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The Czech Republic

The Czech Republic

Basic Data

Official Country Name: Czech Republic
Region (Map name): Europe
Population: 10,264,212
Language(s): Czech
Literacy rate: 99.9%
Area: 78,866 sq km
GDP: 50,777 (US$ millions)
Number of Daily Newspapers: 75
Total Circulation: 1,704,000
Circulation per 1,000: 199
Number of Nondaily Newspapers: 62
Total Circulation: 765,000
Circulation per 1,000: 89
Total Newspaper Ad Receipts: 5,086 (Koruna millions)
As % of All Ad Expenditures: 19.30
Number of Television Stations: 150
Number of Television Sets: 3,405,834
Television Sets per 1,000: 331.8
Television Consumption (minutes per day): 194
Number of Cable Subscribers: 959,960
Cable Subscribers per 1,000: 93.2
Number of Satellite Subscribers: 570,000
Satellite Subscribers per 1,000: 55.5
Number of Radio Stations: 352
Number of Radio Receivers: 3,159,134
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 307.8
Radio Consumption (minutes per day): 178
Number of Individuals with Computers: 1,250,000
Computers per 1,000: 121.8
Number of Individuals with Internet Access: 1,000,000
Internet Access per 1,000: 97.4
Internet Consumption (minutes per day): 40

Background & General Characteristics

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Bloc in 1989, the Czech Republic has become a crossroad for new ideas and lively journalism. Newspapers which are both regional and national appear in a number of languages including Czech, English, German, and Russian.

Enterprising young journalists flocked to the Czech Republic to seek their fortunes in a new Eastern Europe. Likewise, western investors moved swiftly into an open arena of opportunities. Except for those papers once associated with the Communist Party or those with a deliberate left bias, most Czech newspapers are owned by non-Czech western conglomerates or cartels from Germany, Switzerland, or the Netherlands.

On January 1, 1993, a new political entity in Central Europe appeared from the shattered remains of the Soviet Bloc of the Cold War: the Czech Republic. The capital was the historic city of Prague, once a capital of the Holy Roman Empire during the Middle Ages, the site of the Hussite Rebellion in 1415, and the beginning of the Thirty Years War in 1618. When Czechoslovakia finally emerged as one of the few authentic democracies in East Central Europe during the interval between the world wars of the twentieth century, the nationalist yearnings of the Czech people had finally found expression, largely through the help of the expatriate Czech-Slovak communities in the United States and their influence on President Woodrow Wilson. However, the agitation of the powerful German minority living in the Sudetenland bordering Germany caused these lands to be carved away as a consequence of Hitler's Munich Accord in 1938. In the winter of 1939, Hitler's armies occupied the remaining parts of the country, allowing Slovakia to exist as protectorate and placing Bohemia and Moravia under German rule.

The outbreak of World War II was only months away. Czechoslovakia reappeared as a European country in 1945, and by 1948 it had become part of the Soviet Bloc for the remaining decades of the Cold War. In 1968 reformers under the leadership of Alexander Dubceck attempted to create a peaceful reformation of the communist system from within, known as the "Prague Spring," only to be defeated by the invasion of a Soviet army. After the fall of Communism in 1989, the Czech Republic continued to exist as Czechoslovakia within the borders originally defined by the end of World War I, the disappearance of the Hapsburg Empire, and its reconstitution after World War II. The collapse of Communism and the emergence of a democratic Czechoslovakia under the leadership of such individuals as the author and later president Václav Havel was called the "Velvet Revolution" because of the absence of violence. Such seminal events in Czech history have acquired signature labels, another example being the democratic and revolutionary "Prague Spring" of 1968 that was crushed under Soviet military force. The union of Czechs and Slovaks, which had been taken for granted in the West, had never been a comfortable alliance. Unexpectedly, nationalists of both groups, in keeping with similar trends sweeping across Eastern and Central Europe, suddenly won the day, and Czechoslovakia became the separate Czech and Slovak Republics. In Czech parlance, this is called the "Velvet Divorce" that created two distinct republics with separate languages, traditions, and not very well concealed mutual animosity.

