Monday 13 September 1999

The Czech Media: Fulfilling Their Role?

This first ran in Central Europe Review on 13 September 1999. This wasn't the first time I wrote about how the Internet was occupying the position in Czech society that samizdat once did, but it's one of the earliest I can now find online. There's some kind of irony in that, I realise...


Independent media are essential for democracy. Citizens need access to information from the widest possible sources, and journalists must investigate matters and report them intelligently, so that society can make informed decisions. Freedom of information and professional journalists are even more important for a country shaking off the fetters of totalitarian rule.

Unfortunately, the media in the Czech Republic often do not fulfil this lofty role.

The Czech Republic 1992 to 1999: From unintentional political birth to prolonged political crisis

I wrote this long, comprehensive text with the help of Jan Culik, Steven Saxonberg and Kazi Stastna for publication in Central Europe Review on 13 September 1999. It was quite an undertaking, covering a broad sweep of current history up to spring 1999, and I've been asked several times in the years since to update it. No thanks.


The Czech Republic was born on 1 January 1993. To understand its development since then, this article presents a brief historical survey of the past six years, a time that was dominated by one man: Vaclav Klaus.

The Klaus era: "Communism in reverse"

Vaclav Klaus was Prime Minister from 1992 to 1997. Under his rule, especially in the early years, the atmosphere in Czechoslovakia/the Czech Republic could be characterised, with only a little exaggeration, as "Communism in reverse." Klaus presented himself to the Czechs and to the international public as a highly experienced economist with a reliable and competent plan how to privatise state property and how to quickly bring about economic prosperity in the Czech Republic.

Klaus saw himself as a right-wing politician, as a follower of Margaret Thatcher. He persuaded much of the Czech public and almost all of the Czech media that there was no alternative to his economic reform programme. Whoever tried to question this was an enemy--an unreconstructed Communist or a socialist "jeopardising the fragile Czechoslovak democracy and wanting a return to pre-89 days." For much of the time when Klaus was in office, most of the Czech media followed his line slavishly.

There was little unencumbered public debate. The Czech public was happy to have what they saw as a strong, competent and confident leader, who would solve all their problems for them and lead them into Paradise. (see also "The Czech Media: Fulfilling their role?")

This intolerant, post-Communist model started to crumble after the June 1996 general election, when Klaus's government failed to win an outright majority. Serious economic problems were apparent by 1997, and the whole Klausian programme became discredited by lawlessness, banking and financial scandals.

Before we look in detail at the Klaus-dominated early years of the Czech Republic, however, it will be useful to outline the final chapter of Czechoslovakia.