Czech Media now – a postcommunist model?
Jan Čulík, University of Glasgow
1. A Summary
· "The curse of the Prague Spring." The late 1960s, especially the 1968 Prague Spring and its aftermath, were a glorious period of Czech journalism: Czech journalists, writers and intellectuals strove for freedom in a crumbling communist system which was on the defensive. The 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion stopped these liberalisation efforts and reintroduced a harsh neostalinist regime. Reformist writers and journalists were suppressed and journalism and public discourse was eliminated for twenty years. Between 1970 – 1989, the media Czechoslovakia produced propaganda which eliminated all social discourse. Since the fall of communism, it has proved extremely difficult to get rid of the social habits which the Czechoslovak society acquired in the 1970s and 1980s:
· Communism in reverse. After 1989, many people in Czechoslovakia tried to hide their collaboration with communism by turning into fierce anticommunists. Thus the habits of communist society were used again, but in reverse. Still today, 12 years on, many people in the Czech Republic find it difficult to understand the principles of tolerance and critical thinking which are the basic prerequisites for a functioning democracy. Paternalism survived for a long time: Where once, in the 1950s, the nation "loved Stalin", in the first half of the 1990s many Czechs "loved" Prime Minister Václav Klaus, a genius economist and a true Conservative, whose policies will lead us into a capitalist paradise. In 1992 – 1996, most of the Czech media peddled this ideology and anyone who dared to question it, was branded an anticommunist. In 1997, the Klausian dream disintegrated, but the Czech media still failed to adopt techniques of critical, independent enquiry.
· Questionable privatisation of newspapers. After the fall of communism, most state property was privatised in the so-called "voucher privatisation scheme". Even though this was an economically controversial project which came to be, due to lack of transparency, abused by former communist managers of state firms (it was only they who had inside information which parts of the firms were profitable, and so they privatised these parts for themselves) the original idea was that every Czechoslovak citizen could invest a certain amount of freely given government privatisation vouchers into state businesses of their own choice – these vouchers were then turned into shares. But most Czech newspapers were excluded from this privatisation scheme. The leading Czech newspapers (Mladá fronta, Rudé právo, Večerní Praha, Zemědělské noviny and others), although owned by the state under communism, were confiscated by their respective members of staff. These people set up private companies, abolished the state-owned newspapers and created new ones – with a slightly changed name. This made it possible for them to take over the established trademarks of the papers as well as their subscribers (both were worth large sums of money), claiming that from a legal point of view, their newspapers were new ventures. Thus Mladá fronta became Mladá fronta Dnes, Rudé právo became Právo, Večerní Praha became Večerník Praha, Zemědělské noviny became Zemské noviny, etc.). The editorial staff who thus stole the newspapers they worked on later sold their newly acquired property to foreign owners, making considerable personal profits. The questionable origin of many Czech postcommunist newspapers makes it impossible for them to exercise a proper journalistic role of being a public watchdog.
· Low quality of journalism. Foreign owners interested in profits only. Most communist propagandists had to be sacked from Czech newspapers after 1989 and they were often replaced by young, inexperienced individuals, freshly out of school. The tradition of professional, independent journalism, was broken after 1968 in Czechoslovakia and has not been restored. Právo is now the only Czech newspaper which remains in Czech hands. Most foreign owners of the Czech newspapers are not interested in nurturing investigative journalism, but only in making quick profits. In various newspapers, there is pressure to produce the paper with a minimum of staff at smallest costs possible. All Czech and Moravian regional press has come to be controlled by a German publishing firm which now produces regional newspapers centrally, as though it were a single newspaper, giving each regional newspaper only minor local variations.
· Middle and low brow newspapers only. For most Czech newspapers it is possible to find rough equivalents in the British middle and low brow newspaper market. There is no high quality, serious, independent investigative journalism. Most publicly active intellectuals in the Czech Republic now align themselves with various lobbying groups and/or political movements. The notion of impartiality has not taken root.
· Conventional thinking, sycophancy towards the powerful. Especially in the times of crisis (anti-globalisation protests in Prague in September 2000, the war against Afghanistan subsequent to the attacks on the US on 11th September 2001), the Czech media uncritically support the establishment. This has been particularly conspicuous in the autumn of 2001, when in the war against Afghanistan, most Czech media has uncritically supported the United States and the Pentagon, demonstrating thereby their "being Western and democratic".
· Czech TV – a failure of the concept of public service. Although attempts have been made since the fall of communism to turn the former Czechoslovak Television, a communist propaganda tool, into a public service station, similar to the BBC, these attempts have on the whole failed. Czech Television has remained a large, untransparent, post-communist colossus of some 4000 (unsackable) employees who have resisted professionalisation. In 1993 – 1998, Czech public service Television under Chief Executive Ivo Mathé continued to place emphasis on escapist entertainment. Mathé was a good technical manager and provided the TV station with up to date technology. He did not understand the role of independent news and current affairs in a democratic society and news and current affairs remained undeveloped in his era. After Mathé´s departure, several attempts have been made, since 1998, to professionalise Czech TV, in particular its news and current affairs department and to open up its finances to public scrutiny. (Czech TV is financed by a compulsory licence fee, levied from all television viewers). These attempts have been unsuccessful. In December 2000 – January 2001, an attempt to appoint a former BBC journalist Jiří Hodač Chief Executive of Czech Television resulted in a public rebellion of Czech TV employees who turned an internal labour dispute into a public party political struggle, pretended this was a fight for "freedom of speech" hijacked the television broadcasts for its own propaganda and brought out some 80 000 people to demonstrate in the streets against a "government anti-television coup". After the BBC man, who had planned to open up the finances of Czech TV, was deposed, a new law was introduced by Czech parliament, stipulating that all subsequent Czech TV Chief Executives must be chosen in a selection process which is fully open to the public. In spite of that the new, current Chief Executive of Czech Television, Jiří Balvín, an individual in tune to the internal, fosilised postcommunist ethos of Czech TV, was appointed in November 2001 as a result of a selection which took place in secret. Balvín´s strategy for the future of Czech public service TV is as follows. He said in a recent interview (MFD, 12th November) that he intends to strive for a higher licence fee, in return for this he will reward the viewers with a reworking of a 25-year-old soap opera from the communist times. He also expressed the view that the Main Evening News on Czech TV must be "more dynamic", the opening news item, which is usually three minutes in duration, is "too long".
· Commercial Television – a failure of regulation. The main Czech commercial TV station, Nova Television, started broadcasting in February 1994. This was a joint venture between the American company CME (formerly CEDC), owned by Ronald Lauder, and a group of six Czechs and Slovaks, amongst whom one Vladimír Železný soon came to prominence and became the Chief Executive of the TV station. There were two companies: 1. the licence holder, CET 21, and 2. Nova TV, i.e. the actual TV station (ČNTS, the "Czech Independent Television Station). This group of applicants was awarded a broadcasting licence in 1993 by the regulatory authority for free, for a semi-commercial, educational and cultural TV station. After the licence was awarded, however, the original project was dropped and Železný began to put out tabloid programming, including pornography. The station quickly began making considerable profits. The American company CME wished to strengthen its hold on the television station, so it bought out the the participation interest in ČNTS from the original Czech and Slovak founders of the station, achieving 99 per cent ownership. At the same time CME made it possible for Vladimír Železný to acquire a 60 per cent majority in CET 21, the licence holder, hoping that he would always represent its interests. But from 1998, Železný began, in secret, to act against the interests of CME, so in April 1999, he was sacked from the post of Chief Executive of ČNTS. Železný then found indigenous financial backers in the Czech Republic and in August 1999, he switched the American-backed Nova TV (ČNTS) off the air, replacing it with his own Nova TV Mark 2, funded by Czech money. CME sued Železný and the Czech Republic at the international chamber of commerce in Amsterdam and the Czech side lost. Železný is to re-pay CME 28 million dollars and the Czech Republic is to pay CME 500 million dollars.
2. A brief outline of Czech developments since 1989
(written for the World Encyclopaedia of Censorship)
Return to Democracy: The post-1968 invasion "normalisation" regime existed almost unchanged until 1989. The regime operated by means of shrill propaganda campaigns which deprived society of meaningful public discourse. Although the role of the independent dissident culture and of Western news broadcasts in stimulating a broader public debate was small, from the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion onwards, the Western media, broadcasting in Czech and Slovak, enjoyed in effect an information monopoly in communist Czechoslovakia, the official Czechoslovak media propaganda being so ludicrous that almost no one believed it. However, as a result of Western radio broadcasts, many Czechoslovaks acquired an idealised image of the West and failed to understand that a pluralist debate, not mere anticommunism is the basis of Western democratic societies. At the same time, people had reached an understanding with the communist regime, on the whole adopting themselves to the prevailing political conditions and perfunctorily going along with what the regime demanded of them.
As almost an act of historical revenge on the pro-Soviet collaborators, the first cracks in the totalitarian system in Czechoslovakia appeared because of Gorbachev´s liberalising policies in the Soviet Union. Paradoxically, the Russian-language broadcasts of the first programme of Russian state television, re-transmitted throughout the whole of Czechoslovakia for the benefit of the occupying Russian troops, suddenly included open and hard-hitting political discussions the likes of which could never be broadcast by Czechoslovak television at this time. Soviet newspapers and magazines, originally imported into Czechoslovakia for propaganda purposes and some of them translated into Czech (Sputnik) were suddenly filled with argument which – for the Czechoslovak communist power wielders – was dangerously reminiscent of the Prague Spring of 1968. But the Czechoslovak Communist leaders managed successfully to stall and until 1989, přestavba, the Czech equivalent of Russian perestroika, made little progress. The regime was almost as rigid in 1988 as it had been in 1970.
