Press Review

The three-week-old crisis over Czech Television still dominates all the papers today. With neither side prepared to give in, press commentators predict that the conflict will drag on.

On Friday, parliament practically asked the public broadcaster's new director, Jiri Hodac, to step down and told the station's supervisory council to oust him if he doesn't go voluntarily. MLADA FRONTA DNES notes that in spite of the lower house's categorical demand, Mr Hodac and his people continue to cling to power. The Czech Television Council had its last opportunity on Monday to make its first and last sensible move, and sack the little-loved TV director. But the paper points out that Hodac's removal would only be the first step on the long and winding road to resolving this tricky political puzzle. Only then would it be possible to draft viable new media laws, concludes MLADA FRONTA DNES.

HOSPODARSKE NOVINY believes that Hodac must go. It says his small team of amateurish newscasters have totally disgraced themselves by failing to break the news of the parliamentary resolution in its entirety. The parliamentary document has six points, but Hodac's loyalists highlighted only a passage in which legislators described his hasty election three weeks ago as "legitimate".

PRAVO centres on Prime Minister Milos Zeman's caustic attack against President Havel during Friday's 15-hour parliamentary marathon. Zeman may be one of the brighter people in today's politics, the paper says, but the way he attempted to expel Havel from the political scene strongly resembled the hate tactics long pursued by the Civic Democrats.

The paper thinks it has an explanation. Mr Zeman severely underestimated the impact of the television strike and the massive support the rebellious journalists have received from the general public. When over 100,000 protesters gathered on Prague's Wenceslas Square last Wednesday, Mr Zeman panicked and was forced by circumstances to withdraw his support for Hodac. He was looking for a scapegoat, or rather a lightning rod to discharge his hate. Havel was merely the first to hand, the paper notes.

Away from the stalemate in Czech Television, today's SLOVO writes that the Czech authorities learned of the Balkan Syndrome two years ago, but the army ignored the problem. The paper says that a noted American scholar, Professor Hari Sharma, asked President Vaclav Havel's office in Summer 1999 to help him publicise fears that depleted uranium, used in NATO ammunition, posed a health risk. Havel's aides forwarded Sharma's letter to the Military Medical Academy in Hradec Kralove, whose experts then embraced the American version and said that the substance had nothing to do with the deteriorating health of scores of Gulf War and Bosnia veterans.

The press section of the presidential office told SLOVO they had no knowledge about Sharma's letter. The paper writes that ironically, one of the Hradec Kralove team of military doctors, radio-biologist Otakar Neruda, has now become a member of the commission of inquiry, set up by Defence Minister Vladimir Vetchy in reaction to the Balkan Syndrome being officially recognised by some EU countries. SLOVO writes that Mr. Vetchy has ordered medical checks to be carried out on all Czech servicemen who were on the KFOR peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, as well as former members of UNPROFOR, who served in Bosnia in the early 1990s.

And finally, forget about the Three Magi. It wasn't them who witnessed the Epiphany in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. A tongue-in-cheek story in PRAVO explains that a merchant from the Valassko region in Moravia was peddling potent plum brandy, or slivovice, for which this ethnographic region is famous, in the Holy Land. When he reached Jerusalem, the country was suffering from a devastating drought. People thought he was bringing water. They drank up his reserves and, given the potency of slivovice, many of them had blurred vision and saw the merchant not once but three times over. Some of them even saw black.

The story is traditionally told in Valassko, when it's time to sample last year's slivovice. The tasting parties coincide with the Christian festival of Epiphany, the paper explains.

Author: Libor Kubík
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