Jana Bobošíková, the director of Czech TV news appointed by Jiří Hodač, the short-lived chief executive, had a spy in her camp.
Working under enormous pressure, Bobošíková managed to get together only seven journalists to prepare news bulletins. Anyone who tried to work with the new Czech TV chief executive, Jiří Hodač, who was unjustly accused of being a stooge for Václav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party (ODS), was threatened that he would never work in television in the Czech Republic again.
Bobošíková managed to find a handful of rather inexperienced people whose inclination was to broadcast counter-propaganda in the news bulletins. This has thoroughly discredited Bobošíková, an experienced journalist who in the past had demonstrated a good sense of impartiality. But she was evidently unable to instill this in her collaborators, and thus her broadcasts turned into a symbol of censorship, all the more so since Jiří Hodač tried to block out rebel propaganda with a caption saying the broadcasts were unauthorised.
One of the seven members of Jana Bobošíková's news team was David Garkisch, a rebel journalist who recorded Jana Bobošíková at work with a hidden camera. Apparently, the rebels truly believed that she was taking direct orders from Václav Klaus when making the news, and so they decided to document this.
Originally, we had wanted to broadcast a report by journalist David Garkisch, who let himself be hired by Jana Bobošíková's team. He filmed the preparation of her news broadcasts with a hidden camera. We decided to use this method because there existed a serious suspicion that Bobošíková's news bulletins were deliberately biased and thus this was a waste of Czech TV's financial resources, paid by the TV licence holders. This is the reason why we decided to use filming by a hidden camera—we were fully entitled to use this method, which is a normal journalistic method used in many countries of the world as well as in this country.
The film we have thus made is in no way an assault on the dignity of the filmed persons; it is not tabloid, and it only documents the situation in which the rival team tried to prepare television news.
After a media debate was started about whether the use of hidden camera techniques was ethical, we decided to delay the broadcasting of this footage until after the conflict about Czech Television had run its course. We will hand over our information about financial losses [allegedly caused by Bobošíková's team, ed] in written form to the members of the media commission of the Czech Parliament.
During the broadcasting of this commentary, footage of Jana Bobošíková at work, secretly filmed by a hidden camera, was transmitted, at exactly the same time the commentator was saying that Czech TV rebels were not going to be transmitting it.
Also on Monday 15 January, the Fakta programme broadcast carefully edited billing details of the mobile telephones used by the three members of the Council for Czech TV (the corporation's governing body) nominated by the ODS, in order to prove that these particualar members had been in touch with politicians in the run-up to the selection of Czech TV's chief executive back in mid-December.
This piece of propaganda was highly successful, especially since one member of the Council, Jana Dědečková, had flatly denied any contact with politicians.
By highlighting a sequence of telephone conversations between Dědečková, Bobošíková and Hodač in November 2000 (and without knowing the contents of the conversations), the Fakta programme tried to assert that the "Klaus conspiracy," the appointment of Jiří Hodač, had been agreed on a long time in advance.
In fact, as we have explained before in this column, Dědečková and TV Council Chairman Miroslav Mareš had originally been trying to appoint Kateřina Fričová, not Hodač.
Rather unsurprisingly, the Fakta programme did not feature the mobile telephone billing details of the members of the Council for Czech TV who support the rebels. In particular, nothing was said about frequent contacts of former Czech TV Council member Miloš Rejchrt, who frequently liaised with Vladimír Mlynář, a senior member of the Freedom Union party, which has been supporting the TV rebels openly since the beginning.
As we know from our contacts with Jana Dědečková, she consulted a wide spectrum of opinion in the Czech Republic during the process of recalling former Czech TV chief executive Dušan Chmelíček and appointing Jiří Hodač. Thus, her 30 or so telephone calls to Ivan Langer, the ODS chairman of the Czech Parliamentary Media Commission, do not seem to come as any particular suprise.
Marek Vítek and his colleagues from the Fakta programme are very pleased with what they broadcast on Monday 15 January. Vítek told Britské listy reporter Tomáš Pecina last week:
You always demand of us the highest standard, that of BBC investigative journalism, and here we have attained it. Monday's Fakta was high quality investigative journalistic work. It was like investigating the Watergate scandal. We have attained the highest standards of the BBC.
Vítek and his colleagues have absolutely failed to understand the principle of impartiality. They do not understand that journalists of a reputable public service television station would not be able to hijack the station's news and current affairs broadcasts for the dissemination of their own propaganda in a internal labour dispute. They seem unable to grasp the principle that someone who is involved in a conflict cannot at the same time act as an "independent reporter," covering the same conflict.
From the manipulative to the criminal
The notion of conflict of interest is an alien concept not only for the rebel journalists at Czech TV, but also for the Czech public, who have, it seems, on the whole accepted the manipulative propaganda of the Fakta programme.
If the programme were to be impartial, it would have to have been made by a television team that has nothing to do with the current conflict. It would also have to feature mobile telephone printouts from all sides, that means also from the telephones used by Council members supporting the Freedom Union and the rebels, as well as from the telephones of the rebel journalists themselves. Indeed, without knowing who the television journalists have been telephoning before and during this conflict, the Czech public is learning only half the story at best.
