The Czech parliament has greenlighted government legislative proposals that are designed to strengthen the independence of public media and prevent the kind of pressure on them from parliament-appointed boards that has been criticised by international journalist organisations.
The bill, which passed in the first reading after 10 and a half hours because of opposition obstruction, will enable the Senate to elect one third of Czech TV and Czech Radio council members overseeing the public media, rather than having all members elected by the lower house. The legislative proposal will now be examined by the media committee of the parliament.
Opposition parties – the populist ANO of controversial billionaire Andrej Babis and the far-right SPD of another businessman-politician Tomio Okamura – have been obstructing the legislation, accusing the ruling coalition of trying to exercise political influence over the public media with the amendments. The Senate is dominated by parties in the ruling centre-right coalition.
“I live in the world where we consider independent public media as a key pillar of democracy. That is why I am filing a proposal which will curtail political influence,” said Minister of Culture Martin Baxa (ODS), adding that the opposition party members “live in the world where a basic premise is to overtake the public media”.
Czech TV and Czech Radio have been under pressure from council members nominated by the previous parliament where the SPD, the pro-Russian Czech Communist Party and Babis’ ANO had a majority. Council members backed by these parties frequently accused public media management of misdeeds which later proved spurious in an effort to pave way to their removal. International media organisations expressed concerns and called for strengthening of Czech public media independence.
Much of the Czech private media is controlled by oligarchs such as Babis, a former premier, who use it to push their own interests. Babis has regularly attacked the media, which he says is biased against him, even taking out full-page advertisements in his own newspapers in September telling voters to ignore other media.
If the proposed legislation is finally approved, the number of Czech TV council members will increase from the current 15 to 18, with parliament electing 12 and the Senate electing six. The number of Czech Radio council members will stay the same, but parliament would elect only six of them and the Senate would elect three.
The legislation would also better define which organisations can nominate the council members. This would include civic organisations representing cultural, regional, social, labour, employers, religious, educational, scientific, ecological or national interests. Moreover, these would have to have at least a 10-year long history and could not be newly founded organisations, a practice enabled by the current legislation.