With the departure of the head of Czech public television (CTV) imminent (evidently for health reasons), the post mortems on the state in which he will have left CTV have begun. This past Monday, Mirka Spacilova, the lead film and television critic at Mlada fronta DNES (the country’s largest and most influential serious daily), took aim in a full-page article. She makes a lot of very good points. Among them:

–Any new director will face opposition to change since the station looks today a lot more like an archaic institution than a TV station pulsating with life.

–The station needs to re-think its mission as the current mish mash of programming, designed to produce something for every possible interest group, leads to just that, a mish mash without any overall conception.

–As a public TV station, CTV should be producing programs that can’t be found anywhere else, not cheap copies of stuff that appears on commercial television. Funded as it is largely through user fees and not advertising, the station should be able to risk more.

–Some truly creative folks might be plucked from some of the commercial stations, such as TV Nova.

–Even if a brave, determined new director can be found, a real miracle worker ready to force through radical change, the Czech television council still wields too much power under the current system and can fire the director if he or she goes “too far” (and council members are rarely broadcast experts).

In one area, however, I think Spacilova gives the departing director, Jiri Janecek, too little credit (her overall assessment is that he didn’t do much, in order to stay on good terms with the council and remain in office). In comparison with other public broadcasters in Central and Eastern Europe, CTV is remarkably independent. A typical viewer would be hard-pressed to say whether the station favors one political party or another, let alone the ruling coalition. On a nightly basis, particularly on an excellent talk show called “Hyde Park”, moderators take on the political elite, asking tough, direct questions. An investigative show called “Reporters” has done plenty of episodes on government corruption and mismanagement. The days of overt political interference (which led to the memorable demonstrations of 2000-2001) really do seem a relic of the past, again in direct contrast to so many countries in our coverage region. That is something Czechs tend to forget when they heave criticism at their public broadcaster.

And just one final remark: The Czech political elite has been rightly accused of a lack of political culture: endless bickering, no consensus-seeking with the opposition, clientelism, and just plain bad taste. Yet they should be commended for largely leaving the public broadcasters alone. That’s a lot more than can be said for their counterparts elsewhere, even in Western Europe and the United States.

Jeremy Druker

Jeremy Druker is the executive director and editor in chief of Transitions Online. Twitter: @JeremyDruker Email: jeremy.druker@tol.org

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