Nevertheless, the pressures from the outside were increasing. A heavy blow to the regime came towards the end of 1988, when the intense jamming of the Czech and Slovak broadcasts of American funded Radio Free Europe was stopped, on the orders from the Soviet Union. Radio Free Europe was devoting considerable attention to the activities, comments and pronouncements of dissidents within Czechoslovakia, including Václav Havel. With the cessation of the jamming, large numbers of people started following these often dramatic broadcasts, which played a major role throughout the events of 1989.
The Czechoslovak communist authorities tried to suppress student demonstrations in January 1989, marking the twentieth anniversary of Jan Palach´s immolation, and the police acted against public demonstrations at several other times, culminating in a brutal beating of a student demonstration in Prague on 17th November, 1989. A factually incorrect newsitem, which Radio Free Europe had received from a Prague dissident newsservice, said that one of the student demonstrators had been killed. It was the broadcasting of this news-item that triggered large anti-regime demonstrations on Wenceslas Square from the Monday 20th November. These demonstrations led to the collapse of the communist regime and to the formation of a coalition of dissidents, called Civic Forum.
The Czech media freed themselves of censorship approximately within a week. Radio and television news which previously dismissed demonstrations as illegal, began giving full accounts of them. A speech by Alexander Dubček on 25th November 1989 was carried live. In December 1989 libraries were opened up again and banned films were released. A tidal wave of publication by banned authors, many of them previously published in the West, flooded Czechoslovakia from 1990.
The public was first interested in this "forbidden fruit" and the first few titles achieved spectacular printruns, for instance Ivan Klíma´s book of short stories Má veselá jitra (My merry mornings), which had first been brought out by Škvorecký´s 68 Publishers in Canada in 1979, sold 148 000 copies within a few weeks in the spring of 1990. As early as 1991, however, the public got tired of the previously banned works. Klíma´s novel Soudce z milosti (A Judge on Trial), first published in Czech in London in 1986, was printed in Prague in only 15 000 copies in 1991 and several thousand copies remained unsold still years later. A large number of new publishing houses were set up. The average printruns of books stabilised at 1000 – 2000 copies per title by the end of the 1990s. Many writers of middle-of-the road, entertainment literature who published extensively during the communist era could no longer find a publisher in the early years of the post-communist regime. Partially, this was for market reasons, partially for ideological reasons.
After 1989, anticommunism became a potent political force, perhaps because many people felt they had to cover up for the fact that they had concluded a modus vivendi with the pre-1989 communist regime and so they now assumed a radical "right-wing" atttitude. In fact, although Czech politics between 1992-1997 was dominated by "right-wing" rhetoric, many of the government policies were distinctly post-communist and social democratic.
It was difficult for the notion of pluralism to penetrate into the Czech media, which had been decimated during the previous two decades of communist rule. After the fall of communism, many journalists simply switched sides – where they once generated propaganda for the communist regime, they now uncritically supported the anticommunist government. Until the mid-1990s, the mainstream media with the exception of the former communist daily Právo would not criticise the policies of Prime Minister Václav Klaus and would brand anyone who would do so a communist. Some people suffered a publication ban because of their relatives or because of their past. Thus, for instance, in the early 1990s, a Czech specialist in the Baltic countries had to publish his articles in Lidové noviny (People´s Newspaper) under a changed name because he was a grandson of a well-known Stalinist literary ideologue from the 1950s and the appareance of the grandfather´s surname in a democratic newspaper was deemed impermissible (the specialist did not share his grandfather´s political views). Weekly newsmagazines like Respekt (Respect) re-wrote articles to fit their pre-conceived ideological standpoint and suppressed topics which were alien to their political views. In 1992, the Respekt magazine started a campaign against Jan Kavan, a left-wing dissident who had run an emigré news agency Palach Press in London for twenty years, disseminating Czech dissident documentation in the West. Respekt implied without proper evidence that Kavan had been a secret police agent and refused to publish statements by his dissident colleagues (Drahuše Proboštová, etc.) testifying in his defence.
Gradually, an emasculated, conventional, relatively apolitical mainstream view emerged in the majority of Czech newspapers, which was characterised by journalist Bohumil Pečinka in Reflex magazine in the spring of 1999 thus:
"The Czech journalist works within a small-town mentality. In the Czech small town, a mainstream conventional view rules supreme. This conventional view dictates what public opinion should be, it ruthlessly terrorises doubters and forces them to join the mainstream. The Czech small town can usually stand just about one or two individuals with a different experience, but these are merely tolerated ´lunatics´. The small town looks at them with benign superiority. Everyone else is either ruthlessly silenced by a tidal wave of banality or driven out of the small town.
The small town does not hold strong views, right wing or left wing. The small town believes in the unifying official, nationwide view, one conventional truth. You must obey. The small town esteems the mainstream view and will defend it with a remarkable crowd instinct. You will rarely glean any genuine information from Czech newspapers, but they do constantly tell you what is proper for you to think. The moment you open a Czech newspaper, a commentator puts you into a pigeonhole: are you a communist, a coward and a lover of old times? Then you must think this. Are you a democrat, are you intelligent and of a good character? This, then, is your view. You do not want to join either crowd? Forget it, my dear. You are in the Czech Republic. Individualism is not permitted."
As for instance OndřejVaculík testified in Literární noviny in May 2001, many newspapers entered an unwritten agreement not to criticise their media rivals, for fear that they might criticise them: thus serious critical media analysis is on the whole suppressed or rejected.
There are problems with both main Czech nationwide television stations. A downmarket commercial Nova Television, watched by some 50 per cent of the Czech population was founded in 1993 with American money, but its Czech director, Vladimír Železný, took the station away from the American investors in the summer of 1999; the American owners took him to arbitration at the International Chamber of Commerce in Amsterdam, suing him for damages. Železný now relies on an oblique group of Czech financial oligarchs for financing his station and the news broadcasts by Nova TV openly further their business interests. In a regular weekly programme "Call the Director", Železný speaks to the nation in a manipulative manner, often foulmouthing various rivals without granting them the right to reply.
The post-communist public service Czech Television has always had problems with its weak news and current affairs output. Since 1998, there have been four abortive attempts to professionalise the news and current affairs department. The last of these, in December 2000, when the Council for Czech TV appointed a BBC journalist of many years as Chief Executive at Czech Television, resulted in a spectacular rebellion by the news and current affairs department, followed by the whole television station. The new boss planned to introduce professional assessment procedures and wished to open up the internal television finances to public scrutiny. The television rebels turned an internal labour dispute into a conflict between the two main political groupings in the country, won the support of the main opposition grouping, hijacked the programmes of the television station for their own propaganda, alleging that the appointed BBC journalist was politically biased, and used public service television broadcasts to organise mass public protests. Their often crude attacks against their new boss eventually forced the BBC man to resign. The Czech authorities were scared by the power of television and failed to act against the populist rebellion. In the spring of 2001, further reform attempts at Czech public service television were unlikely.
The Czech penal code still contains several remnants of the communist past and the courts occasionally try to sentence people according to these provisions.
Under Article 206 of the Czech Penal Code, slander is a criminal offence, punishable up to two years´ imprisonment and/or by a publication ban. According to Article 260 of the Czech Penal Code, (even verbal) support of "movements whose aim it is to infringe human rights and freedoms which proclaim national, racial, religious and class hatred" is punishable by imprisonment of up to five years, up to eight years if the crime has ben commited in the media, if it has been committed by a member of an organised group or if it has been committed in a state of emergency. According to Article 199 of the Czech Penal Code, the "dissemination of unfounded, alarmist news" is punishable by up to five years´imprisonment.
In 1992, the anti-Semitic journal Politika was closed down and its editor given a seven-month suspended sentence; the pop-group, Braník, was similarly sentenced for "racially defamatory songs". When in 1995, the head of a printing firm was dismissed for producing child pornography, the Association of Printers warned that censorship might have to return to protect them from liability.
In 2000, publisher Michal Zítko was charged under Article 260 for bringing out a Czech translation of Adolf Hitler´s Mein Kampf, but was freed on appeal. By May 2001, his internet bookseller has been found guilty of selling Mein Kampf under the same article, his case had not gone to appeal yet. On 5th November, 2001, the District Court for Prague 7 found Michal Zítko, the publisher of a Czech edition of Adolf Hitler´s Mein Kampf guilty of "supporting movements aiming to limit citizens´ rights and freedoms". Zítko has been given a suspended sentence of three years imprisonment and has been fined 2 million crowns. Zítko has appealed against the decision to a higher court. If the verdict is confirmed and Zítko does not pay the fine, he will have to go to prison for one year. Zítko also is now required to report to a probation officer twice a year to prove that he is leading an orderly life. Zítko published a Czech translation of Mein Kampf in 2000, arguing that he wished to make available the most fundamental ideological texts of 20th century totalitarian regimes so that people could be acquainted with their thinking. He also planned to publish the works of Karl Marx. - In May, 2001 the American lawyer Edward Fagan, who criticised the nuclear power plant in Temelín, South Bohemia, was charged with "disseminating alarmist news" under article 199.
3. Freedom of speech, cronyism, politics and the death of Czech public service television
(written for openDemocracy.net)
During Christmas 2000, employees of public service Czech Television staged a successful rebellion against the appointment of a new Chief Executive, British citizen Jiří Hodač, a journalist who had worked for the Czech service of the BBC for eleven years. Czech television employees accused Hodač of alleged political bias, hijacked the news and current affairs programmes for their own propaganda, won the support of an important opposition political grouping, used television broadcasts to organise mass demonstrations in the centre of Prague and forced the new Chief Executive to give up his appointment in early January 2001. But the rebellion has seriously compromised the integrity of the Czech public service television, casting doubt over the future of public service television broadcasting in the Czech Republic.
