Report Launch: Relocation of journalists in distress in the…

Report Launch: Relocation of journalists in distress in the European Union

Uncovering the truth is dangerous and can put journalists and media workers at serious risk. When a journalist finds him- or herself in danger because someone wants to keep the public in the dark, a situation can occur where the only way to safety is to seek refuge in another country. However, restrictive asylum and visa policies all too often hamper the pathways to international protection.

On October 9th 10:30-11:30 CEST, the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) will present the findings of a thematic fact-finding mission organised earlier this year, which aims to contribute to a better understanding of six pioneering relocation mechanisms for journalists in distress within the European Union. For this purpose, the MFRR partners examined existing schemes in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Poland, revealing salient differences and similarities in the scope and features of the responses.

Join us at the Czech Permanent Representation in Brussels or online for the report launch. The Czech mission to Brussels will host the conference. The Deputy Head of the Czech Permanent Representation to the EU Permanent Representative to the Political and Security Committee Ambassador Jitka Látal Znamenáčková will open the presentation. Professor Can Yeğinsu will then discuss the idea of emergency visa for journalists, which he developed as part of the High Level Panel of Legal Experts of the Media Freedom Coalition. Further, in a panel discussion, a journalist in exile will discuss their situation and path to obtain the emergency visa in an EU Member State. Lastly, the report’s authors will present key findings, conclusions and recommendations, and there will be time for a Q&A session.

This mission was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries.

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Andrej Babiš Library

Czech Republic: What Andrej Babiš’s potential sale of Mafra…

Czech Republic: What Andrej Babiš’s potential sale of Mafra could mean for the media landscape

Reports of negotiations stir speculation about potential buyers for influential publishing group


By IPI contributor Vojtěch Berger

Andrej Babiš, the former Czech prime minister and oligarch, will probably offload his media. Paradoxically, not because he is withdrawing from politics, but so that he can stay in it.


This year it will be ten years since Babiš sent out what is probably his most famous tweet. The simple message set off wild speculation in mid-2013. A number of insiders were presuming the businessman, billionaire oligarch and then fledgling politician was going to acquire Ringier media outlets for his portfolio, including Blesk, the most widely read tabloid in the Czech Republic. In the end, it turned out it was the publishing house Mafra that became part of Babiš’s Agrofert conglomerate.


This controversial acquisition fired the starting gun on a decade of major changes in the Czech media market, as major media houses moved from foreign owners into the hands of Czech oligarchs. After ten years of Babiš‘ ownership Mafra is likely to be sold. The question is to whom and for how much.


From speculations about several potential bidders, the names of two big players in the energy business – Pavel Tykač and Daniel Křetínský – finally crystallized. In the case of Křetínský, the purchase of Mafra would significantly expand his already extensive media empire. In addition to the Czech market, Křetínský owns shares in several French print titles such as Le Monde, Marianne and Elle. He is also interested in investing in podcast platforms in France. Tykač does not own any media and would be a newcomer to the club of “media oligarchs”.


Oligarchization of the Czech media landscape

Babiš bought Mafra in 2013 from the German company Rheinisch-Bergische Verlagsgesellschaft. Over the next few years, other billionaires followed suit and snapped up legacy media as a means of strengthening influence alongside their core businesses.


The Czech portfolio of Swiss Ringier was bought by energy tycoon Daniel Křetínský. Dozens of regional daily newspapers and other magazines were bought from the German group Verlagsgruppe Passau by the financial group Penta. Under this growing media capture, different owners began to interfere in the editorial independence of their media to different degrees. In some, critical or investigative reporting on certain topics quietly became off limits.


As this oligarchization and its implications for media freedom continued, smaller independent projects popped up, often founded by journalists who quit after threats were made to their media’s editorial independence.


Babiš also soon added the commercial radio station Impuls to his media portfolio, followed by about 30 lifestyle magazines acquired from another German publisher, Bauer Media, in 2018. For years, these media were essentially used as promotional platforms for his election campaign.


When Babiš was running for president in January 2023, these magazines published a series of articles showing him as a great father and an ordinary and smiling man. There were also interviews with his wife and glimpses behind the scenes of the Babiš family.


Overall, the texts seemed like PR materials written on demand, but they pretended to be editorial content. The subliminal message to the readers – mainly to the female readers – was obvious: vote for Babiš. Similar texts in support of Babiš were published in the same lifestyle magazines in previous years. Previously, these titles did not focus on politics at all, but that changed when Babiš became their owner.


The Czech press law does not require newspapers and magazines to have a balance of opinion, so such texts are not in breach of the law, but undoubtedly highly problematic in terms of journalistic ethics.


Election defeat

This aggressive campaign and the support of his own media proved insufficient for  Babiš in the end, and his failure in the presidential election fueled speculation that he would sell Mafra.


Rumours that the publishing house might change hands appeared last autumn, and the new year brought a new name of a possible buyer. Previously, there was speculation about the aforementioned Daniel Křetínský. But in February, another billionaire with an energy business, Pavel Tykač, confirmed his interest in Mafra and that he had started ongoing negotiations. He told Czech Radio that one of his motivations to purchase the media was “so that it does not fall into some hands that will use it in a way that would not be in the interest of this country”.


Mafra’s economic results have not been impressive in recent years. The daily newspapers led by Mlada fronta Dnes and Lidove noviny are losing money, with operating losses are in the tens of millions, according to the magazine Reporter. However, the company’s lifestyle magazines are economically stable and the internet portals with radio Impuls are profitable. Overall, the Mafra media group has repeatedly made losses over the past three years.


This suggests that interest in the media house is not so much motivated by profit as by the potential influence that Mafra offers its owner. The business of both Pavel Tykač (Sev.en Energy) and Daniel Křetínský (EPH holding) is not based on media, but primarily on coal mining, electricity and heat production and distribution. From there, they can subsidize any losses of their media holdings.


However, it would be a mistake to say that the whole transaction is not about profit at all. The energy business is inherently dependent on good relations with the state and municipalities, and the Czech state has so far generously subsidized the oligarchs with state advertising, which has almost exclusively ended up with the big media houses, like Mafra or Křetínský’s CNC. This fragile symbiosis is likely to continue, despite promises by the government of Petr Fiala to change the state advertising system in order to support smaller independent media. After the government abolished the media and disinformation commissioner in mid-February, the media appears to have fallen off the cabinet’s agenda.


Together, the titles of the Mafra publishing house have a reach of 3.23 million readers, according to last year’s figures, while Daniel Křetínský’s second CNC reaches 3.08 million readers. This shows how much Křetínský would strengthen his market position by buying Mafra.


Tightening controls on media ownership

The question is why Andrej Babiš wants to get rid of this influence and why he wants to do it now. The answer may sound paradoxical: because of politics.


Ten years ago Babiš bought Mafra precisely to strengthen his political clout. But today the ownership of Mafra may make it more difficult for him to remain in politics. After losing the presidential election, Babiš has already announced that he wants to remain a member of parliament.


However, a government amendment to the Conflict of Interest Act that is currently making its way through the legislative process would hit his media business hard.


The new rules, if passed, would ban public officials from owning or publishing media. Crucially, this ban would apply to the ultimate owner of the media company, not just the controlling person or entity. It would include members of the government and serving MPs.


According to the authors of the bill, the amendment will prevent circumvention of the conflict of interest law and should stop efforts by politicians to influence media houses through their ownership, or to make money from public contracts, subsidies or investment incentives. This would be a major issue for Babiš.


According to the register of beneficial owners, the real owner of Agrofert holding, which includes the media house Mafra, is Babiš. So far, it has been enough for him to transfer his assets to trust funds in 2017, thus complying with the current, more lenient law. During this time, however, he has faced criticism that he continues to control his companies.


In his media, this was proven by the positive writings in his magazines and obvious PR for Babiš before this year’s presidential campaign and in previous years. The Mafra daily newspapers were under permanent suspicion of favouring Babiš when they reported less extensively or with different accents on his affairs and conflicts of interest than other media. In other cases, they completely ignored corruption scandals involving Babiš.


It is to be expected that the next owner of Mafra will not abuse these media in such a blatant way, if only because neither Tykač nor Křetínský (if one of them is indeed the buyer) is directly involved in politics.


However, both could undoubtedly use the group’s media influence to benefit their other business. Even after the sale of Mafra, most of the Czech media will remain firmly in the hands of oligarchs.

This article is part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries.

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Czech Republic's Prime Minister Petr Fiala speaks with the media as he arrives for an EU Summit at Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic, Friday, Oct 7, 2022. Allgemein

Czech government edges closer to disinformation and public media…

Czech government edges closer to disinformation and public media initiatives

One year into term, progress on media reform remains slow


By IPI Contributor Tim Gosling

In October 2021, a new Czech government was elected amid promises to shore up democracy by fighting disinformation and strengthening public media. But one year into its term and with a key media legislation yet to be passed, there are calls for greater urgency in the ongoing reform process.


Critics admit that Prime Minister Petr Fiala’s governing coalition has had plenty on its plate since taking power during the tail end of the Covid pandemic. Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine soon unleashed a wave of refugees, and energy and inflation crunches have followed. But at the same time, they contend that these crises make action all the more urgent.

The worry is that, having leveraged the threat stalking the media environment to help depose populist billionaire Andrej Babis a year ago, the five-party coalition is struggling to maintain the enthusiasm of all factions for the plan to protect the free press. However, there are signs that the role of disinformation networks in driving recent anti-government rallies may help to revive the effort.


“Pensioner’s Facebook”

With a population highly sceptical of the political establishment, the Czech Republic has proved fertile ground for the development of disinformation networks.

Ironically, it’s the relative health of the media landscape that has encouraged the growth of “alternative” networks, says Vaclav Stetka, senior lecturer in Communication and Media Studies at Loughborough University.