Over the past four weeks or so, the gross and often primitive propaganda broadcasts by Czech TV journalists would have caused any independent observer to distrust anything transmitted by Czech TV. By broadcasting political propaganda to support their cause, Czech TV journalists have lost the remnants of their integrity. Nobody can seriously trust a programme like Fakta.
It would appear that the makers of the Fakta programme have also committed a serious criminal offence by featuring confidential mobile telephone printouts in their programme. The updated Czech Telecommunications Law (No 151/2000 of the Collection of Laws) says under Article 84 that "anyone who gains access to information that is subject to telecommunication privacy is duty-bound not to reveal it." In Article 178, the Law says that the revelation of such secret information is punishable by three to five years' imprisonment or by a fine of up to five million crowns (100,000 British pounds).
It is highly unlikely, however, that in the current fevered atmosphere in the Czech Republic, the perpetrators of this crime might be brought to trial. The law has been subordinated to politics on many counts recently in the Czech Republic. Defenders of the action by Czech TV journalists are arguing that the mobile telephones used by the members of the Council for Czech TV were the property of Czech Television and thus Czech TV is fully entitled to publish the printouts. Nobody knows whose decision it was to include the printouts in the Fakta programme. Decisions about what should be broadcast are being made informally and anonymously by rebel journalists.
A crisis from nothing
The Czech audiences did not believe an unknown newcomer, a BBC man of 11 years. They trusted their favourite entertainers, believing that they were the authentic bearers of news. The extent to which a large majority of the Czech nation allowed itself to be manipulated by grossly emotional propaganda is remarkable.
Two years ago, we wrote in Britské listy that Czech media live in a world of virtual reality and can create a political crisis out of thin air when it wishes to do so. The events surrounding Czech Television over the past month or so have eloquently proved the validity of this statement.
What is particularly worrying is the realisation that the Czech public is open to emotional manipulation on such a large scale, without demanding access to the facts. Anyone who examines any individual episode of this deplorable series of events at Czech TV in its full factual context will be forced reluctantly to agree that he has found himself in a world of irrational behaviour.
Let us, as an example, mention just two facts. First, far from being an ODS stooge, Jiří Hodač was not even the preferred candidate of the Civic Democratic Party. He was an outsider, who was chosen as a last minute compromise. While it is true that most members of the Council for Czech TV were influenced by various politicians, the drive for reform at Czech Television was the singlehanded work by Jana Dědečková, a nominee of Klaus's Civic Democratic Party who was driven by her free-market, entrepreneurial ideals, not by orders from the central office of Klaus's party. Dědečková had tried to appoint Kateřina Fričová, an experienced professional from the commercial sector, to the post of chief executive of Czech TV, but other members of the Council blocked this at the last moment.
Attending a conference organised by Czech Television at the Prague Congress Centre at the end of November 2000, I can personally testify that Jana Dědečková and Miroslav Mareš planned to appoint Kateřina Fričová and were in serious negotiations with her about this. In fact, I was given a ride in Dědečková's car from the Congress Centre to Prague's City Centre. The other people present in the car were Miroslav Mareš and Kateřina Fričová. Fričová sat next to me at the back of the car. After I had been taken to Prague's City Centre, Dědečková, Mareš and Fričová retired to discuss the future of Czech TV.
The assertions by the Czech TV rebels that Hodač had been a Klaus stooge whose appointment was being prepared a long time in advance is simply rubbish. This makes the whole web of lies about Klaus's alleged TV coup collapse at a stroke.
Another point to consider is this: as Nikolaj Savický, a member of Czech TV's top management has pointed out in his piece in Britské listy, it is absolute nonsense to believe that any political party in what is now a relatively pluralistic Czech society would be foolish enough to try openly to master the public service TV station.
Czech media may be second rate but they are not beholden to any single political master. If a political party tried to organise a public service TV putsch, this would mean its destruction. No politician in the Czech Republic, argues Savický, is foolish enough to attempt anything so suicidal. No, all the talk about the Klaus party putsch at Czech TV is the result of a hostile campaign by their political enemies which the Czech public has swallowed unquestioningly, mostly because they are frustrated by the state of their country.
On Wednesday 17 January, the rebel journalists used the fact that lawyer Věra Valterová, whom Jiří Hodač appointed as acting chief executive before he resigned, was not at work, breaking into the chief executive's office and appointing former finance director Ladislav Paluska as their own "rebel Chief Executive." Martin Schmarcz, spokesperson for the TV rebels said that this was done because "no one from the so-called new management [ie, the Hodač management] has been able to show us any piece of paper giving them the right to manage Czech TV."
Schmarz also argued that Ladislav Paluska, who had been sacked by Hodač from the post of finance director, had in fact never been sacked. (There are procedural problems: the people whom Hodač wanted to sack refused to accept his notices; also, any sackings at Czech TV must be approved by the local trade union organisation. Since the trade union organisation sides with the rebels, it has refused to cooperate with the Hodač management in anything.)
So, in the view of the rebels, the Hodač management (the lawyer Valterová, Finance Director Beznoska and Director of News Bobošíková) is illegitimate, while the former management is fully legitimate.
