Read this statement in Czech on our National Committee website.
On World Press Freedom Day 2023, the International Press Institute (IPI) and its Czech National Committee today call on the government of Prime Minister Petr Fiala to refocus its attention on strengthening media freedom and supporting independent journalism.
In the first few months after it was formed in December 2021, the coalition government oversaw a welcome normalization of relations with the independent press, which had become strained under the previous administration. Serious verbal attacks on critical reporters by government figures dropped and all media are again welcome at government press conferences. Important bills were brought forward to help bolster the public media.
Over the past year, however, the centre-right government’s media reform agenda has all but ground to a halt, as key legislative initiatives stalled in parliament, the country’s respected public broadcaster was left to face a deepening financial crisis, and the position of the government’s media and disinformation advisor was scrapped.
IPI therefore shares the concern raised by the IPI Czech National Committee and other groups in a public letter to the PM last month that vital reform momentum has been lost. We welcome the commitment made by the PM in response, in which he pledged to continue efforts to support independent media as a key pillar of the country’s democratic system. We now sincerely hope to see these words turned into action.
Firstly, the government should provide urgent support to the Czech public media. In the legislative arena, this includes finally approving legal amendments which would help strengthen the institutional and editorial independence of Czech Television and Radio through principled changes to the system of election for the oversight boards. On the economic side, the government must display political courage and provide long-term sustainable financing for the public media by increasing the licence fee.
Secondly, we call on the government to push forward and pass democratic legislative changes outlined within the scope of the draft European Media Freedom Act (EMFA), which was launched during the Czech Presidency of the European Union. These must address systemic issues in the media ecosystem. This includes establishing a transparent system for the equitable allocation of state advertising to all media. MPs should also vote to strengthen the Conflict of Interest Act to ban public officials and government figures from being the ultimate owners or publishers of media houses.
Thirdly, the government should seek to amend the recently redesigned copyright law to ensure that serious flaws are addressed, and search engine and social media giants ultimately pay their fair share to independent media companies. Doing so would provide a long overdue financial boost for independent media, including local and regional media, and help foster media pluralism.
These interconnected measures to bolster free media and independent journalism should be set out in a strategy document published by the government, after a broad public consultation with relevant domestic and international stakeholders. We believe that if the Czech Republic is to fight disinformation and continue to be a beacon of media freedom in Central Europe, a clear vision for the future is needed.
While the Czech Republic’s media landscape is relatively healthy compared with many in the region, rampant oligarchization and media capture have taken a damaging toll on media pluralism and independent journalism over the last few years. The Czech media ecosystem is a fragile one and needs to be supported by a clear and stable legal framework.
Safeguards should therefore be passed now to both modernize and safeguard the media sector, while at the same time ensuring that future governments cannot abuse legal loopholes and executive powers to weaken independent media, interfere in public media and drive media into the hands of oligarch business allies.
As we today celebrate the vital role that free and independent journalism plays around the world, IPI and our Czech National Committee renew our commitment to advocating for a free press in the Czech Republic and remain at the disposal of the government and all other stakeholders to discuss how to improve the situation moving forward.