At the new millennium, the Czech Republic is a land-locked, heavily forested country that encompasses the historical and medieval kingdoms of Bohemia and Moravia, which were once central to the Holy Roman Empire, with an estimated population of over 10 million inhabitants. At 81 percent, the Czechs are the dominant ethnic and linguistic group, followed by the Moravians at thirteen percent. The remaining ethnic and linguistic groups include Poles, Germans, Hungarians, Slovaks, Silesians, Roma (Gypsies), and even Vietnamese, as well as other expatriate foreigners such as Americans.

Newspapers

Newspapers in the Czech Republic are divided into two categories: national and regional. Most of the national press is centered in Prague, capital of the Republic. The Prague location also allows for the existence of an international press that includes Internet sites, which are an innovation in Czech journalism.

Among national papers, as reported by the Prague Post, the Mladá-fronta Dnes (Today), a daily founded in 1945 with a circulation of over 400,000 and owned by the German RBVG, once had the largest circulation as a national paper, and includes a TV magazine. The tabloid Blesk follows behind. The third paper is Právo with a Saturday magazine supplement Magazin Právo, a communist past under the title Rudé Právo, and a circulation of around 300,000. The fourth paper, ZN Zemské (Earth News), a family daily with agricultural news of regional focus, a Thursday supplement called Hobby, a Saturday TV magazine, and a print run of about 160,000. It is owned by MRV Bohemia (Germany). The fifth newspaper is Hospodárské Noviny (Business News), specialized paper focusing on economic and political news with a daily insert pertaining to the stock market, Burzovni Novini, and a daily print run of about 110,000.

The sixth of the national newspapers is Lidové Noviny (Peoples' News), which targets a highly educated readership with intellectual commentary and analysis, a print run near 105,000 copies, and a German owner, RBVGmbH. The seventh newspaper is Slovo (World), a politically independent daily with a Saturday magazine, Slovodené Slovo and a print run of about 100,000. The only national sports daily, Sport, published by the national sports organization, prints about 90,000 copies, and has a Friday color supplement, Volno Sport. Two unranked dailies are Halo Novini, an opposition left-wing paper published by Futura, a.s. and Denik Spigl (Daily Mirror), a tabloid in competition with Blesk for sensational stories. Finally, the Metro, which is named after the Prague subway system, is a nationally oriented paper given away free in the subway.

Regional newspapers are divided according to the following geographical labels: Jihocesky kraj (Southern Bohemia), Jihomoravsky kraj (Southern Moravia), Praha Prague, Severocesky kraj (Northern Bohemia), Severomoravsky kraj (Northern Moravia), Stredocesky kraj (Central Bohemia), and Vychodesky kraj (Eastern Bohemia).

With the exception of Prague, there are at least 38 local and regional news papers in these categories, some with the name of the city or region of location in their titles, some with more of a local focus, others offering a broad menu of news ranging from national to international to local topics, and most with some sort of supplement bonus magazines for the readership. This is where the foreign conglomerates have had the most influence. With the exception of papers in the Prague region, all are printed in the Czech language.

Examples of some of these news papers are as follows:

  • The Plzensky Denik (Daily Pilsen), owned by the Passauer group, covers Western-Northern Bohemia with ten regional daily editions with a print run of over 80,000 copies, and depending on the paper, a menu of supplements on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday and advertisers on Tuesday and Wednesday.
  • The Hradecke Novini (Hranice News), again part of the Passau chain, covers Eastern Bohemia with four regional dailies covering both national and international news and offering its readership a Saturday supplement.
  • The Moravian Den (Day), in which MRV Koblenz has 99 percent ownership, has a press run of over 60,000 copies, and provides world and local news as well as a Friday magazine. The city of Prague has its own local newspaper, Vecernik Praha (Evening Prague), again owned by the Passauer group, and offering its readership Prague news and a regular Friday color supplement and a printing run in the neighborhood of 80,000 copies.

