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This essay was written for my Global Media and Communication module, handed in 9/12/11, with a final mark of 63%.

Introduction

The existing media system operating in the Czech Republic is representative of the strides forward the country has taken since the shadowed past of pre-Velvet Revolution and Velvet Divorce, in 1989 and 1993 respectively. Politically, the country has a Presidential system and a Prime Minister-led Parliament. This is a clear indicator of the country’s determination to be an autonomous state since the fall of communism. The President that oversees the government is a political hangover of the communist regime; a leader with powers to overrule. The media system is a combination of a public broadcaster, mainly funded by the government, and a free system built on private ownership. This promotes competition, an attribute of capitalism in the United States of America that the general public wanted to recreate. This case study looks at how the Authoritarian theory as promulgated by Siebert, Peterson and Schramm in 1956 still influences aspects of the Czech print media system after the country tried so hard to remove itself from Soviet rule.

 

The Czech press and its governance

In 2001 the Czech Republic was the first country of the former Soviet occupied states to review their original media policy. After the fall of communism in 1989, media legislation proved such a low priority in comparison to the creation of a new government that the press simply began a form of self-regulation (Gulyás 2003: 85). When the country divorced from the Slovak Republic in 1993, the Press Act created was largely similar to the framework still in use today, one that promoted freedom with no regulation regarding foreign ownership. The state amended the original Press Act, managed by the Ministry of Culture, in 2000. It still clearly denotes the freedom of the press in Section 4. This entire section is summed up in one line of text: “The content of a periodical lies with the editor” (Klaus et. al. 2000)

Major restrictions include regulation on defamation. This is covered in Section 10. It states that if “communications containing factual allegations which touches the honour, dignity or privacy of certain individuals”, the affected can ask for a repeal or a response from the editor to be printed within 30 days. This section has caused the most controversy.

The general public tends to be of the opinion that attaching legislation to regulate the press largely devalues what the country fought for during the demise of Soviet power. Regulation goes precisely against the societal beliefs of what the free press should be. There was public outrage in 1994 when a journalist, Zdenek Svavorky, was arrested and jailed for four months when he described the President, Vaclav Havel as a “traitor” (Wachtal 1996).

The current political leaders have long had a widely publicised loathing of journalists, which has in many cases been duly reciprocated. If the level of detest is so high then why don’t the political leaders impose more restrictions on the media?

There would be, without doubt, absolute disgust on behalf of the public should stricter legislation be introduced, but I would argue another reason: The government tolerates the way the media system operates because it is ultimately the decision of Czech leaders to provide a ‘free’ press. Allowing the public to express their views in a newspaper can in itself be seen as a form of regulation.  Adorno and Horkheimer explain; “there is the agreement of all executive authorities, not to produce or sanction anything that in any way differs from their own rules, their own ideas about consumers, or above all themselves” (1944: 122).

The Czech government supports a system that is intended to allow private ownership and public body broadcasters to work in unison. This bicameral approach is represented in practice in all sectors of the media apart from the newspaper industry.

According to Metykova and Cisařová the current mixture of journalists is divided between those working before the fall of communism and those who came in to the profession following the Velvet Revolution and Divorce. These two types of journalist have opposing ideologies on what their role is in society.

 – Pre 1989

The journalists that survived the cold war reported a huge cultural change in their country. Despite this experience they seem to have developed a hangover of the journalism practices drummed into them by their previous leaders. The job they fulfilled was one that spoke for the government and provided information and structure to the daily order. “The ‘old’ generation identify themselves as the bearers of (arguably idealized) professional standards and professional integrity and pride”. (Metykova &Cisařová 2009: 733)

 – Post 1989

The modern journalist, or at least those who began working after the fall of communism, are far more aggressive in their attempts to undermine the government at any opportunity. The general feeling amongst them is that they now have the freedom to speak out against the government so they will. (Sparks 1998:  162)

The political leaders tend to take these criticisms personally; consequently they have let their feeling for journalists be known. In an interview with Forbes magazine in 1994, the Prime Minister, Vaclav Klaus stated, “journalists are the biggest enemies of mankind” (Gulyás, 2003: 87).

We can take a clear element of distaste shared between the two sides from this quote but Sparks argues that Klaus and other politicians later developed a collaborative relationship with many media outputs, especially TV Nova. The leading commercial Czech television station used these links with politicians to lobby for and achieve changes to media legislation. In exchange for this, the media diluted their hostility toward the country’s leaders (2000: 43). Therefore, as is the case under the authoritarian model, the government achieves support from the press without formal regulation.

Newspapers are under private ownership and must abide by the Press Act. This Act now falls under the terms of the Competition Law of the European Commission, as does the regulation of the rest of the media. The Competition Law says that it regulates “(i) cartels, (ii) abuse of a dominant position and (iii) merger control” (Hoffman 2005: 4). The Antimonopoly Office ensures that the terms of the legislation are followed by taking in to account the specific roles of each publication and investigating media convergences. The media is seen as a vital role in Czech culture, which is “viewed as a ticket to the future”. (Jehlička 2008)

 

Other theories the Czech press may fit into

Some may argue that 4 Theories of the Press is the Bible of media theory but many modern theorists have started to lose faith. There are already suggestions of a fifth, Development theory that applies to peripheral countries, as well as modern combinations of the original four.

Sparks (1998) concludes that the 4 Theories of the Press is a completely useless tool to benchmark the Czech media system against. This is true to an extent.

