Who wants the head of the director of Czech Television on a silver plate?

Here we go again, someone worries about the CEO of Czech Television again, critics of the current functioning of the public service TV will probably say after reading this commentary. Public service TV, on the one hand, does not really stand and fall with one senior manager. But the manner and justification of his eventual downfall will tell us if the rules of the game are being followed in this country.

First, in the last few years, there has been a clear change in the atmosphere in the lower house of the Czech Parliament regarding Czech TV. It started initially with the migration crisis when parts of the political spectrum did not like the way the public TV reported on refugees.

Members of the government’s ANO joined in the wave of criticism later, not liking the way the Czech TV reporters were covering the Andrej Babiš affairs. So they began to question television over its management and budget, though they had not previously objected. On top of that, nationalist MPs from the SPD (Freedom and Direct Democracy Party) are proposing to abolish the entire system of financing Czech TV through television fees and to transfer it to the state-funded organisation.

Second, neither Petr Dvořák nor Czech TV can hear only praise. Czech television makes mistakes – and if it didn’t, it would be odd given the volume of its activity. I don’t jump with enthusiasm for the way some TV faces present themselves on social networks, either, because their contributions then create unnecessary culture wars. I thought it was unfortunate the way the “168 Hours” programme treated the Employment Minister’s notoriously offensive off-record statement about the Prime Minister. But I also have no desire to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

And that brings us to the third point: what matters is the position from which criticism is made, how constructive it is, and how much it is based on impressions and labels.

Critics of Czech Television, whether they are represented directly in the Council of Czech Television or other spheres of public life, typically judge the functioning of an entire institution based on subjective criteria and any individual personal experience. They can’t see the forest for the trees.

Opponents of Petr Dvořák claim they are merely presenting facts. They juggle them skillfully, of course. This is shown by videos prepared by Jana Bobošíková, an unsuccessful news director from the 2000 TV crisis, in cooperation with Czech Television Council member Hana Lipovská. A month ago, Bobošíková addressed Petr Dvořák’s alleged conflict of interest, for example.

On Czech Television’s broadcasts, there is occasional information about exhibitions in the gallery that Petr Dvořák co-owns (some 70 mentions in the last 10 years). Jana Bobošíková engaged in a lot of manipulation in her video to substantiate the alleged conflict of interest.

“Let’s watch this teleshopping presented by the deputy editor of news,” announced Bobošíková a preview of Czech TV’s morning broadcast, which talked about an Austrian photographer’s exhibition in Prague. But the footage was nine years old, and the presenter who appears in it did not hold the position of deputy editor at the time. He didn’t start on that until 2014.

In an archive entry abused by Jana Bobošíková, we can also see the reporter Barbora Peterová. She left the Czech television six years ago. But Jana Bobošíková’s viewers learned nothing about the date of this footage.

Moreover, the presence of the Leica Gallery in cultural service must logically be compared to all similar institutions.

Fourth, much of the blame lies with past and present political representatives who left the Czech Television Act unchanged. This was often in good faith; any debate about media laws inevitably leads to creativity races in the lower house of parliament.

However, the current version of the law leads to problems with interpretation. Some paragraphs are written so vaguely that their interpretation depends more on who has the strongest voice.

The law says that there should be different viewpoints and social backgrounds in the Council of Czech Television. The twelve final candidates for the Council of Czech Television meet these criteria only ostensibly. Most have similarly conservative attitudes. Even at the public hearing, they stressed that they were “against progressivism.” Or, in their blogs and social media posts, they sharply criticize liberal democracy.

MPs enjoyed listening as candidates sharply criticized the alleged bias of the mainstream media.

If the lower house of Parliament does elect four new members of the Czech TV Council, the risk of removing the director will increase. It’s not really a question of whether it happens, it’s when.

The Council of Czech Television cannot interfere with news coverage. But a new boss can replace lower management. He’s not going to conflict with the council. This is not about Dvorak: it is about how easy it will be to control a key medium before the election. And that should interest you.

(Published in Hospodářské noviny, 21/3/2021)