Potential threats to Czech press freedom debated in Brussels
The European Commission and European Parliament are examining complaints put forth by Czech MEPs and free press advocates that ANO leader Andrej Babiš’s influence over certain media outlets pose a threat to Czech democracy. Also under the microscope are recent comments made, supposedly in jest, by President Miloš Zeman to Vladimir Putin about the need to liquidate journalists.
The perceived threat posed by Babiš – recently engulfed in a scandal involving apparent abuse of his (now former) media holdings – and also President Zeman, led Czech MEPs from the TOP 09 and Christian Democrats to press for the matter – via the European People's Party faction – to be brought to the attention of the EU.
“The Czech media landscape is very liberal and open today. There are many independent journalists, and the Czech Republic ranks among the top countries in terms of press freedom. Despite this, some questions remain unanswered. For example, the news that Andrej Babiš, in media owned by him, is exercising an influence over news and journalistic output. These questions are being discussed in Prague, and they also need to be debated in a European context, because a free media is on of the fundamental pillars of our continent.”
The European Parliament committee hearing also heard from a number of MEPs, including Czech ones. For example TOP 09 MEP Jaromír Štětina warned that the current threat to the Czech press landscape could serve as a first step to the threatening of Czech democracy itself. ANO leader Andrej Babiš, who was recently forced to rid himself of his media holdings via new anti conflict-of-interest legislation – at least on paper – has denied exerting influence over MAFRA publishing house publications such as Mladá fronta dnes, which are owned by the Babiš-founded AGROFERT agricultural conglomerate. ANO party MPs did not take part in the committee hearing.
“We are very ashamed of President Miloš Zeman in the Czech Republic. Because many of his statements are made while in a state that can hardly be described as sober. Unfortunately, we will have to keep being ashamed of him so long as he is president, but don’t take his words as being a real attack on media freedom.”