Since the fall of communism, Czechoslovakia and then the Czech Republic have experienced difficulties in the sphere of the media, especially in the television industry. Incompetence, nepotism and the impact of vested interests have gone hand in hand with weak media regulation. This applies to both private and public service television.
Under communism, Czechoslovak Television was a state instrument for disseminating propaganda. Since the communist authorities knew well that the population was not particularly interested in its television news and current affairs, it specialised in escapism. Czechoslovak television provided soma to the population: it entertained its viewers with a special brand of undemanding middle of the road non-political programming.
This situation continued practically unchanged after the demise of communism. Ivo Mathé, the Chief Executive of Czech Television in 1992- 1998, primarily financed entertainment and news and current affairs remained neglected.
After the fall of communism, the news and current affairs department faced problems. Communist propagandists had to leave and the newsroom was filled with youngsters. Special difficulties arose in connection with the division of Czechoslovakia at the end of 1992. Prior to that time, federal Czechoslovak Television was the main public service TV station. With the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, the federal TV station was abolished and a small, basically "regional" "Czech TV" assumed dominance. An inexperienced local team which had until then only produced early evening regional news bulletins for Prague and short news bulletins for the second programme started producing nationwide news and current affairs programmes.
Thus Czech TV´s news and current affairs broadcasts assumed the appearance of student television transmissions. The members of staff were primarily guided by their anticommunism, having only weak notions of impartiality and critical detachment. Especially in the first half of the 1990s, Czech public service television supported the right wing government of Václav Klaus and never criticised Czech President Václav Havel. When Klaus´s reform failed in 1997, the Czech television newsroom anticommunists regrouped and started supporting the Freedom Union, which had splintered off from Klaus´s party.
Early in 1998, the Council for Czech Television, then a nine-member body, appointed by Parliament, declared itself unhappy with the inferior quality of news and current affairs on Czech Television. The Council appointed a new chief executive, Jakub Puchalský; Puchalský chose Ivan Kytka as head of the News and Current Affairs team. An experienced journalist, Kytka had worked as London reporter for the Czech News Agency and then Czech Television for many years.
On arrival in Prague, Ivan Kytka tried to professionalise the news and current affairs department and to make it publicly accountable. Above all, he attempted to break the informal decision-making structures within the department, which were typical for Czech television, a large post-communist organisation of some 3000 employees. As a result, he was forced to resign without seven weeks of being appointed. (He now works for the BBC in London.)
This was the first rebellion by employees of Czech Television against external attempts to reform the television station. Kytka was accused of being incapable of communicating with staff, of being incompetent, of being a puppet of the Social Democratic Party and of wanting to subjugate Czech Television to social democratic party control. Similar arguments were used against Hodač two and a half years later.
The story of Ivan Kytka´s abortive attempt to reform the news and current affairs of Czech Television became a matrix which determined the future of Czech TV. After his departure, no senior staff at Czech Television dared to interfere again with the fossilised structures of the news and current affairs department. The Chief Executive Puchalský fought a losing battle within Czech TV and was himself ousted before Christmas 1999. A new Chief Executive, Dušan Chmelíček, was appointed in February 2000. He tried to implement some of Kytka´s reforms, but the news and current affairs department rebelled again. In late spring 2000, Chmelíček appointed BBC man Jiří Hodač to a new post of Director of News. The staff of the news and current affairs department again rebelled and Hodač resigned in August 2000. Henceforth Chmelíček fully succumbed to the internal structures of Czech Television, corrupting them with extra funding.
The Council for Czech Television did not like this - the extra funding meant that Chmelíček brought Czech TV into the red by about ten per cent of its annual budget - , recalled him in December and maybe somewhat clumsily, asserting its authority against the wishes of the informal decision-making structures within Czech TV, quickly appointed Jiří Hodač in his place.
Czech Television exploded. The December 2000 rebellion was led by the news and current affairs department, but was supported by most employees of Czech Television. They and their allies on the outside, actors, broadcasters and independent TV producers, were on the whole alarmed by the "constant changes" and by what they saw as a danger of destabilising of the whole post-communist colossus with all its informal contacts in the private programme making sector which Czech TV sustains.
Czech public service Television is funded by a TV licence fee of some 16 pounds annually. This seems a small sum, but the economics of the Czech Republic are different from the West. The average monthly Czech pay is approximately 220 pounds. (As a percentage of the average monthly pay, the Czech TV licence fee is actually about thirty per cent higher than the British TV licence fee.) The TV licence fee provides some 60 per cent of the overall income of Czech Television, which is approximately 90 million pounds sterling annually (4,95 billion Czech crowns). The remaining forty per cent of income comes from advertising.
An audit, carried out by Price Waterhouse Coopers in May 2001, warned that Czech television lacks appropriate inspection mechanisms for financial flows within the organisation as well as for funds directed to outside contractors. Indeed, the December 2000 rebellion took place (a) because members of the news and current affairs department were afraid they might be replaced by more professional journalists and (b) because Czech TV employees feared that the new Chief Executive would make the internal financial flows transparent. Even today, Czech TV still refuses to provide information even about the cost of its individual programmes, although it is dutibound to do so by law.
The December 2000 TV rebellion was temporarily successful because it was given a political dimension of a struggle against the government and for "freedom of speech" – which was never threatened by any external pressure – in fact, Czech TV journalists have themselves often avoided important political themes which they regarded as untouchable. The rebels managed to turn an internal labour dispute into a nationwide, political crisis, using people´s disenchantment with Václav Klaus´s Civic Democratic Party, which in effect rules the country in coalition with the governing Social Democrats, by means of the so-called "opposition agreement". The rebellion became a vehicle for the opposition politicians from the Freedom Union party to gain political points. It was turned into a political conflict between Havel and Klaus.
Out of frustration, small Czech political parties, which have been shut out of politics by the opposition agreement, especially the Freedom Union, have over the past few years been trying to break into mainstream politics by the back door. In this, they have been using the political philosophy of the Czech President Václav Havel, who has always been close to the Freedom Union.
Cas Mudde, a political scientist from Edinburgh University, has analysed what he calls Václav Havel´s "intellectual populism". Havel and his supporters tend to argue that the Czech ruling political class is corrupt and that power must be taken away from politicians by the morally pure nation. The proponents of this view (who are, paradoxically, themselves politicians) have repeatedly launched various "civic initiatives", the purpose of which it has been to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the political parties in power. These initiatives ("Impulse 99", "Thank you, Leave Now", "the Dřevíč Appeal"), culminated most recently in the rebellion at Czech Television..
The ruling Social Democratic Party had been thoroughly demoralised by its defeat in the Regional and Senat elections which took place in the autumn 2000. As a result, they buckled in face of the TV rebellion and the power of the TV screen to bring tens of thousands of people into the streets. Václav Klaus´s Civic Democratic Party refused to yield to the rebels as much as the Social Democrats and so it bore the brunt of vilification by the Czech TV rebels in their broadcasts.
Thus, as a result of the Christmas 2000 TV rebellion, a certain amount of re-alignment took place on the Czech political scene. Klaus´s Civic Democratic Party seems to have been pushed further towards the margins of Czech politics. The right wing of the Social Democratic Party has become very close to the Freedom Union and has recently announced that they would not mind entering a government coalition with them.
But what has happened since the victory of the television rebels in January 2001? After Jiří Hodač´s resignation on 11th January, the Council for Czech Television which had appointed him was disbanded by parliament – the ruling politicians took fright of a television station which proved that it could organise mass public demonstrations in order to further its own interests, so they punished the Council for acting too independently. A new, temporary Chief Executive was selected by parliament: one Jiří Balvín, a former Czech TV manager who had been sacked in 1998 for financial irregularities. Since assuming his post, Balvín has fully yielded his authority to the television rebels while pretending to parliament that he has been fulfilling its wishes.
Since January 2001, Czech television has broadcast a number of defamatory programmes aimed at discrediting various critics of the Christmas rebellion. The quality of news and current affairs has gone rapidly downhill. Since the rebellion, the audience share for Czech TV seems to have dropped by some twelve per cent. In the first quarter of 2001, audience share for Czech TV 1 was 20, 91 per cent and 7,77 per cent for Czech TV 2, in the first quarter of 2000, the figures were 24, 81 and 7, 82 per cent, in the first quarter of 1999, the figures were 24,28 per cent and 7, 18 per cent.
Early in 2001, Czech parliament hastily approved a new version of the Law on Czech Television, extending the number of future members of the Council from nine to fifteen, and making members of the Council individually recallable, should the Parliament come to dislike them. The new version of the law also stipulated that the meetings of the Council for Czech TV must be open to the public, but when a new Council was eventually elected in June 2001, it started meeting behind closed doors, anyway.
When the TV rebels protested against Hodač in December 2000, one of their arguments was that the then Council for Czech Television was illegitimate, since it had been appointed by parliament and its members had displayed political allegiance to parliamentary political parties. But, in effect, all Councils for Czech TV since the fall of communism had been appointed by parliament in such a way that the balance of power on the Council reflected the momentary balance of power in parliament. The appointment of the latest Council is no exception; it is surprising that the TV rebels have not raised any objections to it. This may be because there are a number of Freedom Union supporters on the new Council.
No television station in the Czech Republic broadcasts impartial news and current affairs. It is a matter of regret that Czech public service Television has discredited itself since the Christmas 2000 rebellion, losing the remnants of its public service status. Some members of the new Council for Czech Television are now openly talking about the need to privatise Czech TV´s main channel, ČT 1, and it would be very difficult to see how the minority cultural channel ČT 2 could survive on its own.
It seems that Czech society lacks the awareness, the knowledge and the will to sustain a quality public service television station. In the long term, the future of Czech Television is in great doubt.
4.What are the main shortcomings of Czech TV's news and current affairs output?
