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4:30pm ET, 4/16


Czech MPs act to end TV strike

PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- Czech MPs have passed new laws aimed at ending the dispute over political interference in state television.

After a marathon 18-hour session, the lower house of parliament approved a bill to end the standoff in about two weeks after a temporary director is chosen to placate the staff.

Following the biggest public protests in the country since the fall of communism in 1989, MPs also agreed to demands to dilute political influence over the output of state Czech Television.


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The strike by the station's employees, which has won massive public support and wide publicity abroad, was sparked by the appointment of Jiri Hodac as the station's director-general on December 20.

The staff say he was a political stooge, chosen to slant news coverage in favour of the country's two main political parties. The new appointee is likely to dismiss Hodac's appointees.

The bill's main provision is that future directors will be chosen by a council whose members will be nominated by professional and civic groups, not by politicians.

Hodac resigned on Thursday blaming ill health, but there appeared little doubt that he had succumbed to the mounting pressure. He has denied any bias.

Earlier in the session, the lower house ousted the Czech Television Council which appointed Hodac, after it failed to heed a directive by the house to remove him.

The council was dominated by nominees of the ruling Social Democrats (CSSD) and their parliamentary allies, the Civic Democrats (ODS), who keep the minority government in power by supporting it in parliament.

Hodac, who had earlier had conflicts with the station's journalists when he briefly served as Czech Television's news director last year, was accused of siding with the ODS party.

'Nothing changes at this point'

Tens of thousands of Czechs took to the streets twice in the past two weeks to protest against the alleged politicisation of public television.

Despite the parliament's efforts, the vote failed to put an immediate end to the crisis, as the station's staff said they would remain on strike until the managers appointed during Hodac's tenure are sacked.

"For us, nothing changes at this point," spokesman for the staff, Adam Komers, said after the vote.

Changing the management may take some time, however, since the amendment must be considered by the upper house, the Senate, and President Vaclav Havel, who has sided with the rebel staff.

The Senate may return the bill back to the lower house, because it fell short of demands that part of the council is elected by the upper house, which many Senators have demanded.

The lower house can override a possible Senate veto.

The strike has mainly affected news broadcasts.

The new management blacked out the rebel newsroom for about two weeks, replacing their news with either nothing or skeleton programmes produced by a small loyal team.

The blackouts ended earlier this week as Hodac was gradually lost ground.

The row has once again pitted former freedom of speech campaigner Havel against ODS leader, ex-Premier Vaclav Klaus.

The massive public support for the strikers showed people's general dissatisfaction with the way the Social Democrats and the ODS have carved up power in the country.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Embattled Czech TV boss quits
January 11, 2001
Rebel Czech TV broadcasts resume
January 10, 2001
Czech TV leader urged to quit
January 5, 2001
Thousands attend Czech TV rally
January 3, 2001
Czech politicians tackle TV crisis
January 2, 2001
Police move on Czech TV protest
January 1, 2001

Czech Television
Czech Republic
Czech rebel journalists' