Former Czech President Václav Havel, in one of his New Year’s addresses, said: “I’m proud of the fact that in the Czech Republicthere is no yellow or malignant journalism hunting for sensations, but instead there are journalists who, in spite of danger, cover openly and impartially the dark corners of politics.”
To one of the lectures dedicated to Georgian and Abkhazian journalists, the Prague Independent Media Trainers Association (PIMTA) representatives invited Andrei Fozikosh, an editor, publicist and media-expert. Fozikosh, who had drawn our attention by acquainting us with the degrees of media freedom, pensively remarked that Czech Republic has descended from the 8th to 14th position. In the Post-Soviet Area, the Republic of Estonia has by far the best ranking, that is the 3rd position. Whereas Georgia ranks 104, he said. He encouraged us at this point though by saying that Russia, Azerbaijan, and a number of Asian countries are falling behind us, in this rating. One would rather be closer to the Czech Republic,- we friendly exchanged in Georgian. This rating is compiled of the different components - legislation, editorial freedom, journalist impartiality and objectivity, secure environment and many more.
The Press Law was already being exercised in the Czech Republic at the time the country was the part of the Austria-Hungary Empire. As Andrei Fozikosh says, one particular article of that law, that is the right of reply, was transferred to all of the subsequent laws. The publishers must provide any media related person with the right of reply, that can be used on one occasion only. There is no unified ethical code in the Czech Republic, everything is under control of legislation. There is so called Journalists’ Syndicate though, established for the purpose of defending the rights of their fellow journalists.
Fozikosh took his time speaking about the legislation, - Yet in 1968, when the paragraph about the inadmissibility of the censorship was introduced to the Press Law. The censorship was perceived as interference by state institutions in media activities. Shortly after the laws were amended, and as of announced those regulations weren’t applied to the law enforcement and judicial bodies. Until 1968 the journalists had inner freedom, Fozikosh continues, but the increase of Soviet influence marks the era of auto-censorship, that is to say, a self-censorship- this term is apparently familiar to Georgian media, isn’t it?
From 1997, the dissident movement gathers its momentum in Prague, Václav Havel’s Freedom Charter being passed from hand to hand had an impact on journalism. One of the newspapers even ventured to publish birthday greetings for Mr. Havel. By the time Czechs had already felt the scent of changes in the air, and weren’t mistaken. The new press law comes into effect soon after the Velvet Revolution 1989. All the restrictions are removed and the law in fact returns to its initial framework of 1968 - Fozikosh adds.
One more relevant detail is that, nowadays, editor is a person responsible for the material published in the press of any kind. The majority of the editions are currently held by German businessmen. The media-expert surmises that those businessman could have behind-the-scene relations with the political spectrum, which makes a room for possible manipulations, but still the business plays key role. The parties rejected their editions after the revolution. The Communist’s Newspaper is nowadays the only party press functioning in the Czech Republic. The rest of the media, except for the Public Broadcasting, is private property. In the next letter I’ll go more into detail about the public broadcaster and radio. Now about the subject of interest for Georgia, that has turned out for us both unexpected and surprising.
How is the Public Broadcaster financed? It isn’t financed directly from the budget. According to Fozikosh, Czechs have special accounts for the radio and television payments. About 3 million families, out of the 10-million population, have got TV sets. Thus, the television fee amounts to 100 crowns (approximately USD 5). The radio fee is 40 crowns, paid by every vehicle driver. It doesn’t matter whether you do or do not watch the Public Broadcaster, you have to pay for it anyway. In case of not having a TV set, a person should submit the appropriate application, though he will be inspected on a permanent basis. It was hard at the beginning to get those fees paid. The settlement of the issue was then commissioned to a law firm that amnestied all the subscribers with arrears, and hence succeeded. The majority of the population pays those payments that bring losses to the hotels, as every room has a TV, and it all has to be paid,-explained Fozikosh. Frank Williams joined the conversation in the meantime and surprised us even further (Frank has been the chief editor of BBC for many years, later he was the deputy director of Radio Liberty Russian Service). He says he hasn’t got a TV set at home in Britain, but there also is similar payment, with even greater tariff. - They inspected me many times, and I demanded the legal permission. Later they began using the radar sets in order to detect which house had a TV and which did not.
That’s the story, people pay TV and Radio fees and, thus, demand high quality service. The Czech Public Broadcaster currently airs four channels. “Channel 1” – the main one, of relatively miscellaneous nature, with news bulletin at 8:00 only. Channel 2 features documentaries and cognitive programs. CT-24 only broadcasts news programs, and Channel 4 is a sports channel exclusively. A channel intended for children is to be launched in the near future.
Let us consider that ending as a beginning of the new letter. To be continued.