Prague, March 10 (CTK) – The criticism of the public Czech Television (CT) in the inauguration address that President Milos Zeman delivered on Thursday has been the biggest attack on CT’s independence since 2000 TV crisis, Oscar-winning filmmaker Jan Sverak said during the Czech Lion awarding ceremony on Saturday.
Before the start of the live broadcast awarding of the annual national film awards, Sverak read to the audience a short text in support of the CT in which he called on politicians to defend the CT and maintain its as an independent broadcaster. He distributed sheets of paper among the members of the audience to support the petition by their signatures.
Olga Sommerova, who won the Czech Lion for the best documentary of the year tonight, called on the public to protest against a possible attempt of those in power to strip the CT of its independence.
Most of those awarded reacted to the latest events and rejected populism.
In December 2000, a part of TV reporters and their supporters occupied the CT news studio in protest against a new CT management which they accused of being biased and linked to the strongest political parties. There were two rival news broadcastings for a time. The new management was backed by then leading politicians, then prime minister Zeman and right-wing leader Vaclav Klaus, while the rebelling reporters received support from then president Vaclav Havel. After rallies of tens of thousands of people were staged, the new management stepped down or was sacked in February 2001.
In 1996, the film Kolya directed by Jan Sverak won the Academy Award for the best foreign language film.
In his inauguration address, Zeman accused CT of trying to manipulating the public and of being close to the right-wing opposition TOP 09 party. He also condemned journalists from the Economia publishers, which includes the weekly Respekt, the daily Hospodarske noviny (HN) and the Aktualne.cz news server.
Some right-wing politicians left the room after Zeman made these statements during his inauguration.
The representatives of CT and Economia dismissed Zeman’s accusations as attacks on the independence of the media.
CT spokeswoman Karolina Blinkova said the rhetoric targeting the public media was unacceptable. “We absolutely reject any attacks on journalists and independence of the media, especially after the recent events in Slovakia, and in particular those by the supreme official of the Czech Republic,” she said, referring to the current political crisis in Slovakia developing after a recent murder of a journalist who focused on alleged links between government parties and the mafia.
President Zeman criticised the CT repeatedly. He said people who own a TV set should stop paying fees to the CT. Prime Minister Andrej Babis (ANO) and right-wing populist Tomio Okamura (Freedom and Direct Democracy, SPD), who was elected parliament deputy chairman last autumn, were also highly critical of CT.
Opponents of Zeman claim that his ultimate goal is to get the CT budget and consequently its new coverage fully under political control.
On social networks, people plan to stage a demonstration in support of CT and freedom of speech in Prague’s central square on Wednesday.