“Pluralism should stand as long as there will be competition in media markets”, media expert Milan Šmíd.

Twenty-five years after the birth of the Czech Republic and its independent public broadcast service, I’ve asked Czech media expert Milan Šmíd about public media today, pluralism, and the relation between media and politics. In this interview, we also look back at the transition from a party controlled television to independent journalism.

Who is Milan Šmíd? 

Milan Šmíd joined ČT after graduating from college in 1969. He first worked for the foreign news editorial department. He left the newsroom and the profession of journalist in 1976 after transferring to the documentaries department, “less exposed to politics”. He worked there for three years as a dramaturgist before transferring to the Foreign programs department where he was responsible for imported documentary production. The major part of the production “was apolitical” – travelogues, nature documentaries, art documents, concerts etc. However the Communist Party did impose back then a quota (NOTE) Today,Milan Šmíd keeps a close eye on the media through his blog « Louc.cz » (torch) a « media about media, journalism and other things of life »

Czech TV is the only TV station obliged, during campaigns leading to elections, to apply the principle of parity (equal treatment for all political parties). Is the Public Broadcast Service the last garant of pluralism?

Last garant of pluralism are not public service media themselves, but the plural media system as a such, in which public service media have their own special role by broadcasting contents, which private commercial media are not able to supply. However, I can imagine, that even a loss of pluralism in public service media, and some kind of “taming” public service media by governments (like in Poland and Hungary), should not inevitably lead to end of pluralism as long as there will be competition in media markets.

As author of a blog on the media industry, what do you think about the concentration of political and media power by Prime Minister Andrej Babiš?

It is damaging to journalism and to the Czech politics as well.

In 1992 a public broadcast service was born. Would you say it was difficult, at first, for journalists to think of themselves and of their job as independent from the Communist Party?

I do not understand your question about difficulties relating of journalism independence, because the CTV journalists started to behave independently immediately after the political change in November 1989. (NOTE) The CP bosses and journalists closely connected with the ancient regime were removed, or put aside, very soon, before the election of June 1990. The TV screen needed new faces, and therefore some of journalists, who turned their activity against the regime in November 1989 and who were helping the velvet revolution had to leave the screen and TV (eg. Mr. Švehla, Tománek, Hrabovský etc.). Some of them understood the situation and found new job in business or banking industry, some of them were bitter about their leave.

Would you say that nowadays Czech journalists mistrust the government more than it is the case in countries with no communist past?

I think that the Czech journalist attitude towards their government is split and divided, like the whole society. Unlike in our communist past, dissenting opinions have no problem with publishing, either in traditional or in internet media. 

Any advice for the “journalists to be” we are in light of your experience?

No advice, only a wish: your generation is happy, because you did not experience life in lack of freedom, and you can enjoy freedom of expression and free media. You should not take it as granted, and you should take also the responsibilities, which are inseparable part of freedom. Responsibility of journalists consist of their professionalism in dealing with facts and sources, part of it is also the resolute rejection to be servant of particular interests of any particular party or government.


(1) 40 percent of programs had to come from the USSR, 40 percent from other socialist countries including programs from Czechoslovak cinematography and about 20-30% of programs from Western countries.

(2) He described this situation, in which the uprising of independently minded  journalists in the Czech media contributed to the fall of communist regime, in a paper, which is available at the web http://www.louc.cz/pril01/listopad.pdf (in Czech).

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