...I certainly do not consider myself a media specialist. I was hoping that before my speech I would be able to hear some media specialists here or at least some people who pretend to be such specialists. I have to say that I have not learned much.
This morning we approved a document entitled "The Report," made by the Council for Czech Television. Almost no one has actually discussed it here...
Having heard the speeches of some of my colleagues, I would like to say that I would not entrust them with the management of a greengrocer's shop let alone such a colossus as Czech TV.
The speeches of some of my colleagues reminded me of my past experience as an MP in the former Czechoslovak Federal Assembly in 1990-1991. Then, many MPs of the Federal Parliament used to say to their wives: "Mummy, switch on the set, I will be on the telly tomorrow." Yet when they then spoke in Parliament, they did no say anything: the sole purpose was that they should be seen on TV.
...The most frequently peddled media hypothesis [with regard to this crisis] is this: the two strongest Czech parliamentary parties have conspired to master Czech TV and to appoint their own man as its chief executive.
I will just tell you bare facts. The leadership of the Social Democratic Party learned only from the press that Dušan Chmelíček, Czech TV's chief executive, had been recalled. Once this had happened, I invited the party leadership, I invited the Social Democratic members of the Parliamentary Media Commission, and I asked them what was going on at Czech TV.
I was told that a selection process would start, probably in January and that the most probable candidates were Mr Paluska, Ms Fričová and Mr Drahoš. I took this information on board without giving the Social Democratic appointees of the Council for Czech TV any concrete instructions simply because the Law on Czech TV disallows that the Council members should receive any instructions from the political parties.
A week later, we learned, again from the press, that Mr Jiří Hodač had been appointed. We had not even known that he had even applied for the post...
However, I understand why the media fiction about the conspiracy of the two strongest parties is being disseminated. It is being disseminated by those who, in 1998, after the elections, lost power to which they had become so painfully accustomed.
I think that Senate member Jozef Zieleniec, a well-known media specialist [this is ironic; Zeleniec is a former Civic Democratic Party Foreign Minister, ed] has put it quite succinctly when he said that this is a constitutional crisis that is supposed to lead to an early election.
What else would these people desire but a premature election? That is the only way for them to gain power again. And if one pretext does not work, maybe a different one will. Nothing is a more beautiful pretext than struggle for freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
Another hypothesis says that this is a power struggle between the 4Coalition and the Civic Democratic Party...
The notion that Czech public service Television has, until now, been in its news and current affairs a neutral, objective and balanced station, is for me rather comical. Whenever I have watched Czech TV, I have always concluded that this was a 4Coalition television station. I would like the future Czech TV management to be absolutely free of any party political influence... so that citizens of this country could finally learn what is actually going on in their country, so that opposing views are confronted on the screen. On the basis of dozens media analyses we have had made, we have convincing evidence that this has not been the case to date...
Nobody has ever protested why the mortality rate of Czech TV's chief executives is so high. Something is obviously rotten in the state of television. That is why I would like to see a systemic solution. Do not let us reduce the problem to a problem of a single person.
...I have to say that at the beginning I accepted the appointment of Mr Hodač as a surprise, as I have explained above, but I was quite pleased, or at least I was neutral... Mr Hodač has worked for the BBC and, for me, colleagues, the BBC is a trademark.
When journalists began to come to see me before the 1989 revolution, the BBC people were, in my view, the most professional, the most impartial and the most well informed. And during the following ten years that I have spent in politics, this experience has been confirmed. The BBC has become for me a synonym of professionalism and of hope that one day we would also have a Czech BBC, a professional television station and not this disgraceful amateurism of the greater part of the Czech media community which has the insolence to maintain that it is actually professional...
I can understand that some people might want to argue on the basis of the fact that Mr Hodač had previously worked at Czech TV for several months as head of news that he was unsuitable. I understand that some people might wish to demonstrate, go on strike, write petitions and demand that he should be recalled. This is their divine right, but the protestors cannot do one thing.
They cannot say that the Council for Czech TV has been elected illegally, since it has been elected according to the law of the land. They cannot say that the chief executive has been appointed illegally; although he has been appointed in a technically doubtful way, he has been appointed in an absolutely legal way. Maybe the law will have to be changed.
...I mean this: If somebody says, "I am against Hodač, I want him recalled," I will listen to his arguments. When someone says "I do not recognise the law, I do not recognise the Council," such a person is not, in my view, a fighter for freedom of speech. I have already said that I regard Mr Komers, who is the spokesperson of these rebellious journalists, as a hysterical Maoist. Democracy, you see, is not anarchy...
How would you react if teachers in schools refused to recognise their headmasters, if hospital staff refused to obey hospital managers? No, I know, I will not be able to persuade you with these examples, they are more of interest to entrepreneurs, not to MPs. But let me give you another small, maybe motivating example. Imagine as MPs, that your assistant would rebel against you, your secretary would rebel against you, would take away your fax, would take away your computer, would lock themselves in your office, would not let you in and would tell you that they do not recognise you as an MP.
...I now believe however that Mr Hodač should be recalled because he has made two major managerial mistakes. The first mistake was that when the conflict about the news and current affairs started, Mr Hodač extended this dispute from about five per cent of the broadcast time, which is what news and current affairs represents, to 100 per cent.
...It is dangerous to make the viewer angry because I believe that while the viewers is fully entitled to switch off the television, the chief executive of a television station must never do so.
The second managerial mistake was the appointment of Jindřich Beznoska as financial director of Czech TV. The people whom the Czech TV chief executive appoints to senior posts must not be suspect of having committed large economic crimes. Mr Beznoska has been a member of the IPB bank group and as such could be suspect of such large economic crimes.
...I would like to say to those MPs and to those members of the Senate who demonstratively sleep overnight at the Television Centre that I deeply despise them. It is the task of every MP and every member of the Senate to make new, hopefully better laws and not to take part in demonstrations, not speaking of the fact that these MPs have thus helped to discredit the striking Czech TV employees because they have just confirmed the suspicion of the journalists' links with one particular political party which is called the 4Coalition. I have nothing against television pictures of socks and pyjamas of lawmakers. I would just like politely to remind them that thoughts and work cannot be substituted by pyjamas.
And finally, my dear colleagues. Those of us who believe that it is possible, even though this might be under mob pressure, under the pressure of public opinion, under the pressure of the media, to sympathise with lawbreaking (it is of course permissible to generate pressure for laws to be changed) those of us who only go along with what the crowds want (to go against the crowd, for that you need courage and strong will)–those of us, even if they are the President, who invite people to infringe the law, such individuals have no place in Czech politics.
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All photos courtesy of Štěpán Kotrba, commentator and political analyst for the Czech Internet daily Britské listy
Also on the Czech TV crisis in this issue of CER:
- Jan Čulík's article reviewing the current Czech Television crisis
- Andrew Stroehlein's overview and analysis of the crisis
- The role of the Internet in the crisis
- James Partridge's look at the protest and other issues surrounding events
- Jana Dědečková, member of the Council for Czech Television, rejects Parliament's demand