International Press

The cosmopolitan character of the city of Prague with its million-plus inhabitants has been a magnet for foreign journalists and newspapers, founding weeklies or even monthly newspapers to begin their own enterprises in a sort of capitalist free-for-all, in which competition for advertising on the open market and a paying readership were located not only within the Czech Republic but also internationally. The most salient of these is the English-language Prague Post, founded in 1992 and practicing Western-style investigative journalism, which has sometimes annoyed Czech government officials as well as indigenous Czech journalists and newspapers. One of the oft-spoken criticisms of the Post is that Czech newspapers blur the difference between news and opinion, that unsophisticated readers in the general Czech public have difficulty discerning between news and advertisement, and that there is often unsubstantiated reporting. A critical journalist must be analytical.

Other English language papers in Prague include the weekly Prague Business Journal, which focuses on business and economic topics, and the monthly Prague Tribune, which is a bilingual Czech-English publication. In terms of layout and design, some 60 percent of the articles are in Czech. At Prague's Charles University, the weekly English-language Carolina has appeared as a student publication. German interests have their own weekly German-language Prager Zeitung (Prague Newspaper). The single Russian-language newspaper is the weekly Czekhiya Sevodnya.

Magazines are also representative of the print media in the Czech Republic. They are heavily reliant on advertising as a primary source of revenue in addition to newsstand sales and subscriptions, and as such, are in a very competitive market. In 1998, the Czech Republic had more than 2,100 magazines, but a year later, only about 1,200 had survived. Some of those, including the news magazine Tyden (Time), were operating at a deficit, even though Tyden was owned by the Ringier-Springer Conglomerate, as was its TV magazine, Tydenik Televize.

Three popular magazines were founded during the "Prague Spring" of 1968, and have survived the vicissitudes of history. The first is Vlasta, a women's magazine owned by VNV, Holland. The second is Story, a lifestyle weekly owned by the same company. The third magazine is also a Holland product, Tydenik Kvety, a lifestyle weekly.

Each magazine has an average circulation of well over 200,000 copies. Other titles targeting specific read-erships and niches in the market place are products of the post-Communist era, and include Ekomom (1991),EURO (1998), Tydenik Respekt (Times-Respect) (1990),Tydenik Rozhlas (Radio Times), Prekvapeni, a women's publication, and finally Tydenik Televize (TV-Times), owned by Ringier-Springer.

In a saturated media-magazine market, Czech publications also compete with Czech versions of popular western publications such as Esquire, Rolling Stone, and Cosmopolitan. The Czech edition of Reader's Digest with a monthly average of 200,000 copies is one of the nation's favorite general magazines.

Economic Framework

As of 2002, the Czech Republic was a member of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) but not the EU (European Union). In line after Poland and Hungary, the Czech Republic is scheduled to enter the EU where its economy can partake of the opportunities available to Western Europe. In preparation for that event, the economy continued to restructure in banking, energy, among others. Of the post-Communist states, the Czech Republic was the most stable and prosperous. In 2000 and 2001 the steady growth of the economy reduced the rate of unemployment to 8.7 percent, and held inflation to a moderate 3.8 percent.

After the fall of communism, the Czech Republic returned to the mixed capitalist-social welfare society characteristic of Western Europe. Private property is recognized in the constitution. The Czech Republic inherited the industrial base of old Czechoslovakia, which included such firms as Skoda, once known for armaments and now a producer of consumer goods such as automobiles.

In comparison to Western Europe and the EU, per capita income is low, thus providing incentive for ambitious and educated young people to move westward in search of work and at the same time, depriving the Czech Republic of its intellectual capital. The Czech beer industry is considered to be a producer of high quality products and helps to spur the economy. Since the fall of Communism, the Czech Republic has seen an increase in the tourism industry as well.

Press Laws

The Czech Republic's formal statement of rights and freedoms can be found in the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms that was issued at the rebirth of a democratic Czechoslovakia in 1990. In Division Two of the Charter Article Seventeen, the freedoms of speech and of the press are defined, but not without the ambiguity rooted in the totalitarian Communist past. Paragraph One guarantees the freedom of expression and the right to information. Paragraph Two guarantees the right of every person to express freely his or her opinion by word, writing, in the press, in pictures or in any other form, as well as to seek freely, receive and disseminate ideas and information irrespective of the frontiers of the State. Paragraph Three prohibits censorship. However, Paragraph Four introduces an element of contradiction and ambiguity to the interpretation of the preceding three paragraphs. One may also draw the same conclusion regarding Paragraph Five which permits organs of the State and of local self government to provide information on their activities in an appropriate manner.

