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TV JOURNALISTS STRIKE OVER POLITICAL INTERFERENCE

The appointment of a controversial new general manager for Czech public TV and the subsequent dismissal of journalists has provoked a strike by the station's journalists as well as protests from the World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Reporters sans frontières (RSF), Freedom House, and the International Press Institute (IPI). The events have shaken the country, which freed itself from Soviet-style press controls only a decade ago. IFJ calls the strike a "moment of truth", while the WPFC says the situation is a "black mark for free speech and press freedom."

Jiri Hodac was appointed general manager of Czech television on 12 December. He is closely identified with the right-wing Civic Democratic Party which exerts considerable influence on the minority Social Democrat government. According to IFJ, nine of the station's 13 management members rebelled and asked Hodac to resign. He responded by dismissing four of them. Following the appointment of a news director who is also associated with the Civic Democratic Party, 20 editorial staff were fired.

"In addition to purging journalists on obviously political grounds, Jiri Hodac has gone on to direct openly biased news programming," says the WPFC. It points to a broadcast statement by the Culture Minister, who had previously called for Hodac's resignation, being cut off as one example. According to RSF, the dissident journalists' demands include the resignation of the recently-appointed general manager and news director, along with a parliamentary review of the conditions for appointing the station's management. RSF urged parliament to hear the journalist's concerns. The IFJ has given its "full support" to the journalists' and media workers' strike, while the WPFC has called for the independence of Czech public television to be restored. The IPI is supporting calls for the Czech Television Council, which was responsible for Hodac's appointment, to be replaced with one whose members would be proposed by professional and civic groups, not by politicians.

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