(Excerpted from http://www.britskelisty.cz/9808/19980818e.html#04)
5. The war in Afghanistan: A sample of Main Evening News on Czech (Public Service) Television
(On 15th October, 2001, Czech public service TV devoted the first 4 minutes of its half hour Main Evening News bulletin to the war in Afghanistan. On the same day, BBC 1 devoted the first 12 minutes of its half hour bulletin to the war in Afghanistan in its half-hour main evening news. The topics, covered by the BBC were:
Here is a transcript of the Afghanistan coverage from Czech Television on the same day:
Good evening. (headlines)
(caption, dramatic music) WAR ON TERRORISM
American aircraft continues bombarding the Taliban positions north of Kabul as well as in the south of the country in the Kandahar province, in the centre of this government movement. Fierce fighting is reported between Taliban forces and the units of the Northern Alliance. Its representatives have today called on the United States to stop the bombardment before Ramadan a holy muslim month, which begins in mid November, but to intensify it before then.
The Foreign Minister of the emigre Afghani government Abdullah Abdullah said today that US attacks against the Taliban positions are not sufficient for the destruction of its units on the northern front. Better results would be achieved if frontline positions were to be massively bombarded, said minister Abdullah.
Afghani emigre politicians demand that the so-called "great jirga" be called, a traditional gathering of old men from all the Afghani tribes. This highest, most decisive assembly should choose a new head of state. and a provisional government if Taliban falls. Serious artillery and machine gun fire was reported today from north Afghanistan on the frontline between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban.
The struggle against terrorism continues also in other parts of the world. The international stabilisation forces SFOR in Bosnia have reported that they have broken up an organisation connected to the al Qaeda terrorist network, masterminded by the islamic radical Osama bin Laden. An SFOR spokesperson in Sarajevo refused to reveal the details of the operation. He nevertheless said that it included the arrest of several Bosnians and people from the Middle East.
SFOR never acts without reliable evidence. We have lots of information which we share with the Bosnia-Hercegovina authorities. Thanks to common measures, undertaken by SFOR, NATO and local authorities, we have broken a link to the al Qaeda network in Bosnia and Hercegovina.
With approaching winter, the question of humanitarian help is ever more pressing in Afghanistan. The German organisation Kamanamur distributed help today in a refugee camp near the North Afghani town Khod Bakhadin for more than a thousand refugees. Czech TV´s special correspondent Martin Jazairi in northern Afghanistan says that American airplanes were dropping food parcels in his area.
We have our permanent correspondent Petra Flanderková in Washington. Good evening, Petra. A media war between the Pentagon and Taliban has started about the parcels of humanitarian help for the inhabitants of Afghanistan. Do you have further information?
Petra Flanderková: Allegedly, the Pentagon has received information from three different sources that Taliban is poisoning these parcels of humanitarian help and is poisoning the humanitarian help which is coming to Afghanistan in lorries. Taliban denies this, saying that it would never act against its own people, nevertheless, e- even - reversed information has appeared, namely that Taliban - the Americans are dropping poisoned parcels. I think this is a kind of psychological war of both sides.
And one more question. What is new in the case of anthrax?
Petra Flanderková: In the case of anthrax there is new news that the anthrax which has arrived in the letter sent to the senator Tom Daschle was very sophisticated, was chemically treated, finely ground and according to specialists on bioter- huh - terrorism this could have been done only in the United States, in Iraq or in - - Russia. They however tend to support the view that it has been done in America. There are new cases of anthrax - an employee of the NBC TV station has fallen ill with skin anthrax and anthrax has appeared again in the building - in the Hart building of the Senate where the letter for Senator Tom Daschle arrived ten days ago. One more information from the United States: Former president Bill Clinton has received a parcel, allegedly with salmonella bacteria, but it is not clear whether this case is connected with anthrax.
Petra, thank you.
WAR ON TERRORISM (end caption, dramatic music)
And one more, fresh news item. A few minutes ago, the American Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced that the US will suspend several tests connected with the planned anti-missile defence. Bush´s government thus wishes to avoid infringing the agreement with Russia at the time when both powers are trying for strategic cooperation.
5. From the history of Nova Television
Železný Pulls the Plug on Czech TV Nova
Licence wrangles over Nova TV sees the ch
(Originally published in Central Europe Review http://www.ce-review.org/99/8/culik_late8.html)
On 5 August 1999, the conflict between Vladimir Železný, the licence holder of the most successful Czech commercial Nova TV and its American "service providers" came to a head.
Vladimir Železný and the licence holder CET 21, in which he allegedly holds 60% participation interest, pulled the plug on ČNTS, Česká nezávislá televizní společnost (The Czech independent television company), which is 99 per cent-owned by the Bermuda-registered Central European Media Enterprises (CME) and which until recently was the goose laying golden eggs for this ailing TV broadcasting company. ČNTS was the only CME TV company making substantial profits, which were beingploughed in to subsidise CME's less successful TV ventures in Central and Eastern Europe.
On 5 August, at 6 am in the morning, Železný started his own full-time Nova TV broadcasting from a makeshift studio at the Barrandov Film Studios in Prague. He simply switched ČNTS off the air without warning and on a minor pretext and started to run his own television company as part of his long term plan to free himself from the "accursed Americans". The existing, advertised broadcasting schedules were dropped and Železný put together new programming "on the hop", allegedly broadcasting tapes of old re-runs while the studio was being hastily re-built for the next live chat show.
For the first few days, the new Nova TV broadcasting seems to have been decidedly shaky. Železný and CET 21 have lost the broadcasting rights for some long running, highly popular soaps as well as for some of the staple Nova TV programming. This, however, has not prevented Železný from running these programmes as though he owned them. ČNTS hastaken out an injuction against this, barring for instance, the broadcasting of Nova TV' s current affairs programme Na vlastni oci (With Your Own Eyes), which, according to the letter of the law, can be produced only by ČNTS. It is interesting that the ownership of the Nova TV logo itself is split between ČNTS and CET 21. Železný and CET 21 can use it on the screen but not in the real world. Thus, some argue, if one of Železný's TV reporters stands in the street with a microphone with the Nova TV logo on it, he is breaking the law.
ČNTS was left high and dry when Železný ran his own, decidedly shaky main evening news on 5 August. It was fronted by Nova TV' s popular weatherman, Ray Koranteng and a not very articulate presenter called Lucie Bohryova. In the meantime, ČNTS, deprived of transmitter facilities, could only broadcast its own main evening news on a giant screen, placed on Prague's famous Wenceslas Square. There, the news was watched by a few dozen onlookers, mostly journalists and employees of advertising agencies.
Advertising agencies were also left in a very difficult situation by Železný' s sudden move. ČNTS at an instant found itself in a position where it was unable to fulfil existing advertising contracts. In the meantime Železný' s new broadcasting facility started broadcasting without advertising.
The creation of a new, parallel "Nova TV" and the removal of ČNTS from the air has left many of the employees at Nova TV in a dilemma. A considerable number of broadcasters have, however left ČNTS for the new television station, since they probably feel there is not much point working for a television station which has currently no means of broadcasting to the nation.
ČNTS is feverishly negotiating access to the satelite TV network. It is allegedly also due to join up with a regional commercial TV station, Galaxie, based in Hradec Kralove. Gradually, Galaxie is supposed to extend its terrestrial broadcasting outside the Hradec Kralove region. Soon, it is supposed to be available in Greater Prague. Thus it may be that the Czech Republic will have two different Nova TVs.
The Czech media has been following these developments from an absolutely parochial angle, totally ignoring the international aspects of the whole Železný-CME conflict. The headline in the Prague tabloidBlesk (Lightning), printed on the front page on 6 August, sums it up: "Železný now broadcasts without Vavra." (Vavra being the Czech head of ČNTS.) The tabloids are mostly reflecting the worries of the Czech viewing public that they might be deprived of some of their popular soaps. In Blesk on 12 August, for instance, a worried headline posed the question troubling the nation's mind: "The series in jeopardy: Will Esmeralda be broadcast without Czech dubbing?" - Esmeralda being a cheesy Mexican soap with an avid Czech following. Other periodicals (the weekly Reflex, No 32/1999), followed the "heroic" struggle of the new Železný team to start up the television station anew.
When Železný was interviewed on Czech public service radio last Wednesday by two ill-prepared journalists, he was able, as usual, to manipulate the programme absolutely to his own ends, turning it into one big advertising session for himself. When, at the end of the programme, listeners were invited to phone in, five out of six of them congratulated Železný on "yet another huge success" (these listeners are not preselected by the Czech Radio productionteam).
But will Železný get away with freeing himself from the Americans? It has been the policy of CME not to acquire broadcasting TV licences in the Central and East European countries, in which they have started television stations. CME has always foundlocal allies who obtained the licences, and provided service stations, which produced the programming, for them. Needless to say, most, if not all the advertising profits went to CME.
It goes without saying that the local allies would have been very firmly tied into the whole scheme by CME through fairly watertight contracts. Thus it is well-known that Železný has the duty of absolute loyalty to CME through such contracts. It is because of the alleged infringement of these contracts that Železný is being sued by CME at the International Chamber of Commerce.
However, Železný argues that the current moves are not being undertaken by him at all: they are being undertaken by CET 21. It is not Železný who has taken ČNTS off the air: it is, supposedly, CET 21 which has done this. The fact that Železný owns 60 per cent of CET 21 (if he has not recently sold it to a different consortium as some sources allege) seems to be immaterial in his view.
It will be interesting to see whether an international chamber of commerce will accept the line of reasoning that a company can be fronted by a particular person (in this case Železný), the company may be owned by this person, but the person does not have any duties or liabilities, because all the actions are taken purely by the company.
