Ohrožení nezávislosti veřejnoprávních médií v ČR

Dear colleagues,

I would like to draw your attention to the serious situation in the sphere of Czech media of public service. Not only an independence but also existence of them itself is endangered.

This situation I tried to explain already during our plenary session in Rome. Later I wrote a letter in which we expressed our support to our colleagues from Polish public service media. This letter I sent also to UNI MEI.
In Poland the parliament abolished the license fee like the main source of financing for public service media. State budget became the only one means of financing of Polish radio and TV. Consequences appeared soon – reduction of program, massive firing of employees and obvious signals of possible future privatization.

The same scenario is drafted in Czech Republic. Czech senate already discussed the bill of law for abolishing of license fee. One of the strongest Czech political parties – Civic Democratic Party – made from this draft a tool of pre-election fight. Sure – many citizens like to hear that one of regular payment will be cancelled. Not many people is able to think out all subsequences of this populist gesture. There are many very influential lobbyist groups in Czech which aim to privatize Czech media of public service. Especially political establishment wants to get media under its control.
Very unstable political situation which is typical for Czech in recent years … and I m sure that similar situation is also in other new members states … creates very dangerous background which could soon lead to total liquidation of media independence.

So – I wish to raise really serious questions now:
Should we only passively observe this situation? – I m sure – not!

After short time – in Czech during several moths – could be late and Czech TV and Czech radio may be subordinated under state control.

Is this situation specific only for Czech Republic? – I m sure – not.
The examples coming from Poland, Hungary, Baltic republics give relevant evidence that the threat of independency of public service media is common problem for many member states.

What can we do?
My suggestion is:
- we should send serious signals about this danger to relevant boards of European parliament. We should ask European commission to deal with this problem.
- We should create a letter expressing our concern and worry and send it to Czech government, to leaders of main Czech political parties and to Czech parliament

At the end – I would like to ask you for other proposals what to do.
If we stay in the position of independent observers and don’t try to influence this bad development, we soon lose the chance to influence anything.

Thank you for your attention.

Allow me to summarize the basis of problem.

Czech media of public service were established on the beginning of 90th, after “changing of regime”. There was set up so called “dual system” of media – the public service radio and TV on the one hand… and private sector of media on the other hand.
The main reason of this configuration was – to guarantee independence of public service sector, to exclude all attempts to take media of public service under control of state, parties and so no.
This system was largely functional during almost two decades. Financing of public service media was ensured mainly from license fees, from smaller part from advertisement.

During recent 4-5 years started to emerge serious attempts to restrict freedom of speech from the one of most relevant political parties.
These attempts came consequently after many revealed cases of economic criminal acts committed by top persons of political establishment.
The power of lobbyist groups, their economic linkage with parties, evident larceny and bribery in the highest floors of political leadership of country… it all was time to time uncovered by free journalist. Public service media became inconvenient to political circles.

The first evident attempt to shut up freedom of speech was the acceptance of so called “muzzle law”. (This law forbids journalist to use evidences unmasking concrete offenders.)
Only a bit later one Czech (till this time totally unknown assistant of one senator) proposed a bill of law – after that the license fees would be abolished and financing of public service media would be transferred to state budget.

This proposal helped this assistant to be elected to the European Parliament. But one the most powerful Czech political parties (ODS) made from this law proposal the tool of pre-election fight.
This bill of law will be soon again debate in senate and after that put to the vote to Czech Parliament. There are very strong signals that this law could be accepted.

If it would happened the consequences are easily predictable:
1. the sum designated in state budget for financing of public service media (from the beginning set up like mandatory) will be cut consecutively to cutting of other parts of state budget
2. this will lead to resolute changes and restriction of program PSM, to massive leakage of media workers.
3. it brings evident decrease of quality of program, PSM will not fulfill their commitments given by law
4. it s the moment when parties find out that is necessary to deal to PSM a “coup de grace” …. the privatization of PSM (many times desired by the Civic democratic party) will be next and unavoidable step

This scenario is clear – and experiences from some states in which financing of PSM is based on state budget affirm it like real

The above mentioned process is in contradictory with principles given by the “Protocol of system of public service broadcasting within member states EU” (so called Amsterdam protocol from 1997 – the financing of PSM must serve to the performance of public interest – must not server to state interest). Transfer of financing PSM to state budget can harm freedom of speech, independence of PSM and also – can harm economic competition, can influence free market principles and harm trade within member states.

Main arguments against this process:

1. deletion of main principles of PSM and their transfer to “state TV and radio” is model known and used by authoritarian totalitarian regimes
2. this transfer will bring menace for freedom of speech, power dominating over state media will be totally in hands of political establishment
3. openly expressed plan for future privatization of PSM will bring fortification of power of contractor's group connected with political sphere – this process is known as so called “berlusconation”
4. this process will cancel not only independent sources of information for public but also many creative forms of program
5. the new members state of EU needs totally opposite way of development – to strengthen legislative preconditions for depoliticizing of PSM governence (for real independence of media councils and management of PSM)

Recent events on the Polish media scene, as well as preparatory steps of Czech politicians, especially the party which has previously pushed through a series of steps to limit the independence of public service media, do not let no one doubt that in the former countries of Central and Eastern Europe exists a systemic pressure of certain political forces towards the subjugation of the media and restrictions of the public's right to obtain information.

It must be made not only a strong protest against these efforts, but also at once must be quickly found effective means for defence of independence and the pure existence of public service media.

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