IFJ Calls for Urgent Reforms In Czech TV Battle

The International Federation of Journalists, the world's largest journalists' group, today called for urgent reforms in public broadcasting following six weeks of turmoil at Czech Television and on the eve of a vote in Parliament to appoint a new boss at the station.

In a 20-page report, Striking News: Czech Television and the Struggle for Public Broadcasting, prepared by the General Secretary Aidan White, the IFJ says that the strike by journalists and media staff, which led to massive public demonstrations and political confrontation, emerged from attitudes deeply-rooted in notions of "authority and control over information that have no place in modern democratic society."

The IFJ concludes that the battle for control of the Czech TV goes beyond local political squabbling: "It reflects a malaise widespread in the region: a growing crisis of confidence in public media because, in spite of superficial changes in rules, old-style interference by the political elite, sustained by passivity on the part of journalists, continues to prevail."

The IFJ report, compiled following a mission to Prague last month and meetings with the country's top political leaders, calls for immediate reforms including a wholesale review and overhaul of Czech Television and its management. The IFJ supports three urgent actions:

The nomination of non-political appointees to the Czech TV Council,

Strict control of cash flows, a transparent system of financial management, and

Introduction of structures to guarantee editorial independence and internal pluralism.
The IFJ says that structural change "no matter how well crafted" is not enough to change the cultural attitudes that led to the confrontation. The Report stresses that an awareness-raising campaign is required "among politicians, media professionals and within civil society to strengthen public consciousness about the importance of pluralism."

The Report applauds the action of the workforce at Czech TV who demonstrated, in the words of President Vaclav Havel, that there are journalists who want to freely and independently uncover the truth, in spite of all the risks.

"In taking this action," says the Report, "they have inspired debate in many other countries of the region - Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Hungary, in particular, and have provided ample evidence that the struggle for the soul of public broadcasting in this part of Europe is far from over."

The Report also calls for more solidarity among journalists and condemns media organisations that undermine public confidence in journalism: "…respect for journalistic values needs stronger encouragement from the authorities and less hostility from media organisations, many of which foster unethical practices."

Journalists should work together through the national Syndicate of Journalists. "The Syndicate has an important role to play and the challenge to journalists is to engage in professional and trade union solidarity. Journalists should work together to establish mechanisms for monitoring public broadcasting that will promote high quality."

The Report says that the IFJ and its regional group the European Federation of Journalists will follow future developments closely "but so too will the wider political community in Europe." This follows concerns over the dispute expressed by European Commission President Romano Prodi, culture Commissioner Viviane Reding and the President of the European Parliament Nicole Fontaine.

However, the Report also comments on the positive aspects of the strike. The confrontation had sparked a "full-blown debate about the quality and reliability of information" and the Report endorsed the view of Foreign Minister Jan Kavan that the strike, its accompanying demonstrations and public discussion reflected "not weakness, but a maturing of Czech democracy."