Czech Republic: Media freedom groups urge MPs to pass media act amendment
The undersigned media freedom and journalists organisations and unions today urge the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Republic to vote to pass a draft bill which would amend the law on public broadcasting to strengthen the institutional independence of Česká televize (Czech Television) and Český rozhlas (Czech Radio).
Our organisations have previously called for and supported the development of this bill, which we believe will play a crucial role in limiting the ability of political forces to influence Czech Television’s oversight council and help future-proof the broadcasters against any attempts by governments to erode editorial independence.
The passing of this reform package is long overdue and comes at a crucial time. Under the previous government, Czech Television came under sustained political pressure, including through well-documented attempts to unseat its director general via politically-motivated appointments to its oversight council.
Despite these challenges, Czech Television withstood the pressure and remains the model for independent public service broadcasting in Central and Eastern Europe. However, unless the current legislative framework is amended to stop weaknesses being exploited, the broadcaster will remain at the mercy of political interference from future administrations.
In our view, the draft amendments developed by the Ministry of Culture represent a legitimate, proportionate and democratic attempt to safeguard the functional independence of the Czech Television Council, in line with the Czech Constitution. While this bill does not take up all of the recommendations initially put forward by CSOs, we note it was created with the welcome input of journalists’ groups and media associations and in line with international standards.
Vital elements of this bill include amendments that; ensure both chambers of parliament are involved in appointments to the Czech Television Council; increase the number of sitting councilors; tighten rules on which organisations can nominate candidates, and scrap the ability of parliament to remove all the board members as a consequence of the rejection of annual reports.
Taken together, these changes would significantly limit the number of pressure points available to future governments seeking to disrupt the broadcaster’s work or influence its coverage through its proxies on the oversight councils. The passing of this bill would also provide an important signal that the current government is committed to strengthening democracy and would boost its record on media freedom during its Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
However, it is crucial that the passing of this legislation be followed by a secondary bill which provides for long-term and sustainable financing for Czech Television and Czech Radio, both of which face serious cuts to budgets and staff numbers. This should include the long overdue legislation for automatic increases in the licence fee in line with inflation.
Amidst the war in Ukraine, support for well-funded and independent Czech public broadcasters will both act as an antidote to the Kremlin’s propaganda and provide a much-needed model for neighbouring countries experiencing similar threats to the independence of public service media, both now and in the years to come.
The current administration has a vital opportunity to strengthen a pillar of Czech democracy and safeguard the independence of public service media for the future. We urge MPs in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate of the Czech Republic to seize this moment and deliver a progressive reform of the Act on Czech Television.