There is also another serious issue at stake. Železný is acting as though he owns the broadcasting TV licence, which he obtained under false pretences in 1993: he and his five colleagues submitted a project for a relatively high-brow TV station, based on the advice of the British Independent Television Commission (which regulates British commercial TV broadcasting). The moment the licence (worth undoubtedly dozens of millions of dollars) was awarded to the CET 21 consortium for free, Železný and co dropped the original project and went downmarket. Currently all his rather controversial moves are being viewed by the Czech parliamentary media commission and the Council for Radio and TV broadcasting with tacit understanding. According to unconfirmed reports, Železný has managed to win influential Czech politicians to his side by promising them support on his TV station. The situation is rather intricate, but the current absolute silence from the Czech regulatory bodies is deafening. Surely a licence for commercial television broadcasting must not be viewed as private property, owned by one particular rather shady character, who can do whatever he wishes with it. It is a public asset which should be temporarily "loaned" to a particular individual or a group in order to do television broadcasting. As it is, Železný' s TV licence is not permanent and will have to be applied for again in a few year' s time. It is however rather likely that his influence on the Czech media scene will be so strong that no parliamentary body will dare to refuse to renew him the licence.
The whole, rather controversial story, is seriously threatening to damage the international reputation of the Czech Republic. Admittedly, CME are no angels. Nevertheless, they will have a point if they argue that it is unwise to invest in the Czech Republic and it will be all to easy to point out that if you manage to set up a sucessful venture, the local people may well steal it from you with the tacit approval of the Czech powers that be.
16 August 1999
Nova TV: The saga continues
Jobs axed as disputes rage over ownership
(Originally published in Central Europe Review http://www.ce-review.org/99/12/culik12.html)
On Thursday 9 September, CME-owned television "service provider" Česká nezávislá televizní společnost (the Czech Independent Television Company, ČNTS) terminated with immediate effect all its technical and production activities. It wound down its broadcasting of television news via the Internet and made 270 out of 350 of its employees redundant. All of them will receive redundancy payments, as stipulated by law. Some of the sacked employees have been offered jobs by Vladimir Železný and his new television station, CET 21.
Vladimir Železný, former head of CME-owned ČNTS, who controls Nova TV's licence holder, CET 21, fell out with his American investors in the autumn of 1998, when it was found that he was trying to asset strip the company. CME sacked him from the post of chief executive and started proceedings against him at the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris in the spring of 1999. Železný retaliated by setting up a new "service provider," Ceska produkcni, with the help of a new bank loan of more than USD 30 million, which people around him managed to secure in spite of the fact that Železný's assets have been frozen by the courts.
On 5 August 1999, Železný pulled the plug on the CME-owned ČNTS and switched over Nova TV broadcasting to his new set-up, housed at the Prague Barrandov Film Studios (See the author's article"Železný Pulls the Plug on Czech TV Nova"). The value of CME stock on NASDAQ has registered sharp falls.
The Czech authorities, including the Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting, have assumed a very laissez-faire attitude towards the problem, in spite of the fact that CME management and CME shareholders in the United States are accusing Železný, in effect, of stealing the television station from them. Nova TV used to be the most profitable of CME's East European television companies. CME is arguing that Železný was bound by strict loyalty agreements which he has reneged upon. Železný argues that it was not he personally who had pulled the plug on ČNTS, the decision was made by CET 21 (of which he is the majority owner). CME shareholders and management have asked top American lawyer Lloyd Cutler to get involved in the matter. After having written to President Havel, asking him for help (Havel refused to get involved), CME shareholders are trying to persuade the American authorities to complain to the Czech government within the framework of an agreement which protects American investment abroad.
On 31 August 1999, the Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting invited both Vladimir Železný, representing CET 21, and Jan Vavra, representing CME, to its meeting. A group of this committee's members, represented by cameraman Stanislav Milota wantedto take away CET 21's licence for systematically breaking the law by broadcasting allegedly biased and unbalanced programming. However, in a secret ballot, only five out of thirteen councillors present supported this motion. The Council has proved to be uniquely ineffective throughout this whole saga, and it is possible that it will be recalled by Parliament in October.
The media commission of the Czech Parliament has asked the Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting for a statement on the current CME-Železný conflict. The Council refused to commit itself: "As long as the conflict remains on the business level, there is no legal reason for the Council to intercede. However, it is our duty to see that the media law is not being infringed."
But the law has been infringed: CME's ČNTS has tried to continue broadcasting without a licence and Železný's CET 21 has been systematically misusing the weekly programmeCall the Director, fronted by Železný himself, for spreading its own propaganda about the conflict, while denying the other side their right to reply.
Many believe that Železný has been breaking the law for years, but the members of the Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting are afraid to pull the plug on a highly popular downmarket TV station. "What? Should we close down a nationwide TV station just because of one of its programmes might be unsatisfactory," one member of the Council, historian Oldrich Tomek told the Prague-based weekly Respekt.
But there are other allegations raised by the Council regarding Nova's lack of financial transparency, biased news broadcasts and the decrease of programming quality as a result of irregular methods of obtaining programmes. Some seek to investigate the truth behind claims of former Nova staff, for example Martin Manak, who in his book My Mutiny against Nova wrote, "It was the utmost priority that I should damage the Sazka betting company by my television reports."
There is evidence that news reports broadcast on Nova TV were often paid for by interested businesses. But the Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting sees this evidence merely as mud-slinging by the hostile parties. According to Respekt, the Council is fully beholden to the political powers that be.
The Czech Republic is currently governed jointly by the Social Democrats and the Civic Democratic Party, bound together by the so-called "opposition agreement." Historian Tomek told Respekt: "According to my information, one of these two political parties wanted the Council to start proceedings against Železný, the other was against this. Thus no proceedings were initiated."
Železný and CET 21 have published their Letter to the CME Board of Directors on theYahoo Internet pages where small CME investors debate the Nova TV problem. The text is based on manipulative half-truths. A number of laws and regulations are quoted by Železný inaccurately, in order to lend credence to his assertions. As usual, minute, laborious work is needed to disentangle the deception. Železný always assumes that most people will not be able to have such a close up view.
For instance, in the letter Železný maintains that "The Law abolished some of the licence conditions, thus makingit impossible for the regulatory authority to control the service providers. The law also made it impossible that the licence holders should share any of their roles with the service providers."
What in fact happened was that the radio and TV broadcasters, especially CET 21 in tandem with CME, were developing enormous pressure on the regulatory authority to make it abolish all the original quality conditions of the TV licence. This included Condition No. 17, which had given the Council the right to veto any ownership changes in ČNTS and which was abolished at the end of 1996. The law did not say anything at all about "making it impossible that the licence holders should share their roles with the service providers" as Železný's letter states.
Statistics were also falsified in the CET 21 letter, addressed to the CME Board of Management. For instance, the CET 21 letter maintained that CME had invested USD 65 million in the Czech Republic and gained property worth USD 200 million for this. Yet, on 25 January 1997, Vladimir Železný said in his programme Call the Director: "Mr Fertig (the then CEO of CME) and I were counting what the Czech Republic had given those evil American imperialists. CME has invested more than USD 40 million in the Czech Republic over the past three years. So far, they have recouped USD 10 million. CME is a very correct investor."
So, in January 1997 CME had invested USD 40 million and recouped USD 10 million, while now, two years later, it had invested USD 65 million and recouped USD 200 million. Is that realistic? Media analyst Milan Smid has looked at these sums for the Czech Internet daily Britske listy and has come to the conclusion that the real sums are rather different: CME has invested some USD 80 million in the Czech Republic and has recouped approximately USD 120 million to date.
11 September 1999
6. A sample of Main Evening News on Nova Television
(From "Media in the Czech Republic", a lecture at Cambridge University, given in April 1998, see: http://www.britskelisty.cz/9803/19980330k.html)
Here is a sample of a first few minutes of the Main Evening News on Nova TV, broadcast on 26th November 1997:
Male presenter: Good evening. It is half past seven and the Main Evening News is here.
Female presenter: Good evening. The man who several days ago underwent a minor operation is today critically ill at the intensive care unit in the Pilsen Faculty Hospital. Doctors do not know yet whether this might be the disease known as "man-eating streptococcus". In recent years, a similar case occurred in England.
On the spot reporter: According to doctors, a beta-haemolytic streptococcus infected a minor incision in the patient's leg. This streptococcus freely floats through the air and causes common flu. It has fiercely attacked the man's tissues . They are dying. As a result of this massive attack, the man's basic bodily functions have begun to fail.
Interview with a doctor in the hospital: He is currently being treated at the intensive-care unit. We need to support his bodily functions.
On the spot reporter: The medical textbook of infectious diseases does not even mention such aggressive behaviour by the beta-haemolytic streptococcus.
Interview with another doctor: We have managed to isolate the cause of the infection, but we do not know why the streptococcus behaves so aggressively -
On the spot reporter: Doctors are struggling to save the life of the man by treating him with antibiotics. Many of them have not encountered such a seriously life-threatening situation in this type of illness. It will not be until results of special tests are known that the doctors will be able to say exactly, to what extent is this case is or is not connected with the cases of the so-called man-eating streptococci from England.
Male presenter: Last night, a very dangerous repeated offender escaped from the psychiatric hospital in Opava. Although a nationwide hunt for him is currently on, the psychopath has not been recaptured.
Female presenter: The 28-year old Martin Ginter from Ostrava-Hrusov was in detention until June of this year for brutally clubbing to death a man from Bruntal in May. This was not the first time that this offender had been placed in the Opava psychiatric hospital. Yesterday, when he was being transferred to the doctor, he escaped.
Interview with a doctor: It must be said that this is a dangerous, aggressive, violent person, who is currently being prosecuted for grievous bodily harm, which resulted in death.
On the spot reporter: The psychopath may now be anywhere in the Czech Republic. It cannot be ruled out that he has changed his appearance.
