Media of the Czech Republic
In November 1989, Czechoslovakia returned to a liberal democracy through the peaceful "Velvet Revolution" (led by Václav Havel and his Civic Forum). In the following years the country, which became Czech Republic in 1993, went through a rapid economic transformation. This also affected the media that, on the other hand, became free of the heavy-handed control of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and was able to develop in a competitive environment (Steve Kettle, The development of the Czech media since the fall of communism Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics, Volume 12, 1996 - Issue 4: Post‐Communism and the Media in Eastern Europe, p. 42). However, before the revolution that set the country free from Soviet control, despite persecution there were illegally published magazines within the samizdat phenomenon, which permitted to circulate dissident ideas among people who possessed positions of cultural power and authority. Among them there was also Václav Havel, the last president of Czechoslovakia from 1989 until its dissolution in 1992. Since the Soviet Union’s dissolution, most Czech media outlets used to be owned by non-Czech western companies, while after the global economic recession of 2008 many were acquired by Czech firms. In early 2014, eight out of the ten most influential figures in the media were Czech or Slovak .
In 2017 Freedom House defined Czech Republic's press freedom status as “free", while the country ranks 23rd among 180 countries in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index prepared annually by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) . However RSF also underlines the fact that in recent years there have been a “rise of the oligharcs” in the media landscape. According to Freedom House, limits to the country’s media pluralism and independence are presented by concentration of media ownership and ownership by politicians.
Print and online media
Czech Republic has four main daily newspapers: Lidové noviny (former dissident publication); Mladá fronta DNES (with a centre-right orientation); Právo (with a centre-left political position) and Blesk, all based in Prague. Both Lidové noviny and Mladá fronta DNES are a part of the MAFRA publishing group, owned by Andrej Babiš, the current Prime Minister of the Czech Republic. As of 2018, the MAFRA group is a part of a trust fund along with other Babiš's companies. Blesk, a tabloid newspaper, with more than 1 million readers per average issue is the most-read national daily. Blesk’s publisher Czech News Center also publishes Aha!, another tabloid newspaper which focuses on the news about the Czech celebrities. The daily has a right-wing stance and its major audience is represented by the Czech youth. Overall the country accounts for 7 print news outlets and over 20 online news portals. There has been a decline in circulation on Czech daily newspapers since 2009, which slowed down in 2016. In the same year Seznam Zpravy and Info.cz were launched. The first one, a news site combining daily video, text-based news and video commentaries, was introduced by the country’s leading web portal and second-biggest search engine Seznam.cz and has quickly become the top online news media in the country. On the other hand, Info.cz was launched by the Czech News Center as a news server with the aim of emphasising quality information. Finally, the Czech News Agency (Česká tisková kancelář, ČTK), previously the national state press agency, is the first and main Czech media with domestic and foreign information services. As it is not financed with state budget, its income derives from selling news to subscribers.
Television and radio
Commercial television has a major place in the Czech media landscape and attracts almost half of the total advertising spend. Before the collapse of communism, the only broadcaster in Czech Republic was “Czechoslovak television”, which was transformed into the public service broadcaster “Czech television” in 1992. Czech TV (ČT) operates two terrestrial public broadcast channels: mainstream CT1 and cultural channel CT2, while CT24 (for news) is a digital public channel. The first national commercial licence was granted to Television Nova in 1993. The TV station soon gained a dominant position on the television market managing to keep it so far. Prima televize is the second private national TV channel. Broadcast media regulatory authority is the Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting (RRTV), while public-service ČT is regulated by its own council.
Freedom of the press and freedom of speech are guaranteed by the 1992 Constitution, i.e. Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. In Division Two of the Charter, Article 17, these expression rights are defined: however, the Charter prohibits speech that might infringe on national security, individual rights, public health, or morality. Defamation is still a crime in the country, although in 2005 a Constitutional Court ruling found that value judgements are legally protected. Cross-ownership in the media industry is legally limited under the Law on Radio and Television Broadcasting No. 231 of 2001, which defines the license and regulation policy for broadcasting and the role of Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting. However, these ownership restrictions do not apply to foreign ownership and are considered to be “minimal” by some observers. Other important regulations are the Press Law (No. 46/2000), the Act on Czech Television No. 483 and the Act on Czech Radio No. 484. Both went into force in 1991 and have been amended several times. They provide on the so-called “small” councils that control only Czech Radio and Czech TV (ČT). Moreover, Law No. 106 of 1999 regulates the Free Access to Information, Law No. 45 of 1995 regulates Advertisements and the discipline regarding copyright is provided by Law No. 35 of 1996.
Media freedom and censorship
In 2017 Freedom House defined Czech Republic’'s press freedom status as “free", while according to Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index it is ranked 23rd among 180 countries. However in its 2016 report, Freedom House also states that criminal defamation, concentrated media ownership as well as ownership of media by politicians as the main obstacles for media freedom. Despite of the good ranking of Czech Republic in RSF’s media freedom chart, some relevant episodes concerning media freedom and censorship took place in the country:
- Legislative ambiguities and contradictions emerged at the time of the banning of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf , in 2000.
- In 2003 Karel Srba, a former general secretary of the Czech Foreign Ministry, has been convicted of plotting to murder Sabina Slonkova - – an investigative reporter of daily Mlada Fronta Dnes who had been writing about corruption inside the Ministry.
- In 2011, a raid by military police took place in the offices of Czech Television in Prague.
- In 2017, a leaked audio recording caught the leader of Action of Dissatisfied Citizens (Akce nespokojených občanů, ANO) party, former Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Andrej Babiš, instructing a journalist on how to attack his political rivals. Many European parliamentarians condemned the alleged actions of Mr Babiš, but also stressed that this case resembles more a failure of a single politician, rather than a manifestation of the government’s systematic abuse of media.
Moreover, some experts sustain a pro-Russian disinformation campaign is taking place in Czech Republic, which allegedly originates from multiple sources: numerous pro-Russian websites, social media communities, printed periodicals as well as radio broadcasts.
Under the leadership of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, all mass media in Czechoslovakia were governed by the state, state organisations or political parties. Since the Soviet Union’s dissolution, most Czech newspapers used to be owned by non-Czech western conglomerates: until 2007, 70% of Czech magazines and newspapers were owned by German and Swiss corporations. The process of the media returning to Czech ownership started with the 2008 financial crisis. The restructuring of ownership culminated in 2015 when the German Verlagsgruppe Passau, the last major non-Czech European media group in the country, left the market: it sold its local publishing house, Vltava-Labe-Press, to Penta Investments, which owns media holdings both in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia. Despite this media ownership turmoil, research shows that journalists are not affected by the ownership change and tend to view journalism ethics and the ability of journalism to exert power more seriously than before. The new ownership structure of Czech media led to an increase in live news coverage, tabloid-style content and so-called “Google journalism”, although investigative journalism is still strong in the country. On the other hand, the increase of the ownership concentration represent a threat to the media pluralism of the country. Andrej Babiš, former Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, owns two of the most influential daily newspapers (Lidové Noviny and Mlada Fronta Dnes) and one of the most popular news website (iDnes.cz). However, some experts consider the Czech Republic to be one of the hubs in the EU territory for the few Pan-European media companies controlling large part of broadcasting market in Europe.
- List of newspapers in the Czech Republic
- List of radio stations in the Czech Republic
- Battle of Czechoslovak Radio
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