Censorship

Ironically, the first mini-constitutional crisis reflecting these constitutional ambiguities and contradictions involved the banning of Adolf Hitlers's Mein Kampf, which had been published by a small press specializing in historical documents. Czech editions of the book had been published in 1936 and 1993, but this edition without commentary was banned in 2000. In a report by Jan Tracy in the Prague Post of June 14-20, 2000, the Czech criminal code articles of 260 and 261 were identified as the basis of the censorship: The publishing of the book gave support or enlisted support for a movement, the aim of which was to abolish citizens' rights and freedoms, and was punishable by fines and up to five and eight years in prison. The Czech Republic had joined its neighbors, Germany, Austria, and Hungary, in its prohibition of a book that was freely available in Britain and the United States. By the winter of 2001, the Prague Post reported that a superior court invalidated the conviction of the publisher, Michael Zitko, on procedural grounds. Zitko summarized his situation and the potential situation of future publishers with the comment that in a world of absolutes, there was freedom of speech and its principal enemy, censorship. In the world that was the Czech Republic there was everything in between. The Prague Post had condemned the censorship action with the observation that despite noble intentions, no good could come from censorship. A half century after the war, fear of the past of nazism and communism were still operative in Central Europe. The constitution expressed the idealism of a newly minted democratic political order, yet the burden of history was evident. The disorder of the 1990s in the Balkans as well as the appearance of Georg Haider on the political scene in Austria gave the government incentive to pursue right-wing groups.

In a Post editorial, James Pitkin observed that expediency prevailed in a country not yet ready to grasp democracy's inner spirit, criticizing the underlying assumption of the Czech courts that freedom of speech would be fine if the people could be trusted. Freedom of speech was not a perk that came with an open society, rather that open societies grew out of a deep commitment to such ideals. To compromise was corrosive and pointless.

State-Press Relations

Once the Communist legal system was overthrown, there was an effort to expunge its legal legacy, and both the Czech and Slovak Republics have gravitated back to the civil laws of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire in keeping with the requirements of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe. The Czech Republic is a parliamentary democracy with a bicameral parliament consisting of an 81-seat Senate elected by popular vote for six-year terms, one-third elected every two years, and Chamber of Deputies (Polslanecke Snemovna ) of 200 members elected to a four-year term by popular vote. The executive branch consists of a President or chief of State (Václav Havel since 1993), a head of government known as the Prime Minister with deputy Prime Ministers from the legislative majority, as well as a Cabinet appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. The Judicial Branch of government consists of a Supreme Court and a Constitutional Court with a chairman and deputy chairman appointed for 10-year terms.

The fall of communism provided the press in Czechoslovakia and later the Czech Republic with the opportunity to relearn the realities of a market economy, the requirements of capitalism and its function within the ideals of a new democracy. The disintegration of the old order was rapid and unexpected, leaving the Czech press paralyzed. In a communist society, the press was an arm of the state's propaganda apparatus, both in terms of personnel and finances. It was isolated from the democratic presses of the west in many respects, and was unschooled in the rough and tumble of a capitalistic journalism. For reform-minded journalists, the "Velvet Revolution" led by the Civic Forum offered golden opportunities; for those rooted in the old communist system, the future was less rosy. However, journalism was also difficult for western-style reporters, as was noted by Martin Huckerby, who wrote that in a country where the citizen was a supplicant, where basic statistics were often lacking, and where existing information was guarded with tenacity, such reporters were often unwelcome.

Attitude toward Foreign Media

Reflecting the principle of physics that nature abhors a vacuum, western media conglomerates and cartels were swift to move into the new Czech Republic, in particular from Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. After all, 43 percent of the Czech Republic's foreign trade was and has been with Germany.

