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Thousands rally in support of Czech TV workers
ON THE night of 3 January 100,000 people packed into Wenceslas Square, Prague, the Czech capital, in support of a strike and occupation by national TV journalists against right-wing political interference. ALEXANDRA GEISLER of Socialisticka Alternativa - Budoucnost - (Czech section of the Committe for a Workers International, the socialist international organisation which includes the Socialist Party) reports on events.
THE CZECH Republic is run by a minority government of Social Democrats (CSSD) supported by the conservative Civic Democratic Party (ODS, its leader is Vaclav Klaus the architect of neo-liberal reforms). A right-wing split off from ODS, the Freedom Union (US), is building a coalition with the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL).
The country's key media bodies, including the television council that appointed Hodac, are almost entirely dominated by party nominees. The television council is approved by parliament and is composed of representatives of political parties. The nine-member television council, counts four members of the CSSD and three from the ODS. One member, who belongs to the centre-right Freedom Union, resigned last year to protest the dismissal of the previous Czech television (CT) general director.
On 20 December 2000 the television council voted back the old TV director and named Jiri Hodac as director general; three days later, he installed Jana Bobosikova as news director. The appointments of Hodac and Bobosikova increased political tensions.
Hodac had once applied to be the spokesman for conservative former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus, while Bobosikova, was the economic adviser of Klaus for six months in 1999. "We believe the [appointments were] motivated by an attempt to politically influence Czech television news," said Filip Cerny, a spokesman for the journalists.
In a statement, the TV employees noted that the Television Council was required by law to act apolitically in picking a director. Unless Hodac was removed or resigned, it continued, "CT will become an instrument of the persons currently in power."
The crisis, the statement added, was "about political arrogance which pins its hopes on lack of interest and weariness on the part of our population." An earlier communiqu by the dissenters also warned ominously of 'political cleansing'.
Czech television journalists and crew members of Czech television staff began a sit-in to protest against the appointments of Hodac and Bobosikova. This led to a split of the CT, with Hodac's mainstream group running one staff and his opponents, who occupied the newsroom and prepared independent news, both from inside the Czech television complex.
For four days beginning on 24 December, management and opponents traded broadcasts - until Hodac closed all non-satellite transmission and shut down all broadcasting for one day on 28 December. After the shutdown, the rebels turned to cable and satellite links. Hodac's repeated calls for police intervention went nowhere, as authorities preferred a more cautious approach.
THE JOURNALISTS formally went on strike 1 January, demanding that Hodac stop barring their broadcasts but in reality it has been an occupation strike since the 23 December. Every day at 7pm there were demonstrations in front of the Czech television complex to support the striking journalists, with at least 1,500 participants.
On 3 January, a 100,000-strong demonstration took place in Prague, with lots of youth, actors, sportspeople and other celebrities supporting the strikers, who are seen as combating not only their bosses but a whole political culture that opinion polls suggest the public sees as wasteful, corrupt, and inept.
They spoke against politicians, especially against ODS, but also against CSSD. Crowds demanding Hodac's resignation formed in Prague, Brno and Ostrava.
On Thursday 4 January, Hodac, under pressure to resign, went to hospital, exhausted! The CSSD government has prepared a new TV law, which could be voted on in parliament between 5-12 January.
ON THE 3 January, demonstration Socialisticka Alternativa Budoucnost distributed 1,000 leaflets (we didn't have more), and leaflets against school fees advertising our next public meeting.
We called for a one-day general strike, a new TV council based on one-third from TV trade unions (they led this strike), one-third from professional organisations (actors, film producers etc.) and one-third from the state. We also included slogans against unemployment, closure of factories, postponing of wages, for democratic trade unions and for a new workers party.
One of our members took the general strike demand to his trade union branch and got support for this. This is now on the the web site of the official TV-support campaign.
The television incident also brought to the forefront growing popular disdain for the Czech party system, criticised in many polls as top-heavy, corrupt and exclusive.
"The reason this happened and the reason it has political consequences, and the reason people will be on the streets, is simply the performance of Czech politicians," said Irena Valova, who heads the Syndicate of Journalists.
Czech journalists' syndicate: email@example.com
In The Socialist 12 January 2001: