The Czech Republic has a new media freedom watchdog. A number of leading journalists this week established a Czech branch of the International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists set up to protect press freedom and support independent journalism wherever it is under threat.
The International Press Institute was set up in 1950 by 34 leading journalists from 16 countries. Since then it has defended journalists and press freedom wherever they are threatened. After the fall of communism in 1989 IPI helped develop independent media in the Czech Republic and a number of the country’s top journalists became IPI members. Now they have set up a branch of IPI in the Czech Republic with the aim of addressing controversial issues relating to media freedom and supporting independent journalism. Czech Radio’s Veronika Sedláčková is one of the organization’s co-founders.
She says there is plenty for the organization to do in this country.
“We see in the Czech Republic today an unprecedented conflict of interest stemming from the fact that the prime minister, Andrej Babiš bought the Mafra publishing house in 2013. He has been forced to put it in a trust fund and denies influencing journalists in any way, but we have seen the content of those publications change. I think the fear of oligarchs undermining press freedom is valid in this country and there is every reason to defend and fight for journalists who are producing independent, quality journalism.”
The founders of IPI Czech Republic are now addressing other respected journalists with offers of membership in the organization. Veronika Sedláčková says their goal is not just to defend press freedom but to support quality journalism in every way possible.
“What we want is for our members to follow what’s happening on the Czech media scene and be available to any journalist who might be in need of help or advice. We should also help to define the concept of quality, independent journalism. I think this is particularly important in view of the strong Russian propaganda in this country when many people are finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish between fake news and reliable information. So there is plenty of work for us here – we are at the very outset.”
In addition to the changing structure of ownership in the media –when foreign investors were gradually replaced by Czech ones, who frequently use the media for their own ends, there is the problem of increasing disrespect shown by some Czech politicians to journalists. In his time president Vaclav Klaus called journalists “the worst enemies of mankind” while the present head of state, President Zeman, has compared the media to an organized crime ring.
Further proof of the fact that independent journalism is facing problems in this country is the Czech Republic’s rating on the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index where the country slid eleven places down last year.