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Brussels luring Czechs to the polls

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Czechs have the reputation of ignoring elections for the European parliament (EP). Brussels wants to change that in a campaign for the Czech Republic and other countries with low turnout. According to E15 information, the EU spent EUR 18 million to produce video and audio clips for the purpose.

“We have picked the 15 countries that had the lowest turnout in 2004,” Daniela Carvalho, the coordinator of an EP committee for the election campaign, told the daily. “The Czech Republic was fifth. We have offered these countries free clips that should remind people that new elections have come.” In 2004, turnout in EP polls in the Czech Republic was 28%.

The public Czech Television is broadcasting the spots on three channels, while Czech Radio started broadcasting them on Wednesday. “We did not receive any conditions nor financial terms, so we are broadcasting as the programme scheme allows,” Czech Television spokesman Ladislav Šticha said. Czech Radio will be promoting the elections until 2 June. “It will appear on the nationwide stations Radiožurnál, Praha, Vltava and Český rozhlas 6 as well as on the special stations Rádio Česko and Radio Wave and on 11 regional stations,” Czech Radio Marketing Director René Zavoral said.

On the other hand, commercial radio and television stations polled by E15 said they either did not receive the recordings or were discussing the issue with lawyers.

“Our stations did not receive this type of clip,” spokeswoman Radka Pilzová said on behalf of Evropa 2 and Frekvence 1. The marketing department of Rádio Impuls gave a similar answer. The television station Nova said it was dealing with the issue. “TV Nova has been addressed regarding this issue,” spokeswoman Michaela Fričová said. “From the legal point of view, we cannot broadcast commercials for free. Based on an analysis by our legal department, we will make a decision in the next few days.” The Prima television and the news channel Z1 have not been addressed by Brussels. “We would not be against it,” Z1 head Martin Mrnka said. “We would regard it as a service for viewers,”

Besides radio and television spots, the election campaign also includes billboards, “choice-boxes” – studios recording and transmitting messages and opinions from citizens – websites, press kits for printed media, seminars for journalists, and profiles on the social networks Facebook, MySpace and Flickr, Carvalho said.

The commercial for Czech radio listeners says that speed limits will be lifted to support the automotive industry and that goods will be transported on rails instead of jammed motorways, promises to lift incomes taxes, and asks which of these things will really happen. The answer is: “You will decide in 2009. On 5 and 6 June.” The clip is 25 seconds long.

The video clip lasts half a minute. It claims, for instance, that Europe will import no goods to protect jobs, that driving a car will be banned on workdays, that fathers have to stay at home for at least two years and that there will only be nuclear energy due to climate change.

The end of the clip is the same: “And what is really going to be on the news tomorrow? You will decide in European elections in 2009. European elections? It’s up to you!”

A survey by the STEM agency has revealed that more than 50% of Czechs are thinking of going to the polls but only one-fifth said they would definitely go there. The latest Eurobarometer survey worked out by the European Commission showed that the average turnout in the EU will not exceed 34%, a decline of 12 percentage points compared with five years ago.

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