The Soviet-Communist system is obsolete as the current system was set up to directly oppose the purpose of a Soviet press.

With the press being free, perhaps the Libertarian theory offers a connection, yet the Czech Republic definitely maintains a solid government.

The Social-Responsibility theory does reflect elements of the Czech system. The Czech Press Act gives the impression of a free press, but its official legislation in Section 10 regarding defamation, and the jail sentence of Svavorky, proves otherwise. The media ownership also negotiates too many underhand deals with the government in order to influence freedom and legislation for this theory to fully apply to the Czech system. The media moguls Vladimír Železný and Ronald Lauder of TV Nova have proven that the Czech media owners are savvy enough to persuade the government to work in their favour, indicating self-interest rather than social-responsibility. The press doesn’t have a Czech media tycoon, as German or Swiss publishers own the majority of papers. Právo is the only Czech-owned newspaper. It is the second biggest broadsheet and not strong enough in power to broker deals with the government similar to it’s broadcast colleagues. In the absence of such deals, print journalists have no reason to dilute their antagonism towards the government. Notions of social-responsibility certainly do not encourage them to present a balanced view.

The Czech media system is a complex mix of journalistic practices from the old regime, the new revolutionists, the media moguls and the stubborn governance.

Such a hybrid of ambitious powers jockeying for position in this still young country can cause theorists to jump to conclusions when discussing which theory best describes its press.

With its private ownership, and the part control of broadcasting by the government it is the Authoritarian theory that still holds true. Despite Hitler’s control of the media, privately run newspapers faired rather well under Nazi rule. Alfred Hugenburg owned a successful paper that went largely uninterrupted in its choice of content (Sparks 1998: 40). It was taken over by the regime toward the end of WWII to ensure support for the cause but for the most part it was left to choose its own content. One thing the Authoritarian theory relies on is strict support for the government in power; the Czech press have very little belief in their leadership, but the theory should not be thrown out over such minor details. This lack of belief does not necessarily destroy the application of this theory. Adorno and Horkheimer argue that the emotion achieved after the consumption of culture remains the same, regardless of the political system. “Consumers appear as statistics on research organization charts and are divided by income groups into red, green and blue areas; the technique is that used for any type of propaganda.” (1944: 123).

 

 

 

Conclusion

Applying the arguably outdated Authoritarian theory to the press system of the Czech Republic is a questionable choice that will undoubtedly draw critics. That doesn’t mean it should be disregarded.

The Controlled Commodification theory has revitalised the concepts of self-regulation and state control. It is tough to argue without hesitance that the media system in China is entirely under control of the state, and the same can be said for self-regulation. The combined theory shows that both aspects have relevance (Weber & Lu 2007).

Just as Controlled Commodification developed from two ideas, for this reason I believe the Authoritarian theory may still be of use when analysing today’s Czech press. Although the theory cannot stand by itself when describing the current system, for reasons I have stated, its utility could combine with a second, or even third, theory after more specific examination. Due to the limitations of this article I am unable to expand much further than stating a prospective amalgamation with the Social-Responsibility theory.

Examples of the government looking after their own principles, and the media expressing their freedom demonstrate that it would be best to submit a Socially-Responsible Authoritarian media theory. As further research is needed of the two archaic systems, this is yet to be confirmed. What is clear from my study is that with the government’s attempts to control the broadcasting system, and the more relaxed attitude toward the newspaper industry, the Authoritarian theory should still be considered when describing the Czech Press.

 

References:

Adorno, T. Horkheimer, M. (1994) ‘The Culture Industry: Enlightenment As Mass Deception’ Dialectic of Enlightenment: 120 – 167, Norfolk: Lowe & Brydon Printers Ltd

Gulyás, Á. (2003) ‘Print Media in Post-Communist East Central Europe’, European Journal Of Communication (18) 1: 81

Hoffmann, T. Fucik, J. Institute of European Media Law (2005) ‘Chapter 3: Czech Republic’, Market Definitions in the Media Sector [online] available from <http://ec.europa.eu/competition/sectors/media/documents/&gt; [26 November 2011]

Jehlička, V. (2008) National Cultural Policy of the Czech Republic, Prague: Government of the Czech Republic

Klaus. Havel. Zeman. (2000) ‘Regulation No. 46/2000/Předpisy č. 46/2000’ Collection of Laws/Sbírka zákonů, [online] available from <http://www/sagit.cz.pages.sbirkatxt.asp?zdroj=sb00046&cd=76&typ=r&gt; [5 December 2011] (Translated via Google Translator)

Metyková, M. Císařová, L. (2009) ‘Changing journalistic practices in Eastern Europe’, Journalism, (10) 5: 719-736

Siebert, F.S. Peterson, T. Schramm, W. (1956) Four Theories of the Press, Urbana: University of Illinois

Sparks, C. (2000) ‘Media theory after the fall of European communism: Why the old models from East and West won’t do any more’, Curran, J., Park, M. De-Westernizing Media Studies, London: Routledge, 35-49

Sparks, C. Reading, A. (1998) Communism, Capitalism and the Mass Media. London: SAGE Publications

Wachtel, B. 1996, ‘Czech media: Democratic or anti-communist?’ Nieman Reports (50) 2: 51.

Weber, I. Lu, J. (2007) ‘Internet and self-regulation in China: the cultural logic of controlled commodification’ Media, Culture and Society (29) 5: 772-789

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