Elsewhere in the region, disinformation can find its way through mainstream media. In Czechia, it must find alternative channels, often fairly unique, he says.

“Chain emails have become something of a speciality,” he notes, pointing at research by The Illiberal Turn project that shows that this format enjoys far deeper penetration than in neighbouring states.

The “pensioner’s Facebook,” as these email networks have been dubbed, was instrumental in mass protests in September. Claims that sanctions against Russia and support for Ukrainian refugees are preventing the government from offering more help amid the energy and inflation crises helped put an estimated 70,000 on Prague’s Wenceslas Square.

The turnout was a surprise, in no small part because the networks used to set the protest up are largely hidden, says investigative journalist Lukas Valasek. The pro-Russian agenda put forward by the organisers – veterans of the anti-vax movement – was a shock.

These unexpected developments seem to have helped jolt the government into action, agrees Dominik Presl, a member of a team being assembled by the commissioner for media and disinformation that Fiala appointed in March. In the wake of the protests, government and security officials have been busy warning of the dangers.

“Russian disinformation is an effective means to try to weaken our democracy, as we saw in the streets last month,” Markéta Pekarová Adamová, head of the Top09 coalition party and parliament speaker, told IPI.

Alongside the rhetoric, the interior ministry is reportedly set to deliver a bill this month aimed at laying down a legislative framework that will allow the authorities to block websites considered a security risk. While the legislation is still being crafted, currently it would allow the interior ministry to order internet providers to restrict access to website content that threatens security or democracy. The ministry stresses that the bill is not aimed at halting the publication of disinformation per se, although measures to supress the spread of fake news are being developed separately.

An option to hand the oversight to an independent body is being left open to assuage worries regarding abuse by the government. Websites targeted would be able to challenge the action in court and seek compensation.


Talking the walk

Researchers say, however, that such headline-grabbing restrictive tools need to be matched with more strategic measures. And one of the prime weapons is a strong and independent public media. A bastion of independent journalism in Central & Eastern Europe, Česká televize (Czech Television; CT) has faced assault from political forces jealous of its nonalignment for decades.

The broadcaster came under sustained pressure during Babis’s reign, as populist forces sought to wrest control of its executive body, the CT Council. Then in opposition, the parties now making up the government, fought hard to hold off the assault. It was this fight as much as anything that prompted Fiala’s campaign promises. But the momentum in carrying them out has slowed.

“The promise to strengthen the resilience and independence of public media was key, especially after accusing Babis of being a threat,” points out Stetka. “But up to now it seems it was more talk than walk. The effort and the results have been disappointing.”

Progress towards this goal now looks to finally be on the way, with a package of reforms regarding appointments to the CT Council on the cards. As overseer of the broadcaster’s management, and therefore its editorial independence, many have sought to stuff the executive board with political lackeys in the past.

The proposed new measures would aim to prevent that by allowing the upper house Senate to join the lower house Chamber of Deputies in appointing the council, which would be expanded by three seats to eighteen. New rules would also govern who could propose candidates and how the executive could discipline management.

“The goal is to avoid the Polish or Hungarian route, where the current governments have taken over the public service media and completely subjugated them,” says one of the sponsors, Jan Lacina

The bill has been awaiting a hearing in parliament for months. It was finally introduced to the Chamber of Deputies for initial debate on October 13, with Lacina insisting that the government was prepared for a “big battle”.

The effort quickly turned to farce. With Fiala absent from the chamber, the opposition blocked the proceedings. It is understood that the bill should be ready to be voted on again on November 1.

A spokesperson for the ministry of culture told IPI that “we believe the amendment will enter into force at the beginning of 2023”.

On a leash

However, even if the bill is passed and the changes are made, the long-term future of the country’s public service media remains under question.

While the CT Council reform should help protect the broadcaster, it will remain under political pressure unless its perilous financial situation is solved. And Fiala’s government has ruled out dealing with the chronic underfunding at CT and its public broadcasting cousin Český rozhlas (Czech Radio) by raising the licence fees that feed their finances.

The annual fee for CT was last raised in 2008, to CZK135 (€5.48) per household. The fee for Český rozhlas has sat at CZK45 since 2005. Both broadcasters have long warned that this leaves them unable to maintain all services. And the inflation surge is only antagonising the situation.

However, Minister of Culture Martin Baxa insists that, amid the cost-of-living crisis, the government cannot propose even a minor increase. “It’s difficult to tell people that fifteen or twenty crowns is nothing for them,” he said last month, even though vulnerable households are exempt from paying.

The lack of funding threatens to leave the two public broadcasters dependent on the government, and is therefore a serious risk to independence, watchdogs warn. Stetka calls it “a means of keeping public service media on a leash”.

Others insist that it reflects an unwillingness on the part of some government factions to lose control of public media.

“It’s an open secret that the conservative wing of Fiala’s ODS party has little time for public media independence,” said one journalist, who’s close to the topic, off record. “They have no intention of handing the country’s main TV broadcaster free reign.”