Marek Prorok, the editor in chief of Media Monitor, a Western organisation which analyses the output of the media in various countries, wrote in the Slovo daily newspaper on 9th December, 1997 that Nova TV's news coverage breaks down as follows:
·The most frequently reported topic on Nova TV is crime - 13 per cent
·Health issues - 9 per cent
·Accidents and catastrophes - 8 per cent
·Then follow social issues and economic topics.
Politics are reported in terms of personal gossip on Nova, says Prorok. This especially concerns Nova's coverage of President Havel.
Information about Havel, broadcast by TV Nova, can be divided into two categories: personal information and general political information. Nova TV broadcasts three times as many items dealing with Havel's private life than items dealing with Havel's work in politics.
7. A few remarks about Czech newspapers
(Excerpted from http://www.ce-review.org/99/8/culik8.html)
It is fairly easy to gather examples of superficial, majority, small town view from the Czech media. On 7 April 1999, The Guardian quoted a Lidové noviny commentary on the Yugoslav war: "Well, it now seems that NATO is to be blamed for the Serbian atrocities. Who dared to say something like this? This excellent sentiment comes from Egon Lansky, a Deputy Premier of the Czech Republic. By saying this, he has ridiculed not just himself, but all of Czech society. It looks as though Lansky is not a minister in the government of a NATO member country, but a Serbian propaganda agent."
This is a good example of how Czech newspapers force a collectivist, conventional, thoughtless small-town mainstream interpretation. At the same time as the Lidove noviny article appeared, the Economist ran a large headline on its front page: "Kosovar refugees: Who is to blame? Milosevic or NATO?"
The following excerpt from an analysis by Tomáš Pecina, which was published in Britské listy on 1 February 1999 and subsequently in Gazeta wyborcza (in its Central European Supplement) on 26 February 1999, sheds some light on the spectrum of media which currently exists on the Czech scene: "Mladá fronta Dnes (MfD)is a typical product of stereotyped journalistic thinking. It is a daily which conforms in every way to the demands of the 'small Czech man.' The articles are short, the commentaries without ambition; both are generally simple-minded, predictable and repetitive. The editorial staff is very careful not to print anything that would disrupt the stereotypical vision of the world which is constantly being reinforced in the reader. A reading of Mladá fronta Dnes holds no surprises and is the exact opposite of an intellectual adventure: it is a daily message from a stereotyped journalist to a stereotyped reader. It is a ritual in which the reader makes sure that he thinks the same way as the rest of the nation and is therefore 'normal.'
Lidoveé noviny, a newspaper of noble pre-war and samizdat origin, is more ambitious. This newspaper courts the middle-class reader. It devotes a certain amount of space to the arts. Its commentaries are more varied, longer and more thought out than in MfD. But, the newspaper openly pursues what it sees as a right-wing line. This produces a comic effect: no matter what its political editorials are about, they must always end with a condemnation of the government of Milos Zeman's socialists - Carthage must be destroyed. The intellectual emphasis in Lidové noviny also leads to the self-destructive practice of publishing 'recognised' authors, regardless of whether their texts are any good.
Právo is a newspaper that has developed from the infamous Communist party daily Rudé právo. Like Mladá fronta Dnes, it was privatised by the editorial staff through asset stripping. The editors of Právo, however, have not yet gone through a stage of 'right-wing' intoxication, and so Právo's commentaries are more matter of fact, more objective and more analytical than the material published in Mladá fronta Dnes and Lidové noviny. But the newspaper tends to tow the party line of the Social Democrats and has firm ideological limitations. Thus, in autumn of 1998, Pravo underwent the greatest disgrace that a newspaper in a democratic country can suffer: Prime Minister Milos Zeman praised it and recommended it as suitable reading to the members of his political party.
(Excerpted from http://www.britskelisty.cz/9803/19980330k.html)
Until 1996-1997, many Czech newspapers were proud to follow the government line. They adopted a pseudo right-wing ideology, which had many surviving communist features.
Czech journalist and commentator, Jiří Hanák, now working forPrávo, gave a number of reasons in Kmit magazine (which deals with media matters), why many Czech journalists followed uncritically the government line:
First, it is a matter of habit. Most journalists, currently working for Czech newspapers, also worked for them under communism. They are used to communist ways. Under the former regime, they did not need independent thinking, faith in their own judgment or an ability to run risks. Such qualities would have threatened their jobs. These journalists know even now that if they support the 'powers that be', life will be easier.
Second, laziness. It is much easier to produce a servile newspaper than a critical newspaper. The Czechs have always regarded as pleasant to bask in the heat radiated by the powerful.
Third, the younger generation in the Czech Republic has fallen prey to ideology. These market oriented young Stalinists have been given a new God. They worship him using a rite from the communist past. These young people see any criticism of the government as an assault on democracy.
Fourth, there exists, in the Czech Republic today, a group of (pseudo)intellectuals, who had collaborated with the communist regime more intensely than was customary. These people have tried to overcome their past by dramatically switching sides. They want to be as right wing as possible, more pro-government than anyone else, more intolerant than anyone else. The influence of these people in many newspapers is strongly felt. Western owners of Czech newspapers, unacquainted in greater detail with the situation in a post-communist country, have often given a free editorial hand to these individuals in the Czech Republic.
Fifth, pragmatic calculation. After the 1992 elections, which was won by the Civic Democratic Party, the Czech newspapers realised that the Civic Democratic Party was likely to rule the country for eight long years. Thus Czech newspapers switched to the side of the government, as ever. Should the Social Democratic opposition win the forthcoming elections, it is highly likely that Czech newspapers will stick to their long tradition of servility. For fifty years, Czech journalists have obediently served the owner of their papers and the powers that be, no matter what they were like and what they demanded.
V. G. Baleanu, in his study Mass Media in the Post Communist East-Central Europe, published by the Conflict Studies Research Centre of the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst, UK, states that "for the time being the standards of the Czech media are still low, not only because comprehensive programmes able to examine official policies and attitudes in depth are rare, but also because the majority of socio-political programmes simply accept the official positions or simply attack them without any kind of analysis."
8. Two comparisons:
(Excerpted from Central Europe Review, http://www.ce-review.org)
On Monday 12 July 1999, The Guardian published the following:
UN attacks growing gulf between rich and poor
The combined wealth of the world's three richest families is greater than the annual income of 600m people in the least developed countries, according to a United Nations report out today, and a "grotesque" gap between the rich and poor is widening. Economic globalisation is creating a dangerous polarisation between multi-billionaires like Microsoft's Bill Gates, the Walton family who own the Wal-Mart empire, and the Sultan of Brunei - who have a combined worth of $135bn - and the millions who have been left behind, the UN's annual human development report states.
In the report, Ted Turner, the billionaire who owns CNN, says: "Globalisation is in fast forward, and the world's ability to understand and react to it is in slow motion."
The UN is calling for a rewriting of global economic rules to avoid inequalities between poor countries and wealthy individuals. It also wants a more representative system of global governance to buffer the effects of a "boom and bust" economy.
UN figures show that over the last four years, the world's 200 richest people have doubled their wealth to more than $1 trillion. The number of people living on less than a dollar a day has remained unchanged at 1.3 bn.
"Global inequalities in income and living standards have reached grotesque proportions," the report says.
Thirty years ago, the gap between the richest fifth of the world' s people and the poorest stood at 30 to 1. By 1990 it had widened to 60 to 1 and today it stands at 74 to 1.
In terms of consumption, the richest fifth account for 86% while the bottom fifth account for just 1%. Almost 75% of the world' s telephone lines - essential for new technologies like the net - are in the west, yet it has just 17% of the world' s population.
Canada ranks number one once again for quality of life, according to the UN's index of human development. War ravaged Sierra Leone stays bottom of the league table. The UK has moved up four places in the table to number ten, beating France into 11th place.
Globalisation is now more than just the flow of money and trade, the report says. The world's people are growing ever more interdependent as the amount of space and time available to them decreases.
Even a seemingly isolated event, like the devaluation of the Thai baht in July 1997, can spark a global financial panic. The UN estimates that the current global economic difficulties will wipe $2 trillion off annual world output between 1998 and 2000.
"The world is rushing headlong into greater integration, driven mostly by a philosophy of market profitability and economic efficiency," says the report's main author, Richard Jolly. "We must bring human development and social protection into the equation."
Breakthroughs like the internet can offer a fast track to growth, but at present only the rich and educated benefit. Of the net's users, 88% live in the west, says the report, adding: "The literally well connected have an overpowering advantage over the unconnected poor, whose voices and concerns are being left out of the global conversation."
Among the biggest beneficiaries of globalisation are criminals, who can now exploit world wide markets for drugs, arms and prostitutes.
Underworld bosses now command organisations with the global reach of multinational companies and six major international crime syndicates are believe to gross $1.5 trillion annually from the proceeds of crime.
"They are now developing strategic alliances linked in a global network, reaping the benefits of globalisation," the report warns.
To counter the downside of globalisation, the UN makes a number of recommendations, including an international forum of business, trade unions and environmental and development groups to counter the dominance of the G7 in global decision making; a code of conduct for multinationals" and the creation of an international legal centre to help poor countries conduct global trade negotiations.
On Tuesday 13 July, 1999, the Czech daily Mladá fronta dnes (MFD) published the following
One lives best in Canada, the Czech Republic is in the thirties
Prague, New York - Canadians live best (1), then follow the Norwegians, the Americans and the Japanese. This is at least what is maintained by yesterday's UN report (2) on human development. The Czech Republic has found itself in the 36th place (3) in the list of 174 countries of the world and in comparison with last year it has bettered itself by three rungs.(4) Of the East European countries we (5) have been overtaken by three places only by Slovenia, while Slovakia is 42nd, Poland 44th and Hungary 47th. Of our other neighbours, the fourteenth position belongs to the Germans and the Austrians are the sixteenth.
