The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today expressed serious concern over attempts by the governing party to politicize the board of the Czech public broadcaster.
In leaked emails published today, lawmakers from the governing ANO party were sent a list of recommendations on who to vote for in Wednesday’s Czech Television Council election by Stanislav Berkovec, an ANO MP who also serves as head of the lower chamber’s election committee.
According to the emails published by Czech website info.cz, selection advice for the vote was based on candidates’ background, perceived political leaning, and attitude towards the ruling ANO party.
The shortlist of approved candidates includes a number of figures with reportedly close links to the government and who were nominated by ANO.
Among those blacklisted was Michal Klima, head of IPI’s Czech National Committee, who is running to sit on the board of the Czech TV Council.
Klima, a journalist and former head of the Economia and Vltava Labe Media publishing houses who has worked in Czech and Slovak media for over 30 years, received the largest number of votes in the first round.
Despite his experience, ANO MPs were strongly advised to vote against Klima in the second round due to what Berkovec called his “long-term” work against ANO and association with campaign movements. The email references Klima’s role as chair of IPI’s Czech National Committee.
“All my life – even under the communist regime – I was involved in the struggle for the free media. Now this is openly being used as an argument against me”, Klima told IPI.
Oliver Money-Kyrle, IPI’s Head of Europe Advocacy and Programmes, said that rather than being instructed to vote for the interests of the public broadcaster, MPs were instead being told to vote along party lines.
“This leak exposes ANO’s contempt for Czech TV and public service journalism,” he said. “Public broadcasters are there to serve the interests of the people, not the narrow political causes of one political party over another.”
Petr Dvořák, head of Czech public television, said the move undermined the reputation of the board as the “guarantor of the independence and objectivity of the medium of the public service”.
“Unfortunately, it brings the society back to times when people were divided according to whom they were in contact with”, he added. “If such a procedure is promoted by the chairman responsible for media legislation, it strongly shakes the trust in his activity.”
The vote in the lower chamber of the Czech parliament is due to be held on Wednesday March 11. It will select six candidates to sit on the Czech Television Council and two seats on the Czech Radio Council.
Head of the ANO and prime minister of the country, Andrej Babis, is the beneficiary owner of several of the country’s leading private media.