The country’s illiberal forces are just as opposed to allowing CT its financial freedom. And in the absence of action to protect the broadcaster, MPs from ANO and SPD are proposing that all pensioners be made exempt from paying fees.

“It’s another … attempt to starve the public media and … push them to future dependence on the state budget – de facto to nationalization and easy control and service of political interests,” states Robert Břešťan, editor at independent media outlet HlídacíPes.

The culture ministry is discussing options regarding the “sustainability of public media,” the spokesperson said, but noted that “increasing fees is not on the agenda”.

Alongside the failure to so far put in place a cohesive strategy for fighting disinformation or to reform the oversight of public media, that appears to leave Fiala’s promises of media reform still needing a shot in the arm.

This article is part of IPI’s reporting series “Media freedom in Europe in the shadow of Covid”, which comprises news and analysis from IPI’s network of correspondents throughout the EU. Articles do not necessarily reflect the views of IPI. This reporting series is supported by funding from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and by the European Commisson (DG Connect) as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response coalition.

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Public service media Event

Threats to independent public service media in Central Europe

Threats to independent public service media in Central Europe

24 November, 10:00 CET.

In the last few years, Central Europe has emerged as a regional flashpoint in the battle for the future of independent public service media in the European Union.


In Slovenia, editorial staff are currently in a stand-off with the management over what they say are politicised efforts to erode editorial independence. As internal disagreements escalate and strikes continue, the new government is pushing for legislative reforms which depoliticise Radiotelevizija Slovenija – and faces an upcoming referendum challenge by the opposition in doing so.


In the Czech Republic meanwhile, a country often lauded as the regional model for professional public service media, after years of sustained political pressure under the previous government of former PM Andrej Babiš, the new administration is close to passing legislation aimed at limiting political interference and shoring up the broadcaster’s institutional independence.


Two countries, with a shared set of pressures on independent public media, and similar initiatives by newly elected governments to pass democratic reforms.


In this webinar, speakers will discuss the latest developments in both countries, explore parallels in the challenges faced, and asses the ongoing legislative efforts to insulate their country’s public broadcasters against future illiberal attacks.


Jamie Wiseman

Europe Advocacy Officer at International Press Institute (IPI)


Ksenija Horvat

Journalist and broadcaster at Radiotelevizija Slovenija (RTV SLO)

Jan Bumba

Presenter at Czech National Radio (ČRo Plus).

Radka Betcheva

Head of Member Relations Central & Eastern Europe, European Broadcasting Union (EBU)


Czech Republic: Media freedom groups urge MPs to pass…

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. 

Signed by:

Balkan Free Media Initiative (BFMI)

Civil Liberties Union for Europe

European Broadcasting Union (EBU)

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)


International Press Institute (IPI)

OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

Public Media Alliance (PMA)

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) 

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries and Ukraine.

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Chance for Czech Presidency of EU to champion media…

Chance for Czech Presidency of EU to champion media freedom

Seventeen media freedom and freedom of expression organisations from across Europe wrote to Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala to urge his government to use it upcoming presidency of the European Union to help drive forward vital EU initiatives to protect media freedom across the bloc, including the European Media Freedom Act (EFMA).

Sent on the eve of Czech Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the open letter welcomes the Czech administration’s ongoing commitment to the freedom of the media and stresses the opportunity to advance the debate around the EMFA as a vital tool for pushing back against the threat posed to independent journalism by media capture.

Read the full letter below and a joint statement by the same groups on the need for a strong and ambitious EFMA

June 30, 2022

Petr Fiala, Prime Minister, Czech Republic

CC: Mikuláš Bek, Minister of Europe

CC: Charles Michel, President of the European Council

CC: Ursula Von der Leyen, President of the European Commission

Dear Prime Minister Fiala,

On behalf of seventeen journalists, media freedom, and human rights groups we take the opportunity of the upcoming Czech Republic’s presidency of the Council of the European Union to welcome your government’s commitment to freedom of the media and determination to advance the EU’s ability to address threats to journalism and media freedom.


The current Commission has prioritized media freedom as part of its Democracy Action Plan and has taken important initiatives in advancing the safety of journalists through the recommendations issued in September 2021, and in addressing the balance of power on the internet to preserve fundamental human rights and combat disinformation in the Digital Services Act.


In April the much-needed anti-Slapps Directive was launched and, left undiluted in its current form, can make a very significant impact on protecting journalists from being targeted by vexatious lawsuits designed to stifle public debate and prevent accountability.


And under your presidency the European Commission is due to publish the European Media Freedom Act providing a crucial opportunity to combat the threats posed to European democracy by the capture of media by political parties and governments that has become increasingly prevalent in parts of the European Union.


