The Ethical Journalism Network, together with their partners the Evens Foundation and Fritt Ord Foundation, have produced the following report which looks at the challenges that the media are facing in Czech Republic. This report follows the publication of reports on Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria and is part of a series of reports that will be published over the coming months on the media situations in Slovakia, Ukraine and Georgia.
Building Trust in Journalism – Czech Republic
This policy report provides an overview of the challenges and opportunities that the media are facing in the Czech Republic. Based on desk research and a number of key stakeholder interviews that took place across the media landscape, it finds that the ownership of the most influential news outlets by a handful of billionaire tycoons and politicians including the prime minister has had a chilling effect on journalism in the country. The overall impact of their takeover has been a decline in the credibility and trust of the media among the public and a drop in the Czech Republic’s international press freedom rankings. It has also led to fears that journalists could be self-censoring to keep their jobs though the extent to which this is happening is hard to quantify. Czech public television and radio are the most trusted and respected outlets in the country and all stakeholders interviewed said they provide balanced and ethical journalism including investigative stories. However, Czech television in particular is vulnerable as a result of changes to the regulatory body that controls its budget which could threaten its independence. The once vibrant local media sector has been decimated, especially the small newspapers that flourished after the Velvet Revolution, where declining sales and advertising revenues as well as buyouts by media conglomerates have caused ethical dilemmas for journalists forced to navigate reporting on the businessmen who own their media houses. Many local newspapers have closed or amalgamated their newsrooms, leaving an information void in communities and uninformed citizens who lack interest in local issues. The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated all the problems outlined in this report, particularly in the regions.
• The Czech media is less free and vibrant than it was five years ago. The buyout of the country’s mainstream news media and local outlets by wealthy businessmen and politicians including the prime minister Andrej Babiš has caused the Czech Republic to sink to 40 out of 180 countries in the 2020 Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index, from 16 in 2013.
• Many of the oligarchs bought the media outlets to promote their own political and economic agendas and had little interest in journalism.
• The media owned by the prime minister shows a bias towards the government that may not be apparent to all readers but was noticeable to analysts interviewed for this report.
• Journalists have been placed in a nearly impossible position if they want to work in their chosen profession, as the choice of truly independent outlets is limited. Independent, ethical journalism is therefore compromised as journalists have little choice but to follow the partisan and politicised narratives of their owners.
• Czech television and radio are trusted by around 60% of the population1, according to surveys by the Reuters Institute. However, the Reuters survey was carried out online only so missed out members of the public who don’t use the internet. According to the latest available general survey from August 2020, Czech TV was trusted by 78% of people and Czech Radio by 62%.2 Analysts interviewed for this report said the journalism produced by the public broadcasters was among the best in the region, comparable to Germany, for example, despite less money being available in the Czech Republic.
• The media councils that must approve budgets for public television and radio have been taken over, or are being taken over, by members who are hostile to the principles that underpin the free press. If this continues it could mark the end of independent public service media in the Czech Republic.
• The vibrant local media sector born from the collapse of the communist regime in the late 1980s has been almost wiped out. A Czech-Slovak conglomerate bought up almost all the local newspapers, then closed, centralised or downsized newsrooms. This has resulted in a sharp decline in local content, particularly investigations.
• The independent local outlets that remain have been forced to rely on paid for content to stay afloat though it isn’t always made clear to readers and viewers that stories are advertising rather than journalism.
• This decline in quality journalism at the local level has resulted in apathy among many readers and viewers who now show little interest in local issues that directly affect their lives.
• The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated an already difficult financial situation for many outlets, particularly local media houses. Many regional papers are expected to close due to declining sales and advertising revenues.
• Business and political influence over the Czech media may become further entrenched, as tycoonswilling to sacrifice profits for influence buy into the struggling sector. This could see trust in the media and the Czech Republic’s press freedom rankings all even further.
1 Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (2020). The Czech media landscape. [online] Available at: https://www.digitalnewsreport.
org/survey/2020/czech-republic-2020 (Accessed 22 February 2021).
2 Cesky rozhlas (2020). Průzkum: Češi nejvíc důvěřují rozhlasu, pak televizi. [online] Available at: https://digital.rozhlas.cz/pruzkum-cesi-nejvic-duveruji-rozhlasu-pak-televizi-8271705 (Accessed 22 February 2021).
The Evens Foundation aims to contribute to rethinking and building a European reality committed to the values of diversity, freedom, responsibility and solidarity. We identify and support innovative ideas and achievements through our prizes and calls, initiate experimental projects bridging the gap between research and practice, and facilitate knowledge exchange through our lectures, seminars, debates and publications.
The Fritt Ord Foundation is a private non-profit foundation that is intended to protect and promote freedom of expression, public debate, art and culture. We work internationally, concentrating on projects directly related to freedom of expression and free journalism.