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World Press Freedom Review
1998 World Press Freedom Review
The United States launched a high profile media intervention in the Middle East as US-sponsored Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) began broadcasting two new services into Iraq and Iran in November. "Radio Free Iraq", in Arabic, and the "Farsi Service" began with half hour programmes produced at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague and offices in Washington. Both Iraq and Iran have criticised the plans and called on Prague not to yield to pressure from the US government which approved funding for the services on the basis of two acts of congress aimed at helping democratic elements in the countries. The programming mix is aimed at breaking the grip on information held by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the Iranian government. Content includes local language news and commentary with programmes on free speech, democracy and human rights. The Czech government agreed to allow the broadcasts on condition it had the final say on the location of the service because of security concerns.
A new Director-General of Czech television (CTV) was appointed in February. Jakub Puchalski, 28, who was by far the youngest of the 25 candidates, had previously worked as a BBC World Service journalist. Since the collapse of communism, CTV, a two-channel service, has been routed in the ratings by Nova TV, an independent station that has proved far more popular than the state-owned alternatives. Puchalski says he intends to give CTV a younger image and instil BBC values.
The objectivity of CTV was thrown into question this year as it launched a series of documentaries informing the public about the benefits of NATO and the EU membership. While the station sees the initiative as merely educating the public, critics see it as a form of indoctrination which doesn’t fall within a public service mandate.
On January 5, police detained Zdenek Zukal, the owner and director of the private TV Studio ZZIP, on charges of criminal libel, CPJ reported. Police summoned Zukal to headquarters in Olomouc to question him about a news piece he had produced for TV Nova’s evening news broadcast that aired on 19 November 1997. Zukal refused to answer his interrogators’ questions about his reporting in the piece, which attempted to prove that Vladimir Pryzna - a top police investigator - had accepted a bribe from a local businessman wanted on charges of fraud and currency counterfeiting. As a result of his refusal to discuss his work, the police charged Zukal with making "biased and false accusations" against Pryzna under Article 174.1 of the Czech Penal Code. The charges were handed to Zukal in the form of a document, which was dated 22 December.
On 2 February 1998, two 1997 defamation actions against Zukal were redesignated as "libellous accusations" pursuant to Article 174.1 of the Czech Criminal Code. The charges were redesignated on the eve of the proclamation of a presidential amnesty which declared void all legal actions for "defamation." The journalist faces a maximum three-year prison sentence.
For more than a year, police have harassed Zukal and his six employees for their journalistic investigations of police corruption in Olomouc. On 24 April 1997, Zukal was charged with "spreading false rumours" under Article 160.1 of the Czech Penal Code, for an investigative piece on police corruption broadcast on TV Nova. The charges were dropped in November when the police officer investigating the case said he had found no evidence to support the accusation.
In September 1997 President Havel signed into law a measure revoking a 36-year-old statue on the "defamation" of the President, effective from January 1998. Such action had been punishable by prison terms of up to 2 years. In practice, the few persons convicted received suspended sentences.
Two masked men assaulted Michal Klima, the managing director of the Economia newspaper on November 9. The men attempted to put a rope around his neck and pull him into a waiting car but were scared off in what appeared to have been an unsuccessful kidnap attempt.
The Czech Republic enjoys a vibrant media scene with a wide variety of newspapers and magazines published without government interference. There are approximately 12 national dailies and numerous regional papers. On the broadcsting front there are 2 private television stations and more than 60 private radio stations in addition to Czech Public Television and Radio. Prevailing economic hardships bear heavily on the media with many groups walking along a financial precipice. Allegations of journalists accepting bribes from various interested parties have been made.
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