Czech Republic: mounting pressure on journalists

When Czech President Miloš Zeman was sworn in for his second term of office in March 2018, he poured scorn on critical journalists in his country - as he had already done five years previously. This was further proof that conditions for free journalism in the Czech Republic had become more complicated.

Czech President Miloš Zeman.
Czech President Miloš Zeman.
This time, Zeman took the publishing company Economia to task. Its titles include Hospodářské noviny (considered to be the Czech Republic’s highest quality newspaper), the liberal weekly Respekt, which has won international journalism awards, the debate-friendly website Aktuálně.cz, and the widely acclaimed private television channel DVTV. These media, Zeman said, "manipulate society, telling us every day how to behave." He added that the journalists of these publications were not worthy of the name.

Zeman's choice of words was no mere coincidence. It echoed the tirades of US President Donald Trump. When the latter took aim at major TV stations in the US, Zeman remarked enthusiastically on a public forum: "That man has balls." And at a press conference the Czech president brandished a wooden replica gun inscribed with the words: “For journalists”. In May 2017, on the fringes of the Silk Road Summit in Beijing, Zeman tried to impress his Russian colleague Putin with a macabre joke. At a joint press conference, he commented: "There are too many journalists here, they should be liquidated." That was too much even for Putin, who replied: "There's no need to eliminate them all, but their numbers could be reduced."

When Zeman gave his inflammatory inauguration speech against journalists, a dozen conservative and liberal deputies demonstratively left the ceremony. In Prague and other cities, press freedom demonstrations ensued.

It was notable that Zeman made no mention of the media that genuinely deserve criticism - those that after the collapse of communism passed into the hands of German publishers who then, in the course of the newspaper crisis, sold their titles to the highest bidder. In 2013 the two leading papers, Lidové noviny and Mláda fronta Dnes, were transferred from the Rheinisch-Bergische Verlagsgesellschaft to oligarch Andrej Babiš, who is the second-richest man in the country and since the last parliamentary elections, also its prime minister.

In his inaugural address Zeman also attacked the public television broadcaster by name for its reporting, saying it was "unbalanced". Such accusations have become a common occurrence, also from the politicians of the far right and left - but so far no evidence has been produced to back their claims.

Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders):
Rank 34 (2018)

Last updated: March 2018
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