Media Capture as conducted by political forces can be broadly understood as the abuse of government powers to create a pliant media acting in the interests of the government. It can be divided into four key areas,

  • the misuse and abuse of government funds – advertising, public subsidies or other public contracts – to boost media support for government and punish independent media
  • the taking over of media regulators with politically aligned supporters that can abuse their authority to rule on media licensing and mergers in favour of pro-government media
  • the manipulation of media ownership to create a bubble of government propaganda outfits – often dependent on government largess – and sidelining independent media to the edges of public debate
  • the control of public media, often converted into flagrant propaganda arms.


The EMFA should address all of these areas by introducing Europe wide rules on

  • Improving transparency of media ownership and funding and all financial relations between media and the government
  • Ending the abuse of government funds to finance media allies and creating a hostile economic environment to independent media
  • Improving the independence of media regulators, and
  • Protecting public media from political interference

The Czech Presidency has an opportunity to advance the debate around the EMFA as it understands well the threat posed by media capture and the necessity for EU action.


In particular you have witnessed how public advertising and public contracts were abused by the previous Czech government to fund media close to and owned by the former Prime Minister. You have also witnessed how the appointments process for the governing bodies of the Czech TV were politicised by the previous government in an attempt to take control of the public broadcaster. And you have witnessed how media pluralism can suffer when mainstream media are taken over by oligarchs dependent on close relations with the government to protect their broader business interests.


You were elected to power on the promise of promoting media freedom, independence and pluralism and introducing reforms to end the ability of governments to abuse state funds to influence media coverage. We ask you to help replicate these actions with a strong endorsement of the European Media Freedom Act.


Kind regards,

International Press Institute (IPI)

Association of European Journalists (AEJ Belgium)

Baltic Centre for Media Excellence (BCME)

Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties)

The Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ)

Cultural Broadcasting Archive (cba), Vienna

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

Finnish Foundation for Media and Development

Free Press Unlimited

Global Forum for Media Development


OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

Public Media Alliance (PMA)

South East Europe  Media Organisation (SEEMO)

Society of Journalists, Warsaw

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries and Ukraine.

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Ceska Televize Library

Czech Republic: MFRR pushes for reforms to strengthen independence…

Czech Republic: MFRR pushes for reforms to strengthen independence of public broadcaster

Representatives from the International Press Institute (IPI) and European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) travelled to Prague on Wednesday June 15 to meet with officials from the Ministry of Culture and push for the development of reforms which strengthen the independence of the country’s public broadcaster.

During the one-day visit, the delegation met with journalists and editors from independent media, representatives from the Endowment Fund for Independent Journalism (NFNZ), the director general of the Czech Television Petr Dvořák, and representatives from the Ministry of Culture under the new coalition government of Petr Fiala.


Discussions centred around the preparation of draft amendments aimed at creating additional safeguards to protect the institutional and editorial independence of Czech Television, which faced sustained pressure under the former government led by Andrej Babiš.


During the meeting with the Ministry, it was confirmed to the delegation that progress had been made in negotiations regarding the amendments and that the cabinet is due to discuss a re-worked package of reforms this week, June 20-24.


The new package contains only a handful of the amendments initially proposed by civil society groups including the NFNZ and IPI CZ and which were supported by the organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR). According to information provided to the delegation, the revised amendments will include:


  • Changing the law so that both chambers of parliament, rather than just the Chamber of Deputies, will be involved in appointments to the Czech Television Council. This more staggered system is intended to make it more difficult for a government to use a parliamentary majority to overly politicise the composition of the council;


  • Tightening the rules for who can nominate candidates for the CT Council. Under the proposed amendment, only established institutions with 10 years of experience in the fields such as media, culture or human rights would be permitted to nominate candidates;


  • Removing the ability of parliament to reject the annual report of the public broadcaster, eliminating the ability of the parliament to twice reject the report and subsequently dismiss the entire CT Council;


  • Increasing the number of councillors on the CT Council from 15 to 18. Under the draft, the Senate would vote for six and the Chamber of Deputies will appoint the other 12. A qualified majority of 10 would be needed to appoint and dismiss the director general.


As part of the initial reform package developed by the Ministry of Culture, when the amendments entered into force the entire CT Council would have been dismissed and elections would have been held under the new appointment system. However, the Legislative Council of the Government raised concerns about the legality of the move and a compromise was required, causing significant delays while coalition parties negotiated an alternative.


Under the rewritten plans, the number of councillors will instead be increased by three. In another shift, the Chamber of Deputies would elect two thirds of the councillors rather than the original proposed 50:50 split between the Chamber and the Senate.


If approved by the cabinet in June, the draft amendment would then need approval from the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate before being signed into law.


“It is uplifting to finally see progress made on the preparation of a new draft. While this new package contains only a fraction of the initial proposals, if passed these amendments would still have a significant impact and create additional safeguards against future attempts to undermine the independence of Czech Television”, said IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen, who participated in the visit. “We urge the cabinet to swiftly approve this first package of reforms and send the package to parliament for a vote. It is vital that early momentum of improving the landscape for media freedom is not lost.


“However, this should be seen as a first step in a wider process of reform – one which must urgently include the provision of sustainable financing for Czech Television. The Czech public broadcaster has been, and remains, a standard bearer for other public service media in the region. Shoring up its financial stability and passing amendments which help future-proof the institution against political attacks would provide a much-needed example of resilience in central and eastern Europe. Our organisations will continue to closely follow the legislative process and push for additional needed improvements for media freedom in the coming months.”


During the meeting at the Ministry, the delegation was also informed that a working group is due to be established to discuss a second package of reforms to the Act on Czech Television and Czech Radio. This would include the proposal to legislate for automatic increases in the licence fee in line with inflation, as well as greater judicial oversight over dismissals of councillors and the creation of professional criteria for those seeking election to the CT Council. IPI strongly urged that this working group include independent national and international experts.


Coming in the wake of an announcement about forced cuts to budgets and staff numbers, a solution to the unsustainable financial situation at Czech Television is viewed by the delegation as essential in the coming months. In total, the broadcaster will be forced to cut 910 million crowns (€36.8 million) by 2024 and intends to axe its newest channel, ČT3. The license fee has not increased since 2008.


During the visit of the delegation to Prague, the delayed election for the CT Council was also held. After the governing coalition passed a motion for the vote to be made public, the opposition party boycotted the vote. Five new councillors were appointed, all of whom have suitable professional qualifications and expertise.

This mission was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries and Ukraine.

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The main building of the Czech Television (Ceska televize; CT), a public television broadcaster Library

Czech Republic: Independence of public broadcasters must be insulated…

Czech Republic: Independence of public broadcasters must be insulated against future attacks

Partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) have published a statement urging the Czech Government to come good on its promises to strengthen the independence of public broadcasters and to seize the opportunity to put press freedom at the centre of its EU presidency programme.

Press freedom in the Czech Republic has undergone a welcome boost since the government of Prime Minister Petr Fiala came to power. The undersigned media freedom and journalists organisations today urge the new administration to use this momentum to push forward with amendments which will strengthen the institutional independence of Česká televize (Czech Television) and Český rozhlas (Czech Radio).

Under the previous government, Czech Television came under sustained pressure and saw politically-motivated attempts to unseat its director general. Since coming to power, the new administration has been developing draft amendments to the Act on Czech Television and Czech Radio with the aim of creating additional institutional safeguards. These plans have been developed with the welcome input of journalists’ groups and media associations, above all NFNZ, CZ IPI and Rekonstrukce statu.

While initial progress in developing the bill was swift, the process has since stalled as the Ministry of Culture navigates the complicated legal challenges of passing such a reform. The latest round of appointments to the broadcasters’ oversight bodies have also slowed progress. As the Czech Republic prepares to take over the presidency of the Council of the European Union in July 2022, we urge the government to refocus its attention and double its efforts to pass these amendments in the coming months.

The draft amendments contain six important elements. This first involves changing the law so that both chambers of parliament, rather than just the Chamber of Deputies, are involved in appointments to the broadcasters’ governing bodies. Currently, a government can use its parliamentary majority to decide the composition of the boards, allowing it to place political allies within management structures. A more staggered system would reduce the ability of an election winner to overly politicise the bodies and will result in more pluralistic councils.

Secondly, the draft amendments include plans to establish, for the first time, clear criteria for those who can be appointed to the governing councils. This will help ensure professionalism and integrity are the principal factors in the selection process, rather than political affiliation. Under the previous government, appointments to the TV council were clearly aimed at politicising the oversight bodies and eroding the broadcaster’s independence. The changes would mean only those with relevant experience and knowledge would meet the threshold for appointment.

A third element would tighten the rules for who can nominate candidates. Currently, any social organisation or association can put forward nominees, even those linked with political parties or with little knowledge of the media ecosystem. This has led to the appointment of unsuitable and unprofessional candidates, some of whom have recently displayed an openly hostile approach towards the ČT management. Under the proposed amendment, only established institutions with 10 years of experience in the fields such as media, culture or human rights would be permitted to nominate candidates.

A fourth element involves greater judicial oversight over dismissals of councillors. Currently, there is no legal recourse to challenge the firing of councillors by parliament. Under the proposed changes, the Supreme Administrative Court would be given powers to review the decisions by parliament, reducing the avenues for pressure by government on councillors. Finally, the legislation includes provisions for sustainable funding for the public broadcaster, with automatic increases in the licence fee in line with inflation, creating a strong economic foundation for the future.

If passed, our organisations believe these reforms would represent a major step forward in insulating the broadcaster from political interference and future-proofing it against attempts to gain control over its oversight bodies. While the transition from the current council to a new body brings short-term challenges – and must be carried out in line with democratic principles and the Czech Constitution – in the long term this new design will create a far stronger buffer between political power and public service media, improve accountability, and further increase trust in public broadcasting. Failure to pass these reforms in full would leave gaps in the broadcaster’s defences which can be abused by future governments.

