politicians, mainly from the right-of centre four party coalition, have voiced support for the rebel Czech TV employees. A group of nine Senators have issued a public statement appealing to "all honest and principled politicians regardless of party allegiance" to help preserve the independence of Czech Public Television. The statement compares the present management's tactics to those employed by the former communists during the normalization era following the crushing of the Prague Spring.

The rebel Czech TV employees have won the backing of many public figures and collected over 30,000 signatures on a petition seeking support. Over two thousand people braved freezing temperatures on Tuesday night to rally outside Czech Television's news studios and demonstrate their support for the news team. 15,000 people have expressed their support by E-mail. Theatre ensembles have promised to begin every performance by reading out a petition in support of Czech TV employees.

The battle has prompted the parliament-appointed media watchdog The Television and Radio Council to call an emergency session for December 28th, to discuss the matter. The Senate is to meet on January 3rd, to debate the crisis. Moving on to other news now, the number of mobile phones in the Czech Republic has now surpassed the number of fixed line telephones. The country's three mobile operators are reaping the profits of a staggering ad campaign which made the mobile phone the most popular Xmas present this year. Over 4,4 million Czechs now own mobile phones. Czech Telecom says there are currently 3,8 million fixed line telephones in the Czech Republic.

And finally a look at the weather:

Wednesday will be an overcast day with rain or sleet showers, snow in the higher altitudes. Day temp between 1 and 5 degs C. It seems that ski enthusiasts are out of luck this Xmas . Only a few resorts in the Krkonose mountains report enough snow to ski on. Around 60 cm at best. Other winter resorts offer biking tours and indoor sports.