European media alliance raises alarm over Czech TV independence

PRAGUE, April 9 (Reuters) - The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), an alliance of public media groups, warned on Friday over increasing political pressure on independent public broadcaster Czech TV heading into an election.

With the spotlight turned on media independence in neighboring central European countries like Hungary and Poland, the Czech Republic is now facing scrutiny over a battle to appoint members of the council overseeing Czech TV.

Critics worry the nominated new members are too politically aligned. The station runs investigative reports and covers issues often unpopular with ruling figures.

It has frequently been criticized by President Milos Zeman, a political ally of Prime Minister Andrej Babis, as well as by the far-right party SPD.

The council does not control content but can dismiss Czech TV's director, Petr Dvorak, and appoint someone open to managerial changes, which critics say could affect news coverage and reporting at one of the most trusted news groups in the country.

The EBU said it was "closely monitoring serious risks to media pluralism."

"We are alarmed by the increasing politicization of Czech Television’s governing body and alignment around one political option," it said in a statement.

"(We) urge the Czech parliament to ensure independence of the broadcaster so it can remain a model for public broadcasting in the Czech Republic and more broadly in Europe."

Babis, a billionaire whose trust funds own two mainstream newspapers and also radio assets, is facing a serious challenge before an October parliamentary election.

With the country hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and frustrated by prolonged restrictions, his ANO party has fallen into second in polls for the first time since 2014.

Following changes to the council last year, Dvorak has already been under pressure, with council members questioning the balance of reporting.

The International Press Institute said in an April 1 statement on its website it was worried efforts to "stack the council" were aimed at eroding Czech TV's independence. (Reporting by Jason Hovet and Robert Muller; Editing by Nick Macfie)

04/09/2021 15:01

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