Constructing these safeguards is urgent considering the state of public service broadcasting in the wider region. Governments in Hungary and Poland have distorted public service media into state audio-visual propaganda organs, while in Slovenia there have been fresh concerns over political appointments to the management of Radiotelevizija Slovenija. Contrastingly, the Czech public broadcaster has long been a bastion of independent journalism in Eastern and Central Europe. Creating even stronger ramparts for the broadcaster’s independence would provide a much-needed model for neighbouring countries to follow in years to come.

Ahead of the EU presidency, the Czech Republic has an opportunity to put press freedom at the centre of its programme. Passing this flagship legislation would provide a timely example in Europe of the resilience of media freedom. It would also add to the welcome list of improvements our organisations have observed since the new government took office, including the normalisation of communication with media, the re-admittance of independent journalists to government press conferences, guarantees to end the abuse of government advertising and rapid improvements for journalists’ access to public information. We look forward to seeing the further preparation of this law in the coming months and our organisations stand ready to support the development of this bill.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • Endowment Fund for Independent Journalism (NFNZ)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Public Media Alliance (PMA)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

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IPI Czechia Report Library

IPI publishes report on media capture in the Czech…

IPI publishes report on media capture in the Czech Republic

New government must help strengthen media independence and pluralism. The International Press Institute (IPI) today published a new report on media freedom and independence in the Czech Republic. The report focuses on the spread of media capture under the former government of Andrej Babiš and sets forth recommendations for the new government of Petr Fiala to reform and strengthen independence and pluralism in the media sector.

Babiš, one of the Czech Republic’s richest men and owner of the Agrofert conglomerate, served as finance minister from 2014 to 2017 and as prime minister from 2017 to 2021 after purchasing the publishing house Mafra and using it to launch his political career. Babiš left government in November 2021 with a record of undermining the public broadcaster, steering government advertising to his media, and generally using his media power to promote and defend his government’s record.

Media capture

As the report shows, media capture in the Czech Republic differs fundamentally from countries like Hungary. Rather than a state-led media takeover, the Czech Republic witnessed the acquisition of many of the country’s largest private media outlets by a handful of oligarchs for whom media could be used to promote their wider business interests. This development had serious consequences for media pluralism and the standards of journalism. Meanwhile, once in power, Babiš arguably sought to mirror certain media-capture strategies adopted in Hungary and Poland, while other oligarch-owned media limited their criticism of Babiš and his ANO party.

The report also examines how high-quality investigative journalism retreated from mainstream media to a community of small digital outfits that, despite their reduced resources, have been able to maintain a crucial check on power.

The report examines growing pressure on the public-service broadcaster Czech Television (CT) under the Babiš government. While the struggle for control of CT weakened its independence, the broadcaster ultimately held out against full capitulation, remaining a beacon of public-service journalism in the region. In this light, the report looks at key reform proposals to strengthen Czech public media’s defenses against future attempts to compromise its independence.

The report also details how government advertising funds were directed to benefit Mafra media owned by Babiš and recommends policy reform to end the abuse of government funds to reward positive media coverage.

Opportunity for reform

The new Czech government now has the opportunity to strengthen the media sector through a robust reform of the rules on public media and the use of public funds as well as through policies ensuring the support of the quality journalism sector. The report provides key recommendations toward this end.

In July 2022 the Czech government will take over the Presidency of the European Union where it has already announced that media freedom will be central to its agenda.

The report is authored by Michal Klíma, who was the chair of the IPI Czech National Committee until February 2022 when he accepted a position as the advisor to the Czech prime minister on media issues and on countering disinformation.

The report was also presented during the panel “Competing Models of Media Capture in Europe” at the Media Freedom Rapid Response Summit on March 24.

This report is published as part of IPI’s actions in the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

Petr Fiala and the centre-right SPOLU alliance won the Czech general election. Photo: Zbyněk Pecák/FORUM 24 Library

Despite election defeat, Babiš’s influence over the media still…

Despite election defeat, Babiš’s influence over the media still matters (FORUM 24)

After Czech election result, political influence over the media remains a major problem

Johana Hovorková, editor-in-chief, FORUM 24

This piece is published in collaboration with FORUM 24 as part of a content series on threats to independent media in Central Europe. Read more

On October 8 and 9, the Czech Republic held elections to the Chamber of Deputies, the lower chamber of parliament. A coalition of the so-called traditional parties named SPOLU (United) clinched a narrow victory over the ANO movement of now former prime minister Andrej Babiš – but despite their victory effectively ousting the oligarch, the political contest was not and is not fair. Candidates face unequal conditions and this will continue to be the case in the municipal and presidential elections ahead.

The former prime minister Babiš, through his trust funds, owns media companies which control a third of the Czech market. His Agrofert corporation employs tens of thousands of people and places a considerable number of ads in the media it does not own. Thus, it is hardly to be expected that the media will dare to be critical of him.