The report, which is published by the United Nations regularly every year, takes as a point of departure the data on how people in the individual countries live: how their health and education are taken care of, how much they earn or perhaps how many years men or women will probably live to see, and a lot of other information, which taken together speaks of lifestyle and the quality of life. (6)
"It is the aim of the report in the current debate on globalisation to lay emphasis on human worries and interests, not to concentrate only on financial flows," says Richard Jolly, one of the authors of the UN report.
And so what, in fact, then is life on earth like, especially since, in October, already the number of its inhabitants will exceed six billion? Do people live better on earth or the other way about? (7) Throughout the whole world, even now, the gap between the rich and poor is broadening relatively quickly, while these differences are also deepened by technological progress connected with the continuing information revolution. (8)
The richest two hundred people of the world are getting ever richer: only between the years 1994 and 1998 they doubled their wealth. "They have more money than the sum of the incomes of the poorest 40 percent of the world's population," says Jolly. (9) The differences in incomes between the five richest countries and the fivesome of those poorest - African - states, which for instance in 1960 were at a ratio of thirty to one, have grown in 1997 to seventy four to one. (10)
Only what Tanzania (which is on the whole in the 156th place) pays in interest for its earlier loans exceeds by nine times its expenses on healthcare and four times the sums devoted to elementary schooling. Only one fifth of the world's population lives in the countries with the highest incomes, and at the same in these countries, 86 percent of the world gross domestic product and 68 percent of direct foreign investment is produced. (sic) And they control 74 percent of all telephone lines on the planet, as well as 97 percent of patents, existing in the world.
The report uses statistics to show that, for instance, high income is not always a necessary condition for the condition of women in society. (sic!) The Czech Republic, Slovenia and the Bahamas offer better conditions for women than would be expected by their incomes. This is according to the report an illustration of the fact that "equality may be achieved in varying cultures". Only 33 countries in the overall number of 174 recorded an annual growth of at least three percent per capita in 1980 - 1996.
During this period, per capita growth fell in 59 countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and in the former Communist countries, including the former Soviet Union. Among other things, the report also deals with organised crime. It estimates that the world's illegal trade in drugs achieved a turnover of about $ 400 bn in 1995, which is more than the share of iron, steel and car industry in the world (sic!) (13) One of the possible indices of the quality of life is also tourism: whereas 260 million people were tourists at some point in 1980, by 1996, that figure was already 590 million.
As the Reuters agency has noted, even in the framework of rich countries there exist considerable disproportions. For instance, life expectancy in Denmark is 76 years, but 13 percent of the Danish population will not live to see the age of sixty. In Ireland 23 percent of the inhabitants are functionally illiterate, and in the super rich United States almost one fifth of the population lives below the local poverty level. Britain, Ireland and the USA hold a higher share of poor people than other industrialised countries.(11)
The richest part of the world now already lives fully by the information revolution, which again is for those poorest countries almost inaccessible. Several numbers speak eloquently about this: in 1930, a three minute telephone call from New York to London cost 245 dollars (in 1990 dollars); last year's price was only 35 cents.(12)
The annual report has been compiled for ten years now by a large team, at the head of which stands Mark Malloch Brown, the director of this programme of the world organisation, and Richard Jolly, the main co-ordinator of the report. Apart from the fifteen authors of the individual parts of the report, more than thirty consultants participate in its final form. They obtain information about the situation in the individual countries both from official government as well as from independent sources and from miscellaneous international institutions including organisations within the framework of the United Nations. The report originates in such a way that the authors gather together a large amount of statistical data. To these they then add background material from foremost specialists in social affairs and also the results of the work of the whole team, which in the course of the year gathers together information about developments all over the world. The first version is background material for a discussion. New, more topical data are being continually included, and when it is necessary, additional sources are used. The report is then printed in more then 100,000 copies in ten different languages. (15).
Pavel Posusta, Milan Kruml
How does MFD deal with this topic? Let us look at some of the numbered point I have noted in the text.
Excessive interest in wealth
1. MFD is excessively interested in rich people without trying to understand the reasons which lead to wealth creation and without being able to consider actions which could stimulate wealth creation. The Guardian notes (not at the beginning of the article) that Canada is seen as the most advanced country of the world from the point of view of the human development index, but it ignores the countries in the second and third place. MFD is primarily interested in who is rich.
The Guardian is primarily interested in who is poor and in the drastic, ever-growing gap between the rich and poor in today's world - which is, in fact, the main thrust of the UN human development report.
No one is an authority
2. In the relativist environment of the Czech Republic, facts are undermined: there is no respected authority. MFD casts doubt on the validity of the report in the second line of its article:
"This is at least what is maintained by yesterday's UN report..."
What does the world think about the Czech Republic?
3. Czech journalists are primarily interested in what "the world" is a thinking about the Czech Republic. The information about how the Czech Republic has fared in the UN development report is given straight away, in the third sentence of the MFD article, as the second most important piece of information (immediately after we have been told who is the richest in the world.)
The Guardian, a British paper, does not tell its readers about the position of Great Britain until the sixteenth sentence, in the ninth paragraph of the article. The Guardian regards other information - a global view, an anticipation and an analysis of world trends - as more important than "who has won."
Czech journalists often use metaphorsm usually to introduce an implicit emotional context into their reporting. In the examined article, there is one instance of this practice.
MFD writes that "The Czech Republic has... bettered itself by three rungs..." on an imaginary ladder. The Guardian simply states that "The UK has moved up four places in the table."
"Our" instead of "Czech"
5. Czech journalists frequently replace the objective word "Czech" with the emotionally charged, implicitly nationalist "ours."
Of the East European countries only Slovenia overtook us..."
"The UK has moved up four places in the table to number ten, beating France into 11th place..."
MFD characterises the UN report in too many words:
"The report, which is published by the United Nations regularly every year, takes as a point of departure the data on how people in the individual countries live: how their health and education are taken care of, how much they earn or perhaps how many years men or women will probably live to see, and a lot of other information, which taken together speaks about lifestyle and the quality of life."
The Guardian just calls it a "human development report."
7. The sentences between references (6) and (7) are empty padding.
"And so what, in fact, then is life on earth like, especially since, in October, already the number of its inhabitants will exceed six billion? Do people live better on earth or the other way about?"
The quotation from Richard Jolly is unnecessary - it repeats what was said earlier:
"It is the aim of the report in the current debate on globalisation to lay emphasis on human worries and interests, not to concentrate only on financial flows."
But The Guardian quote from Richard Jolly is relevant. What he says there is related to his words in MFD, but it is expressed more clearly:
"The world is rushing headlong into greater integration, driven mostly by a philosophy of market profitability and economic efficiency. We must bring human development and social protection into the equation."
Lots of little words
8. Only a third of the way through does MFD reach what should have been the main point of the whole article - and should have been in the first sentence or in the title:
"Throughout the whole world the gap between the rich and poor is broadening relatively quickly"
Compare the headline in The Guardian: "UN attacks growing gulf between rich and poor"
In fact the growth in equality has been from 30:1 in 1969 to 74:1 now.
However, Czech authors tend to qualify their own direct statements – hence "relatively quickly".
Love of statistics
9. The authors of the MFD article present a lot of statistics rather confusingly:
"The richest two hundred people of the world are getting ever richer: only between the years 1994 and 1998 they doubled their wealth. 'They have more money than is the sum of the incomes of the poorest 40 percent of the world's population,' says Jolly."
Compare how the same data are presented by The Guardian:
"Over the last four years, the world's 200 richest people have doubled their wealth to more than $1 trillion. The number of people living on less than a dollar a day has remained unchanged at 1.3bn."
10. There is also a problem with the next MFD formulation. Apart from the general opaqueness and numbers given in words, the reader will stumble over superfluous little words such as "for instance":
"The differences in incomes between the five richest countries and the fivesome of those poorest - African - states, which, for instance, in 1960, were at a ratio of thirty to one, have grown in 1997 to seventy four to one."
Let us compare it with a formulation from The Guardian:
"Thirty years ago, the gap between the richest fifth of the world's people and the poorest stood at 30 to 1. By 1990, it had widened to 60 to 1 and today it stands at 74 to 1."
11. The next part of the MFD article is an "information tornado," as the Czech Prime Minister would undoubtedly put it. The reader is bombarded with data.
"Only what Tanzania (which is on the whole in the 156th place) pays in interest for its earlier loans exceeds by nine times its expenses on healthcare and four times the sums devoted to elementary schooling. Only one fifth of the world's population lives in the countries with the highest incomes, and at the same in these countries, 86 percent of the world gross domestic product and 68 percent of direct foreign investment is produced. And they control 74 percent of all telephone lines on the planet, as well as 97 percent of patents, existing in the world.
The report uses statistics to show that for instance high income is not always a necessary condition for the condition of women in society. The Czech Republic, Slovenia and the Bahamas offer better conditions for women than could be expected according to their incomes. This is according to the report an illustration of the fact that "equality may be achieved in varying cultures". Only 33 countries in the overall number of 174 recorded an annual growth of at least three percent per capita in 1980 - 1996.
During this period per capita growth fell in 59 countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and in the former communist countries, including the former Soviet Union. Among other things, the report also deals with organised crime. It estimates that the world illegal trade with drugs achieved a turnover of about $ 400 bn in 1995, which is more than the share of iron, steel and car industry in the world. One of the possible indices of the quality of life is also tourism: if tourist exchange concerned 260 million people in 1980, in 1996 it was already 590 million.
As the Reuters agency has noticed, even in the framework of rich countries there exist considerable disproportions. For instance if life expectancy in Denmark is 76 years, thirteen percent of the Danish population will not live to see the age of sixty. In Ireland 23 percent of the inhabitants are functionally illiterate and in the super rich United States almost one fifth of the population lives below the local poverty level. After all, Britain, Ireland and the USA indicate a higher share of poor people than the other industrialised countries."
