Study finds Czechs’ trust in media has fallen sharply

Photo: Sokoljan, Public Domain

A new study conducted by polling firm CVVM in conjunction with Masaryk University has found a large decline in trust in the media from the Czech population. From roughly two-thirds trust in the media a decade ago, the data shows that today the number is reversed, with two-thirds distrusting the media. I spoke with independent journalist and former dissident Jan Urban, and began by asking him for his take on the decline:

Jan Urban,  photo: Czech Television
“I think part of it can be explained as a general global trend in industrialised countries in that, in what is perceived as the freedom to seek alternate sources of information, the population is simply turning away from traditional media. But part of it is also directly related towards a growing sense of distrust by Czechs towards their political scene. What I view as particularly interesting is that people here believe that journalists are part of the so-called ‘elite’. And so a general frustration with politics going back fifteen years is now also reflected in a fall in trust in the media and journalism.”

One of the questions asked in the study was: what is your greatest perceived negative trait of journalists? Number one was that they were tabloid-oriented; number two was that they were corruptible; and number three was that they were not independent. So does Czech journalism face serious ethical questions?

“Certainly Czech journalists are not doing enough to fend-off these kinds of perceptions. The situation is made even more complicated with the issue of ownership of private television channels, and also the fact that for the last two years two of the country’s largest dallies have been owned by the deputy prime minister [MAFRA, publisher of titles including Lidové noviny and Mladá fronta dnes is owned by Agrofert, which was technically placed in a trust by ANO leader Andrej Babiš in February in order to comply with new conflict of interest laws].”

Do you think, then, that what could be described as the “Andrej Babiš effect” has had a direct negative impact on the Czech public’s trust in the media?

Photo: Sokoljan,  Public Domain
“Yes. That combined with what has become a tradition here of top politicians, starting with former president Václav Klaus, and continuing with current president Miloš Zeman, and also Andrej Babiš, who have been attacking the media since the early 2000s. And now Babiš has started to attack individual journalists in person. So the atmosphere of trust between the political class and the media is totally destroyed. And more and more you see top politicians like President Zeman, who seek contact with ‘alternative’ media, and copying (US President) Donald Trump with talk about ‘fake news’, and then also President Zeman gave an interview to a neo-Nazi – or extremely (out of the mainstream) Slovak website called Hlavné Správy, that any normal politician wouldn’t touch with a wooden stick. And yet the president of this country gives them an interview…”