Ladislav Paluska has in the past been accused of shady financial deals. Jakub Puchalský, Czech TV's chief executive in 1998-1999, once had Paluska removed from the premises by the police. Insiders within Czech TV, however, argue that Paluska has been a highly efficient financial manager.
Since Wednesday, both quarelling sides have attempted to use private security firms to remove the competing "directors" from the premises. The whole situation has acquired a distinct operetta feel.
The whole TV crisis can be seen in general terms as a clash of ideologies.
Czech Television is a post-Communist colossus, with many habits from the Communist era still surviving to this very day in its rather distinctive ethos. As media professor Milan Šmíd has pointed out in one of his recent comments published on his Internet pages Louč (The Torch), "The businesswoman [such as Jana Dědečková] who simply wants things to work, soon runs up against the opposing ethos of the public institution, in which an employee's survival depends more on his loyalty to the organisation and his personal contacts than on the real performance of the organisation."
One can understand very well why the post-Communist ethos of untransparent informal wheeling and dealing within Czech TV must have annoyed the likes of Jana Dědečková, a self-made person who has built up a business purely as a result of her energetic belief in openness and free-market principles.
Adherents of free-market philosophy from the Civic Democratic Party tried to apply the principles of professionalism, openness and democratic accountability to an internal, post-Communist culture within Czech TV—exactly the opposite of all these things.
Dědečková and her supporters have acted clumsily and have committed a number of mistakes which her opponents at Czech TV and in the opposition Freedom Union party used with great glee and to great success.
What is remarkable is that in defending the status quo, the rebelling TV journalists have fully resorted to techniques which have their origin in the infamous Communist era. They abandoned all the remnants of the critical detachment demanded of public service broadcasting and resorted to putting out systematic political propaganda. Sustained propaganda campagins by the Czech media have their origin in the Stalinist 1950s and in the neo-Stalinist 1970s. The TV rebels have reverted to some of the techniques of character assassination, used by the former Communist secret police.
The use of (edited) private mobile telephone bills in a television programme for the character assassination of your opponent is reminiscent of similar actions carried out by the Communist secret police against dissidents in the 1970s and 1980s. The secret police would tap dissidents' telephone conversations and then would broadcast edited versions of these conversations on national radio or television in order to discredit them.
Fred Eidlin, writing in the 1970s about the "Logic of Normalisation" in Czechoslovakia after the Warsaw Pact invasion of August 1968, has pointed out that much of the politics of the 1968 liberalising Prague Spring had taken the form of "resolutions, issued by collectives of workers" supporting this or that liberalising idea. Eidlin rightly comments that the practice of sending large numbers of resolutions in support of a political idea is a remnant of a Stalinist practice: in the 1950s, workers were expected to send numerous collective letters condemning the class traitors, sentenced to death or long prison terms during the Stalinist show trials.
Similar techniques have resurfaced again today. Over the past month or so, various Czech organisations have been similarly sending in "resolutions," supporting the "just cause of the Czech TV freedom fighters," and in a way, Czech society has reverted to its Stalinist past.
But people seem to love it, and they do not demand proper, unbiased information.
According to a poll, printed by the daily Mladá fronta Dnes on 20 January 2001, 73 per cent of citizens in the Czech Republic regard defence of freedom of speech as the main motive of the current Czech TV rebellion. 73 per cent of Czech citizens now trust the Czech TV rebels and do not think that they their integrity has been compromised. 55 per cent of Czech citizens think that Czech TV news and current affairs is correctly balanced, only 31 per cent of Czechs believe that those news items in which the rebelling Czech TV journalists report on their own rebellion are tendentious. (However, it is a question whether a poll organised by Mladá fronta Dnes can be regarded as reliable, since Mladá fronta Dnes has heavily sided with the rebels. The poll used a relatively small sample of only 538 respondents.)
Those Czech politicians who have supported the Czech TV rebels, both from the social democratic party and from the Freedom Union party, now have much greater support from the public than before the TV crisis. The greatest gains have been recorded by the Freedom Union party.
Jan Suchánek, writing in Britské listy on Monday 22 January, wonders over some general questions elicited by the Czech TV crisis:
A struggle for freedom of speech by the TV journalists has been fully identified with a political campaign by a single political movement. The fighters for freedom of speech demand that the executive power of elected members of Parliament should be lessened, that the power of political party secretariats should be curtailed and that society, including its elites, should be shamelessly manipulated to particular political ends. Is all this the result of degeneration of the intellectual elite in the Czech nation due to its tragic history of subjugation over the past half century or so?
Is the situation in Czech society made worse by the fact that a negative selection process is taking place? Is the current Czech electoral system of proportional representation contributing to this because people do not vote for individual members of Parliament but for party secretariats, which then decide which party activists will be representing the voters in Parliament? Does this not mean that only the most malleable and the most third-rate candidates make it into parliament?
Why is it that almost no representative of the Czech elite demands adherence to and enforcement of the law? Why is it that the TV rebels have been broadcasting illegally for a month now without the law being applied to them once?
Jan Čulík, 22 January 2001
TV screenshots by Tomáš Pecina
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