Press Review

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How has the Social Democrat government fared in the two years since the 1998 general elections, TV Prima's opponents eagerly await its demise in the hope of acquiring its license, and government plans to motivate people to seek work. Nick Carey has been flicking through them, and joins me now with today's edition of Press Review:

It's been two years since the Social Democrat government was installed, with the help of the so-called opposition agreement with the Civic Democrats. Today's edition of LIDOVE NOVINY contains extensive coverage of the government and analyses its performance over the past two years. Prime Minister Milos Zeman himself called his Cabinet a government of suicides two years ago, the paper says, and little wonder. The Czech economy was in a deep crisis, the Czech people were affected by dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in the country. Despite this, the government of suicides has survived. The economy, says the paper, has turned around. The left-of-centre government has speeded up bank privatisation, sold off several struggling companies and has actively encouraged direct foreign investment, which the paper says are all lessons for the Czech right-wing parties. On the other hand, the government can't take the credit for the low level of inflation that has contributed a great deal to the economic turnaround. On the international front, says LIDOVE NOVINY, the government seems to have done very well. All of the government's ministers speak with one voice concerning the EU, and the government's negotiators are doing their utmost to get the best possible deal from the EU for the Czechs. This stance, unlike that of the previous government's, cannot be labelled as passive. The main handicap of the Social Democrat government, notes the paper, is the tendencies of ministers to open their mouths and put their feet in them. Several of those ministers have been removed from the Cabinet, but Prime Minister Zeman is, the paper believes, the worst examples of this. He accuses people of this, that and the other, can't prove his allegations, and then refuses to apologise. The impression given by the government would be an awful lot better without Mr. Zeman's comments, LIDOVE NOVINY concludes.

CESKE SLOVO today leads with the latest news on TV Prima, a commercial Czech television station. TV Prima faces the possibility that its license will be taken away by the Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting over alleged irregularities in its ownership structure. TV Prima refuses to divulge any information about its owners, and if the broadcasting council finds that there have indeed been irregularities, it will remove TV Prima's license. Although this has not yet happened, there are two companies waiting in the wings to apply for the license. One of these is TV 3, the Czech Republic's newest commercial television station. The other, interestingly enough is CNTS, which until last year ran the largest Czech commercial station, TV Nova. Ronala Lauder, the owner of CNTS, is currently fighting a lawsuit against the Czech Republic and Vladimir Zelezny, the license holder of TV Nova. Mr. Zelezny took over control of the station illegally, says Mr. Lauder, and is suing the Czech Republic because he says it did not protect his investments. If Mr. Lauder loses the case, then CNTS claims that, in accordance with a deal with the Finance Ministry, it will obtain TV Prima's license. The Ministry of Finance, says CESKE SLOVO, denies knowing of any such deal.

MLADA FRONTA DNES features an article on the plans of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs to help motivate people to seek work. In many cases at the moment in the Czech Republic, people can actually make more in benefit payments than they can by working full time, for which the country has been frequently criticised by the World Bank and the OECD. The ministry aims to produce laws that will make it impossible for people to earn more out of work than when employed, and as a result, the ministry believes, this will also ease the burden on the average Czech taxpayer.