These cartels include Rheinisch-Bergische VG mbH, Passauer Neue Presse, and Springer Verlag, all from Germany, Ringier of Switzerland, and VNV of the Netherlands. Large newspapers on the political left are independent of the western conglomerates because of their core hostility to capitalism. These include Právo (Rights), a daily with a circulation of about a quarter of a million and once the house organ of the Communist Party, now the Labor Party, and Halo Noviny, an opposition left-wing daily owned by Futura, a.s.

Ringier-Springer owns the second-largest daily Blesk (Flash), a sensationalist tabloid in the image of Springer's German language Bild Zeitung with an emphasis on banner headlines, pictures, and scandal. With a circulation of nearly 300,000 as of January 2000, the paper has continued to grow in influence. Blesk offers a supplement, and in a bid to attain a little more respectability, proposed a Sunday newspaper, Nedeni Novini, to appeal to urban intellectuals. The potential of Blesk to antagonize the status quo can be found in a lawsuit that President Václav Havel was moved to file against the newspaper in 1998. As of April 2001, Blesk had surpassed Mladá fronta Dnes, the oldest of the current newspapers in terms of total circulation.

Given the thorny relationship with its German neighbor, the Czech parliament has tried to limit the presence of German conglomerates, particularly the Passauer Neue Presse (PNP) and Rheinisch-Bergische VG (RBVG), to a market share of 40 percent with what is a very ineffective law, because the cartels had already carved out their market niches in the Czech newspaper world by buying most of the regional daily newspapers. Government bureaucracy has often been reluctant to recognize the investigative nature of western-style journalism, although theoretically the constitution guarantees freedom of the press.

News Agencies

The single Czech news agency centered in Prague is CTK or Ceska Tiskova Kancelar, which functions in both English and Czech. Its subsidiary CT Teletext is a precyber-era format of delivery within the boundaries of the Czech Republic. While Prague is as technologically advanced as Western Europe, the same cannot be said for outlying regions.

Broadcast Media

Broadcast media is divided into radio and television. According to the Central Intelligence Agency's World Factbook 2001, the Czech republic had 31 AM stations, 304 FM stations, and 17 short-wave stations as of the year 2000. Only the Czech Parliament's Television and Radio Broadcast Conical can authorize additional frequencies. Of particular significance is the fact that Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty was moved from Munich to Prague in 1995. RFE/RL broadcasts in English, Russian, Byeloruss, Ukrainian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, and more. Its Czech subsidiary Radio Slobodna Europa broadcasts in Croatian, Serbian, Albanian, and Bosnian. The Czech-owned state radio, Radio Praha, broadcasts in Czech, English, German, French, and Spanish. CRo 1-Radiozurnál broadcasts in Czech from Prague. The venerable BBC can be heard from England, as well as German and Austrian broadcasters to the west, Deutsche Welle and Österreichische Rundfunk. The stations follow the news, music, features, and sports formats of most western European countries.

The Czech Republic had 150 television broadcast stations and 1,434 repeaters as of 2000. Transmission signals from neighboring Germany and Austria also have an audience in the Republic. Approximately half of the TV market share is dominated by the giant TV Nova and is followed by TV Prima, which commands approximately seventeen percent of the viewership. Czech TV1 and Czech TV2 are state-owned enterprises and have about a third share of the total market. Cable and Satellite TV, which can access international stations such as CNN and the BBC as well as commercial satellite broadcasts, is just a little over five percent of the market. Most Czech viewers receive broadcast signals over the air using antennae, and the mountainous landscape in parts of the country can hinder reception. Cable TV is widely available in spa and resort towns such as Carl Vary, which service an international tourist clientele. As in the print media, Western conglomerate owners such as Rupert Murdock have been active and swift in moving into the Czech media market, given the fact that there is a need for an orderly media policy from the government.

In 2001, this confusion was illustrated by the struggles of a new news-oriented TV station, TV3, to find its market niche. Limited by such problems as regional licensing, it reached only 25 percent of the nation's viewers. Like the newspaper industry, television is also dependent upon advertising revenues, and is, in fact, in competition with the print media. There was reluctance to grant more broadcasting frequencies because the national question of analog versus digital television had not been settled, even though there was the expectation that digital would replace analog within the coming decade.

