Zelezny's detention causes storm of publicity

Vladimir Zelezny

Czech police on Thursday charged Vladimir Zelezny, the controversial director of the highly popular private TV station, TV Nova, with damaging the interests of a creditor. Although Nova's general director is embroiled in several legal battles with the Bermuda-based Central European Media Enterprises and several criminal complaints have been filed against him, the ten hours of police questioning he underwent resulted in a storm of media publicity. Daniela Lazarova asked analyst Jiri Pehe what all the fuss was about.

Vladimir Zelezny
Jiri Pehe: Well, I think that the fact the Mr. Zelezny is the head of the largest private television station in the country with huge influence on political affairs is very important in this publicity campaign. I think that should Mr. Zelezny be sentenced and sent to jail it would have far reaching repercussions on the Czech media market and the Czech political scene.

Radio Prague: Commentators are saying that this will be a trial by fire for the Czech judiciary - do you agree?

JP: I think that it will be very difficult for the Czech judiciary to handle Zelezny's case right and to do it justice. It is a very convoluted case and although it seems that Mr. Zelezny has indeed made some mistakes and that he might have possibly committed economic crimes it will nevertheless be a very difficult thing for any judge or prosecutor to separate the political implications if the case from justice.

RP: Do you think that there could possibly be political pressure on the police investigating the case or on the judiciary? There have been hints that this might be so, although politicians have distanced themselves from the affair.

JP: I am not sure that there is political pressure. But what is important is not whether there is political pressure but what the whole case appears to be and no matter what Czech judges and prosecutors in this case do they will be viewed as being under political pressure simply because Mr. Zelezny is not just a media magnate but a political figure.

Is the Czech judiciary strong enough, independent enough to do this case justice?

JP: I am afraid it is not. And it is not just a question of Mr. Zelezny getting justice. It works the other way as well -possibly, if Mr. Zelezny has indeed committed economic crimes that would land anyone else in prison for many many years, he may well get away with it.

RP: Let's talk about the role of the media in this. Are they handling the case well?

JP: I am not sure whether Czech journalists are able to handle this case very well because there are so many animosities and mutual grievances among Czech journalists that probably no one has enough "distance" to comment on this case without some kind of bias.