From the Weeklies
"Who pays, wins" is the title of an extensive study in this week's Tyden, which concentrates on the relationship between advertisers and the Czech media.
The media is supposed to be the watchdog of democracy, but is this really so? asks the magazine. Is there any connection between the media and the companies who advertise in them? In the Czech media, the two are sometimes connected, says Tyden. In comparison with the rest of Europe, the nine billion Czech crowns which the media earned in advertising last year is really very little. And so it comes as no surprise that competition for big-spending advertisers is very tight. The Czech media is trying its best to attract enough money to cover their expenses, but as Tyden says, this often happens at the expense of unbiased reporting.
The weekly points to the case of the IPB bank, which was recently taken over and sold to a rival bank, CSOB. When former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus spelled out all the causes of the downfall of IPB, he included the media. Mr Klaus claimed that for more than six months beforehand journalists had been making the public nervous with scare-mongering reports. But in reality, Tyden says, the Czech Republic's two commercial TV stations - Prima and Nova - didn't broadcast a single negative news item about the bank in the first three months of this year. This is because IPB was, at the time, still Prima's majority owner. And it's also because it was IPB which provided Mr Zelezny with a billion-crown loan so that he could get Nova up and running again.
More or less all the media here in the Czech Republic are dependent on their advertisers. And so publishing bad news or critical comments about your major advertiser can lead directly to big losses. What's even worse, the magazine says, is that the advertisers are all too aware of this and some of them abuse the difficult financial situation in which most of the media finds itself. There have been cases, says Tyden, when the advertiser actually says: If you continue to print such reports about us, we'll call off our campaign. Obviously the media can retaliate by publishing all the details of a controversial story. But nothing like that has ever happened in the Czech media.
Obviously this situation is not unique. This is a worldwide problem which threatens the independence of the media everywhere. What's unusual about the Czech Republic, however, is something else. Tyden says that those companies which spend lots of money on advertising are most likely to be well-portrayed in the media. The country's major advertisers are, at the moment, the mobile-phone operators Radiomobil and Eurotel. The daily newspaper Pravo, says the magazine, hasn't published a single piece of bad news about Radiomobil. Zemske Noviny newspaper, on the other hand, has published no bad news about Eurotel. It's a similar situation with the car-manufacturing company Skoda, one of the biggest insurance companies Allianz and the travel agency Fisher. On the other side of the coin there are companies which don't advertise at all - mostly state-owned companies such as Czech Railways, Vitkovice steelworks, or the power generator CEZ, who don't have any money to spare.
Is there any solution to the current situation then? Yes, Tyden says. The media should radically once and for all separate their advertising and news sections, so that they're unable to influence one another. Because as long as the advertising agencies attend press conferences with so-called unbiased journalists, in order to arrange the length of the news and the advertisement at the same time, the independence of the Czech media is in danger, concludes Tyden this week.
Another weekly, Reflex, has unveiled secrets about a new phenomena raging amongst the younger generation of skaters. It is a game called hackey sack and has been around for a while.
I've noticed many times when waiting for a bus a circle of usually teenage boys kicking a funny little sack around. All I could understood was that they were trying to keep it in the air by passing it from one to another. But there's more to the game, as this week's Reflex explains. Hackey sack is a small ball made of wool or leather and filled with plastic beans. In fact the game is very old, originating from North American Indians. In the 1970's, the game was brought back to America and from there spread to Europe. As Reflex points out, the only hackey-sack tournament took place in Prague last week, the fourth annual competition. And if you're wondering, as I was: what is there to compete in? Here's the answer: A jury watches closely as a three- or four-member group perform their best tricks in passing the sack on. At the same time they are also being marked for how well they move to music, how original they are and much more which I really can't imagine. Although hackey sack doesn't look too difficult, the author of the article points out that it requires a lot of practice. And so that's probably why you see all those teenage boys in baggy trousers and T-shirts standing in circles kicking a little sack in the air.
The main commentary in this week's Respekt focuses on Jiri Dienstbier, the former Czechoslovak foreign minister who's now the UN's special envoy for Kosovo. Many of his statements about Kosovo and NATO involvement in the province have created much controversy. His negative response has also created a feeling that he might as well be part of Milosevic propaganda campaign, says Respekt. Dientsbier's criticism of NATO's involvement in Kosovo has some rational basis. It is true that the West ignored the problem in Kosovo for over ten years and that once they finally decided to take some action, it was probably too harsh.
But Mr Dienstbier sees things a bit differently, says Respekt. Milosevic is the bad guy, he argues, but so are all the other guys in the Yugoslav conflict. Not everything in Kosovo was OK, but things were still better than here in the Czech Republic under the communists, he argues, and so the Albanians had no reason to arm themselves. The atrocities committed by the Yugoslav army were only an answer to provocation by the illegal Kosovo Liberation Army. NATO airstrikes only made everything worse, says Mr Dienstbier, causing many people to flee. Kosovo is now controlled by various mafia, he says, and the only outcome of the whole 'humanitarian war' in the Balkans is a worsening in their already difficult economic situation. Apart from that it hasn't solved anything. That is Mr Dientsber's view on the issue as Respekt sums it up from various press conferences and newspapers.
Well, having said all that, it's no surprise that Mr Dienstber has won the recognition and respect of the Yugoslav ambassador in Prague. Respekt goes on to analyze Mr Dientsbier's report on human rights in the area. So what's the reality of the conflict then? asks the weekly. Not everyone in the conflict is like Milosevic, the paper says. Tudjman or Izerbegovic maybe didn't win your sympathies but they didn't really start the crisis. The Albanians' position has never really been solved in Yugoslavia. They are different not only ethnically but also culturally. Under Tito they could live and exist quite peacefully, but it was Milosevic in the 1980's who imposed a police state on Kosovo. After the NATO intervention most of the atrocities stopped and the refugees started coming back. But at the same time Kosovo's Serbian population began leaving their homes in droves. Since they were mostly employed in the state administration, even those who were not involved in atrocities became an immediate target for revenge. The organized return of the Serb population to Kosovo is being blocked by Milosevic's propaganda, no matter how hard KFOR and the UN is trying. Although it is still not a very safe place to be, the murder rate there is today lower then in Los Angeles. The main Albanian powers have divided the local government between themselves, but that is only natural. It is similar anywhere else after a war conflict, and the current situation is unavoidable, says Respekt.