Czech TV crisis: amended but not ended
The battle continued this week in the corridors of power at Czech Television (ČT). After an all-night session, the Chamber of Deputies on 13 January approved a new version of the law on Czech Television [see accompanying article in this week's CER].
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The amendment was approved with the support of the Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) and the Civic Democratic Party (ODS). The bill, wich was opposed by the Communists and by the 4Coalition, did not, however, bring an end to the crisis.
The rebel strikers, still camped out at the TV's Kavčí hory headquarters, immediately reacted to the newly approved bill by announcing that they would not end the strike until all members of the new management appointed by Jiří Hodač, who resigned as general director of ČT last week, were dismissed.
Then, on Tuesday, Ladislav Paluska, the former financial director of ČT dismissed by Mr Hodač, occupied the offices of the former director. "Mr Paluska is now the highest legal and legitimate representative of Czech Television, and we are prepared to immediately listen to his directives," wrote Martin Schmarcz in a statement released by the ČT Crisis Committee.
Many rebels, however, disagreed with Mr Paluska's actions, and politicians who had supported the strikers condemned the move. "I do not like it. It will do nothing to calm the situation," said Senator and trade union leader Richard Falbr.
Věra Valterová, authorized by Jiří Hodač to manage Czech Television in his place, branded the takeover as "illegal" and demanded swift intervention by police. Interior Minister Stanislav Gross announced on Wednesday that his ministry would intervene only if someone from the ČT management was physically attacked.
On Thursday 18 January came the first concession by the rebels, when they acknowledged that Věra Valterová had the most right to run ČT. In turn, Ladislav Paluska returned the keys to the director's offices to her.
Mrs Valterová met with Antonín Dekoj, the head of the television trade unions, to discuss the ongoing crisis at ČT. The rebels reduced the number of their demands down to two: the dismissal of Jindřich Beznoska (ČT's financial director) and Jana Bobošíková (head of the News and Current Affairs Department). According to Richard Falbr, also present at the meeting, Valterová conceded that the two could be transferred to different positions, but Valterová later denied this.
Senate rejects media bill
On Wednesday 17 January, the Senate rejected the new law on Czech Television, which had been approved by the lower house of Parliament earlier in the week. Unlike in the Chamber of Deputies, the ČSSD and the ODS do not have a majority in the upper house.
The return of the amended law was mainly forced through by senators from the 4Coalition but also lacked the President's signature. Opponents of the law argued that it did not reduce political influence in the Council of ČT as intended but actually increased it, objecting to the fact that the law leaves approval of the councilors up to the lower house and does not add the Senate and the President to those entitled to nominate candidates or vote on the council's make-up.
Cuba detains two Czechs
Former finance minister and member of parliament Ivan Pilip and a former student leader from November 1989, Jan Bubeník, were detained by Cuban police last Friday after meeting with Cuban dissidents.
David Paulovich, Cuban charge d'affaires, told journalists on Tuesday that the Cubans "have never accused anybody without evidence." Yet there is still no concrete evidence against the two Czechs, though according to the Czech daily Lidové noviny police are trying to force the men to confess that they were acting as spies.
Mr Paulovich wrote in a letter to the deputy chairman of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM), Miloslav Ransdorf, that Pilip and Bubeník came to Cuba with the aim of contacting counter-revolutionaries and giving them instructions to assist in their escape to the US.
Temelín: temporarily out of order
After a series of minor incidents, including most recently a small fire on 12 January caused by leaking oil, František Hezoučký, director of the controversial Temelín nuclear power plant, temporarily shut the plant down on Monday so that a thorough inspection could take place.
The State Office for Nuclear Safety said that the reactor's operation had been hampered by the turbine's technical performance.
Austrian protestors warned of further border blockades. "We will almost certainly blockade the border crossing at Dolní Dvořiště on Friday 19 January," said anti-Temelín activist Josef Neumuller.
Beef imports banned
As of 17 January, the Czech Republic added Italy and Austria to the list of banned importers of beef. Late last year, bans were placed on beef and beef products from all EU countries which had reported or suspected cases of "Mad Cow Disease" (BSE).
The decision coincided with an announcement on Tuesday by the head of the state veterinary office, Josef Holejšovský that two laboratories had been set up to help increase the number of tests for BSE by at least tenfold. No cases of either BSE or its human equivalent, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), have yet been reported in the Czech Republic.
And in other news...
- According to the chairman of Komerční banka's board of directors, Radovan Vávra, the state should receive around CZK (Czech koruna) 40 billion (USD 1 billion) for its 60% share in the bank. "Good results in 2000 have meant the price is higher than analysts had expected," said Vávra.
- A man armed with a hand grenade and pistol held up a branch of Investiční a pojíšťovní banka (IPB) in Prague on Thursday and escaped with over CZK 20 million (USD 500,000). During his escape he began firing at customers in the bank, killing one man and seriously injuring a woman.
- The former president of the Sparta Praha Football Club, Petr Mach, was imprisoned for five years and fined CZK 300,000 (USD 8000) for bringing a luxury BMW to the Czech Republic from Germany and not paying tax and duty on it.
Mark Preskett, 19 January 2001
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