Czech newspapers tend to present statistics instead of analysis.
Information technology and prospects for the future
The only mention of the current information revolution and its impact on the economy in MFD is this:
"The richest part of the world now already lives fully by the information revolution, which again is for those poorest countries almost inaccessible. Several numbers speak eloquently about this: in 1930, a three minute telephone call from New York to London cost 245 dollars (in 1990 dollars), but last year's price was only 35 cents."
Is the decrease of telephone charges without any further explanation the most important thing to say about the current situation?
Let us compare this passage with The Guardian:
"Breakthroughs like the internet can offer a fast track to growth, but at present, only the rich and educated benefit. Of the net's users, 88 % live in the west, says the report, adding: 'The literally well connected have an overpowering advantage over the unconnected poor, whose voices and concerns are being left out of the global conversation.'"
International crime – data versus analysis
"Among other things, the report also deals with organised crime. It estimates that the world illegal trade in drugs achieved a turnover of about $ 400 bn in 1995, which is more than the share of iron, steel and car industry in the world."
"Among the biggest beneficiaries of globalisation are criminals, who can now exploit world wide markets for drugs, arms and prostitutes.
Underworld bosses now command organisations with the global reach of multinational companies, and six major international crime syndicates are believe to gross $1.5 trillion annually from the proceeds of crime.
'They are now developing strategic alliances linked in a global network, reaping the benefits of globalisation,' the report warns."
14. The information about who wrote the UN report, how the report is compiled, the number of copies and in how many languages it is published is not very relevant. A reporter should be able to select information and interpret it.
MFD has failed to mention any of the recommendations of the report. In order to learn about these, we need to refer to The Guardian. MFD has not reported that the UN recommends the setting up of an international legal centre for business negotiations of poor countries in the international business arena, although such legal aid would be helpful for also for the economy of the Czech Republic.
This is what The Guardian has written and what MFD has omitted:
"To counter the downside of globalisation, the UN makes a number of recommendations, including an international forum of business, trade unions and environmental and development groups to counter the dominance of the G7 in global decision making; a code of conduct for multinations" and the creation of an international legal centre to help poor countries conduct global trade negotiations."
B. The Observer and Mladá fronta Dnes
Let us compare the coverage of the war against Osama bin Laden in the aftermath of 11th September in the Observer weekly and Mladá fronta Dnes.
On Sunday, 14th October, the Observer published this article on the front page:
Iraq 'behind US anthrax outbreaks'
Their inquiries are adding to what US hawks say is a growing mass of evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved, possibly indirectly, with the 11 September hijackers.
If investigators' fears are confirmed - and sceptics fear American hawks could be publicising the claim to press their case for strikes against Iraq - the pressure now building among senior Pentagon and White House officials in Washington for an attack may become irresistible.
Plans have been discussed among Pentagon strategists for US air strike support for armed insurrections against Saddam by rebel Kurds in the north and Shia Muslims in the south with a promise of American ground troops to protect the oilfields of Basra.
Contact has already been made with an Iraqi opposition group based in London with a view to installing its members as a future government in Baghdad.
Leading US intelligence sources, involved with both the CIA and the Defence Department, told The Observer that the 'giveaway' which suggests a state sponsor for the anthrax cases is that the victims in Florida were afflicted with the airborne form of the disease.
'Making anthrax, on its own, isn't so difficult,' one senior US intelligence source said. 'But it only begins to become effective as a biological weapon if they can be made the right size to breathe in. If you can't get airborne infectivity, you can't use it as a weapon. That is extremely difficult. There is very little leeway. Most spores are either too big to be suspended in air, or too small to lodge on the lining of the lungs.'
As claims about an Iraqi link grew, senior health officials in Britain revealed they warned all the country's GPs last week to be vigilant about the disease. 'I think we have to be prepared to think the unthinkable,' said the Government's Chief Medical Officer, Dr Liam Donaldson. The Department of Health confirmed the Government is conducting an urgent review of Britain's ability to cope with chemical or biological attacks.
It also emerged last night that three people who worked in the Florida buildings at the centre of anthrax scares are now in the UK and undergoing tests for the disease. And in America a letter sent from Malaysia to a Microsoft office was found to contain traces of anthrax.
In liquid form, anthrax is useless - droplets would fall to the ground, rather than staying suspended in the air to be breathed by victims. Making powder needs repeated washings in huge centrifuges, followed by intensive drying, which requires sealed environments. The technology would cost millions.
US intelligence believes Iraq has the technology and supplies of anthrax suitable for terrorist use. 'They aren't making this stuff in caves in Afghanistan,' the CIA source said. 'This is prima facie evidence of the involvement of a state intelligence agency. Maybe Iran has the capability. But it doesn't look likely politically. That leaves Iraq.'
Scientists investigating the attacks say the bacteria used is similar to the 'Ames strain' of anthrax originally cultivated at Iowa State University in the 1950s and later given to labs throughout the world, including Iraq.
According to sources in the Bush administration, investigators are talking to Egyptian authorities who say members of the al-Qaida network, detained and interrogated in Cairo, had obtained phials of anthrax in the Czech Republic.
Last autumn Mohamed Atta is said by US intelligence officials to have met in Prague an agent from Iraqi intelligence called Ahmed Samir al-Ahani, a former consul later expelled by the Czechs for activities not compatible with his diplomatic mission.
The Czechs are also examining the possibility that Atta met a former director of Saddam's external secret services, Farouk Hijazi, at a second meeting in the spring. Hijazi is known to have met Bin Laden.
It was confirmed yesterday that Jim Woolsey, CIA director from 1993 to 1996, recently visited London on behalf of the hawkish Defence Department to 'firm up' other evidence of Iraqi involvement in 11 September.
Some observers fear linking Saddam to the terrorist attacks is part of an agenda being driven by US hawks eager to broaden the war to include Iraq, a move being resisted by the British government.
The hawks winning the ear of President Bush is assembled around Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, and a think tank, the Defence Policy Advisory Board, dubbed the 'Wolfowitz cabal'.
Their strategy to target Iraq was hammered out at a two-day seminar in September, of which the dovish Secretary of State Colin Powell had no knowledge.
The result was a letter to President Bush urging the removal of Saddam as a precondition to the war. 'Failure to undertake such an effort,' it said, 'will constitute a decisive surrender in the war against terrorism'.
In a swipe at Powell's premium on coalition-building, it continues: 'coalition building has run amok. The point about a coalition is "can it achieve the right purpose?" not "can you get a lot of members?"'
Administration officials close to the group told The Observer : 'We see this war as one against the virus of terrorism. If you have bone marrow cancer, it's not enough to just cut off the patient's foot. You have to do the complete course of chemotherapy. And if that means embarking on the next Hundred Years' War, that's what we're doing.'
On Monday, 15th October, the Mladá fronta Dnes published this main article on the war against terrorism:
The Whole World is Afraid of Anthrax
Mladá fronta Dnes, 15th October 2001:
In the United States, in Britain, but also almost all over the world fears are growing from further terrorist attacks as revenge against the continuing assaults against Afghanistan.
The fears of the Americans were heighetened on Saturday by five more positive anthrax tests, carried out on people working for American Media, Inc. in Florida. This is where the editor of The Sun weekly also worked who died of anthrax last week. In all, eight cases of anthrax have been reported from Florida, a further case of anthrax was recorded in New York, where Erin O´Connor, an employee of the NBC central editorial offices in New York was affected. An anthrax test of a letter, sent to the Microsoft firm in Reno, Nevada, from Malaysia, also has proved positive.
"I would not be surprised if the instances of anthrax infection were the work of the terrorist network of Osama bin Laden," said US vicepresident Dick Cheney on Saturday. The US health minister Tommy Thomspon said that if the spreading of anthrax through the mail is confirmed, this is obvious terrorism, but does not necessarily need to be connected with the al Qaeda terrorist organisation.
Fear of possible infection has produced panic in many places in the world.
A part of the airport in Sydney, Australia, was evacuated after a box with suspicious powder was found. Five people in Genoa, Italy, ended up in hospital after coming in contact with a threatening letter. The police found that it was a joke. Suspect letters were also received by people in Germany and in Belgium. The presence of the infection has however not been confirmed. Czech firemen acted against white powder also in Fetrovská Street in Prague 5. Analysis proved that the powder was flour.
Fear of anthrax spreads throughout the world
Although anthrax infection, which could be used by terrorists as a revenge for attacks in Afghanistan, has been confirmed only in the US, fear of anthrax is spreading in many parts of the world.
The greatest fear spreads in Britain which takes part in the American attacks. Yesterday, panic broke out in the very centre of Church of England – in Canterbury Cathedral in South East England. Believers had to leave the shrine when an employee announced that a man poured out some white powder in the chapel.
A team of rescue workers in protective clothing removed the powder and sent it for analysis.
Hundreds of individuals were evacuated on Saturday night from several London restaurants after several people became sick at Enfield Chase, a London railway station. The British police reported the chemical incident, saying that it did not think "this was a terrorist attack".
Fear of a biological attack has hit also the other side of the world.
A part of the arrivals hall at the airport in Sydney, Australia, was evacuated yesterday because a box with suspect powder in it was found there. The Australian government said that it revised its defence plans for chemical and biological weapons attack after 11th September.
The Belgian authorities reported a find of six letters with a contents which could be regarded as anthrax. Preliminary tests showed that this was a practical joke.
Within the framework of improving security arrangements for terrorist acts, the German Civil Defence has activated a new satellite early warning system. Through this system, nationwide and region crisis centres and the population will be warned by radio before impending danger. The warning will be sounded within 20 seconds.