Electronic News Media

The development of the Internet into a major source of news has had just as revolutionary an impact as elsewhere in the world. Internet sites originate in Prague, and include Ahasewbnovy Noviny, Cesky Novinu (Czech News), www.ceskenoviny.cz/ (the cyber arm of CTK), Cesky Vyber Lupa (Magnifying Glass), Neviditelny Pes (Invisible Dog), and Sportonoviny (Sporting News), all of which are in Czech.

An Internet weekly, Dnes (Day), is published in both Czech and German. The Prague Business Journal features business, politics, and national news.

An English Web site located in Prague is the Prague Daily Report. Lidové Noviny maintains an Internet alternative to its paper edition at www.lidovenoviny.cz. Other print newspapers with websites include The Prague Post, www.praguepost.cz; Právo, www.pravo.cz; Carolina, www.cuni.cz/cucc/carolina/carolina.html; and Hospodarske Novini, www.ihned.cz. Svobodne Slovo (Words of Liberty) has the Internet address of www.slovo.cz. The Czech Republic's Ministry of the Interior sponsors a weekly site, Verejná správa (Public News), www.mvcr.cz/vespra.

This arena of news activity is very likely to continue and to expand as the Internet becomes an ever-greater source of news and information.

Education & TRAINING

In some respects, the press in the Czech Republic has exhibited many of the same characteristics of the media in the United States, a rough and tumble capitalistic market place where understanding of the market place supersedes the Communist-era formal academic qualifications. Czech universities such as the flagship Charles University in Prague offer Media Studies with a curriculum quite similar to their western counterparts. Individual companies and organizations are free to set their own qualification standards. There are industry expectations regarding the level and depth of general and when necessary specialized knowledge.

Summary

The Czech Republic stands at the beginning of a new democratic age with the hope and expectations of a prosperity concurrent with Western Europe that is recognized through admission to the EU (European Union) and all of the accompanying economic and cultural benefits. As such, the media in the Czech Republic is at the center of the action. In some respects, this economic globalism works against the ethnocentrism that is a curse of all past members of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The unsettled claims of the Sudeten Germans as well as the social conflicts centering on the Roma provide the Czech media with opportunities to exercise the principles of a hard-won democracy as well as to educate the Czech public in them.

Bibliography

"Breaking into the Newspaper Business", The Prague Post. 3-9 October 2001. Available from http://www.praguepost.com.cz.

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Factbook 2001. 2002. Available from http://www.odci.gov.

Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. Available from http://www.psp.cz.

Cornej, Peter. Fundamentals of Czech History. Prague: Prah Publisher-Martin Nopenka, nd.

Czech Info Center News. Available from http://www.muselik.com/czech/new.html.

Czech Republic Newspapers. Available from http://www.eojeda.com/Inter/Diarios/Europa/Czech%20Republic.html.

Czech Today. Available from http://www.europeaninternet.com/czech.

"English-Language Publication Changes for Czechs", The Prague Post. Available from http://www.praguepost.com.cz.

Independent Media Center Prague. Available from http://www.prague.indymedia.org.

The Internet Public Library (IPL) Reading Room Newspapers. Czech Republic. Available from http://www.ipl.org.

Kidon Media-Link. Newspapers and other Media Sources from the Czech Republic. Available from http://www.kidon.com.

"Largest National and Regional Daily Newspapers", The Prague Post. 13-19 January 1999. Available from http://www.praguepost.com.cz.

"Media Über Alles", The Prague Post. 5-11 December 2001. Available from http://www.praguepost.com.cz.

"Media Wars", The Prague Post. 11-17 April 2000. Available from http://www.praguepost.com.cz.

"Print publication, daily and weekly," The Prague Post. 12-18 January 2000. Available from http://www.praguepost.com.cz.

"Stable Media Market Looks to Sunday for Action," The Prague Post. 12-18 January 2000. Available from http://www.praguepost.com.cz.

Strohlein, Andrew. "The Czech Republic: 1992 to 1999," Central European Review, 13 September 1999. Available from http://www.ce-review.org.

Beverly J. Inman

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