Politicians put spotlight on public service broadcaster Czech Television

Andrej Babiš, photo: Filip Jandourek

Politicians appear to be piling up the pressure on public service broadcaster Czech Television with ANO leader Andrej Babiš’ main company Agrofert lodging a compliant against one of its flagship investigative programmes.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: CTK
The position of public broadcasters is often not a comfortable one, especially when it comes to political reporting.

But the pressure on Czech Television has clearly been escalating over the last few weeks. The first wave of attacks came from President Miloš Zeman and those close to him. Matters were not helped when a live broadcast by the president's spokesman failed to take place.

In the wake of that, Senator Jan Veleba, who represents Zeman’s former party, said he would propose changes to the rules so that people damaged by reports by public service television and radio broadcasters would not have to pay their license fees. That proposal did not surface as expected on Tuesday with Veleba saying further work was needed on it.

Now the country’s second biggest party ANO, headed by billionaire businessman and current minister of finance Andrej Babiš, has Czech Television in its sights.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: Filip Jandourek
It emerged Tuesday that Babiš’s main company Agrofert has lodged a complaint with the broadcaster’s council alleging that the flagship investigative programme ‘CT Reporters ’ suggested that the agro-food giant gained unfair advantages because of its owner’s prominent public position. The complaint, citing four separate reports, was lodged at the end of February and a partial reply was already given by March 11, according to Czech Television’s governing council.

Babiš, who owns two of the country’s main daily papers and the commercial radio station Impuls, said afterwards that Agrofert was perfectly within its rights to complain and it is well known that some reports are manipulated. The ANO leader has recently said he is under constant media scrutiny to see whether he is in conflicts of interest due to his multifaceted business empire.

Some mostly, opposition centre-right politicians, have denounced Agrofert’s complaint as an overt attempt to put pressure on the public broadcaster and influence one part of the Czech media scene outside Babiš’ control. But there were also attacks on the broadcaster from unexpected quarters. The admittedly maverick Social Democrat member of parliament and former minister of culture Vitėzslav Jandák declared that Czech Television broadcasters and journalists clearl demonstrate their political colours and lack of objectivity.

Czech Television has kept a low profile on the latest row and has not even reported on it. A spokeswoman said that the Agrofert complaint would be treated in the standard way, like around 240 others made against it in the last year.

Photo: Tomáš Adamec
The ‘Reporters’ programme in question was the subject of an analysis in 2014 by Czech Television in which it was broadly given a clean bill of health. Around 90% of the statements in the reports were clearly sourced and in 98% of cases those mentioned were given a right of reply, the analysis found.

As the main source of television news and political information for most Czechs, politicians are always focusing on what Czech Television does and says. The public television broadcaster still grabs around a third of the tv audiences and still scores high with the public for the reliability and trustworthiness of its reporting.