The Czech Republic does have the Office for the Supervision of Political Parties and Political Movements, whose task is to monitor compliance with the 90 million CZK spending limit for campaigns. Unfortunately and despite repeated inquiries and warnings from journalists and democratic politicians, it does not consider the pieces in the media owned by Babiš´s publishing houses as campaign spending, even though they are often open PR or smear campaigns against his adversaries. In response to FORUM 24´s question, the office explained it considered them opinion pieces like any other.

In the same fashion, the public Czech TV and Czech Radio regularly invited—and they still do—editors from the Agrofert-owned Mafra publishing house to their shows to comment on politics and often on topics exclusively related to the prime minister, presenting them as “unbiased” commentators. This practice has not changed so far and the audience is not provided with information about whose interests these journalists represent.

You know how I am

The daily papers MF Dnes and Lidové noviny, also owned by Agrofert, published obsequious interviews with ministers from ANO before the elections. This opportunity was unavailable to any other representative of the opposition parties. Furthermore, Andrej Babiš owns a whole range of tabloid and lifestyle media.

These are excerpts from a tabloid weekly Rytmus života, which claims readership of 370 thousand per issue. One of the September issues boasted a double page piece about Babiš and his wife Monika with phrases like these:

“The kind face of Andre Babiš only changes when somebody fails to keep their word” and “What helps one act calmly is doing things in line with one´s conscience”.

This is the first question: “Why did you enter politics? What was your reason for it?” And this is the prime minister´s answer: “You know how I am. I am not indifferent to what is going around me and never have been…”

Babiš´s media also systematically suppressed scandals which involved the former prime minister. These included for example the poisoning of the Bečva river as a consequence of a chemical leak which had killed fish. An Investigation conducted by independent media points to the possibility the culprit was chemical producer DEZA from the Agrofert corporation. The papers owned by the corporation virtually failed to mention that.

These outlets also devoted little coverage to the facthat Andrej Babiš´s son returned to the Czech Republic, where he was able to give his testimony to the local police after many years. He claims to have been used in the so-called Čapí hnízdo scheme, for which his father is being prosecuted. The crux of the matter is a 50 million subsidy earmarked for small and midsized companies. Holding Agrofert got this money from the EU illegally and Babiš claimed that Čapí hnízdo is just a small company which has nothing to do with his imperium.

Given ANO´s dominant position over their junior cabinet partner ČSSD (Social Democrats), it was also impossible to ask members of the cabinet difficult questions. At the beginning of 2020, FORUM 24 was refused a permit to attend the press conferences held regularly at the Cabinet Office and this policy was not altered even during the covid 19 pandemic when they were held online and there were no grounds for limiting the number of attending journalists.

The inequality is further proven by FORUM 24´s findings based on the analysis of publicly available data from Datlab. The Mafra publishing house was awarded ad contracts worth 140 million CZK between 2018 and 2020. The list of advertisers includes ministries, regional government, but also state owned cultural institutions. None of the more critical media outlets received even a fraction of this amount despite the fact that their reach is not significantly lower and in some cases is even higher than that of the media selected for the campaigns, such as MF DNES and Lidové noviny papers.

The Czech media environment is severely skewed. Given the range of Andre Babiš´s business interests, virtually no industry or field remains unaffected. From food production, through urea production, underwear retail, running fertility treatment clinics to media. No other Czech citizen, let alone a politician, can compete with him in this. No other political party has unlimited resources for its campaign and no other politician employs journalists.

Exit strategy

The October elections have demonstrated that not even Andrej Babiš´s hegemony is all-powerful. The democratic parties successfully formed two coalition blocs to form a government. There will certainly be many things one can criticize this cabinet for, but the game will be played on a democratic playing field, something which was almost lost in previous years.

One of the things that helped the representatives of independent media and civil society in the previous term was international pressure. Two significant declarations of the EU Parliament were ratified, the EU Parliament conducted a fact-finding mission to the Czech Republic and international journalist institutions also expressed their concern over, among other things, the restrictions of cabinet press conference admissions. That is very important, because otherwise, there tends to be a widespread feeling that outside Poland and Hungary, no serious challenges to press freedom exist in the EU. But they do in Czechia.

Soon Czechs will be voting for a new president, who does not have the deciding power, but his or her role is important nonetheless since he or she can push the limits of the Constitution as demonstrated by Miloš Zeman. He refused to to appoint a minister on the proposal of the Prime Minister due to differing views although it is his duty.

Andrej Babiš has already started preparing for the election. Regardless of who will face him in the popular election, we know that just as in the parliamentary elections, the playing field will not be level. Babiš´s candidacy will be openly supported by a third of the media (the ones he owns) and at least another third will give him a lot of uncritical coverage because of Agrofert´s ads (this third includes for-profit TV Nova and TV Prima).

Is it possible to say the election is fair under such conditions? Will citizens be able to decide based on all the information which could and should be available to them? Hardly. It is necessary to keep drawing attention to this situation both in the Czech Republic itself and abroad.

This piece is part of a content series on threats to independent media in Central Europe in collaboration with leading independent media in the region. Read more.

This article was published as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.