Czech Republic: Covid is giving the public broadcasters a boost

The public TV and radio broadcasters were already the most respected media in the Czech Republic shortly before the coronavirus crisis. In a survey conducted by Masaryk University’s department of journalism on trust in the country's major media outlets, both broadcasters easily achieved the highest approval ratings - more than 56 percent. That figure is likely to have risen significantly since then.

A demonstration against Prime Minister Andrej Babiš on 1 March 2020. He is accused of having a conflict of interest because of his connections to the Agrofert conglomerate, which also owns several newsapers.
A demonstration against Prime Minister Andrej Babiš on 1 March 2020. He is accused of having a conflict of interest because of his connections to the Agrofert conglomerate, which also owns several newsapers.
Under normal circumstances ČT24, the 24/7 news channel of public broadcaster Česká televize, is watched by just a small minority of Czechs who take a special interest in political affairs. Since the start of the crisis, however, it has repeatedly occupied first or second place in the daily viewer ratings. The channel provides live coverage of the latest developments, broadcasts the press conferences of the crisis management teams, organises the information to make it comprehensible and ensures that it reaches even the smallest communities thanks to its nationwide network of reporters.

Česká televize’s foreign correspondents are also very active and supplement the information with reports from their own regions. Normally far more popular, the private TV stations have been trailing in the viewer ratings ever since the start of the pandemic. The situation is similar with the public radio broadcaster Český rozhlas: its two stations Radiožurnal and Český rozhlas Plus are attracting far more listeners than the private stations, which are normally the market leaders.

Attacks from above

This boost to their image is a boon for the public broadcasters. In recent times they, in particular, have come under massive political pressure. President Miloš Zeman never misses an opportunity to lash out at journalists, in particular those who work for the public media, calling them "incompetent" and blasting their reporting as "biased". In an extraordinary televised address aired during the coronavirus crisis, for which he deliberately chose a private channel, Zeman actually said: "Don’t pay too much attention to the barking and shouting of our journalistic commentators, who, as usual, are writing about everything yet understand nothing. Pay all the more attention to the professionals who can help you."

The head of state is also scathing in his criticism of other media, namely those that belong to the Economia publishing group. Hospodářské noviny, widely considered the Czech Republic’s best quality daily newspaper, the internationally prominent liberal weekly Respekt, the vociferous news site Aktuálně.cz and the private television station DVTV, renowned for its high standards, all belong to this group. According to Zeman, these media "manipulate society and tell us every day how to behave". The journalists of this publishing group, he said, were not worthy of this professional title.

The only media outlets that escape his regular criticism, which is essentially a permanent attack on press freedom, are the newspapers of the Agrofert group, which belongs to Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and is currently under trusteeship so that the head of government cannot be accused of a clear conflict of interest.

The director of Česká televize, Petr Dvořák said he does not expect the hostile attitude of Zeman and other leading politicians towards his broadcaster and other media to change. But at least the Czech Republic does not have a one-party government that could shake the foundations of free journalism, as in Poland or Hungary, he pointed out in an interview with Hospodářské noviny.

World Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders):
Rank 40 (2020)

Last updated: April 2020
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