19 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index
Area: 78.866 sq. km.
Head of state: Vaclav Klaus, since 2008
The collapse of the Czech government in the middle of its first presidency of the European Union proved the fragility of a coalition made up of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), of the former prime minister, Mirek Topolanek, and the Christian Democrats (KDU-CL). This political instability which undermined the work of parliament did not however prevent a vote in February 2009 on a new law at odds with European democratic standards. Like its neighbour, Slovakia, the Czech Republic is struggling to throw off a culture of secrecy and to ensure the press has space for its work in the public interest.
Despite an active campaign on the part of the national media and repeated appeals from Reporters Without Borders to suspend the vote and open a debate, the reform of the criminal code and criminal procedures against journalists and the media went ahead in the National Assembly in February 2009. The new law bans the publication of the content of phone tapping carried out by the police and bans publication of information originating with police services. Any infringement can mean prison terms of one to five years and fines of up to 180,000 euros.
Investigative journalism will be under serious threat from this law that directly attacks journalists’ sources and criminalises their use. It also conflicts with the right to inform the public which is guaranteed under the Constitution.
The Prague Court of appeal on 6 February 2009 upheld a November 2008 conviction against journalist Sabina Slonkova, who was fined 700 euros for “damage to private life”, demonstrating the limitations on publication of news seen as sensitive. Days before legislative elections in February 2008, she posted a video on news website Aktualne.cz from a CCTV camera near the Savoy Hotel in Prague, showing a meeting between Jiri Weigl, head of President Vaclav Klaus’s office, and an influential political and financial lobbyist.
Czech courts however showed greater leniency in June 2008, acquitting seven members of the Ztohoven artistic collective which hacked into Panorama television for 39 seconds to show images of a nuclear explosion in the country’s Giant Mountains. The stunt was designed to point up media manipulation of news. The judge took the view that the broadcast had not caused any alarm.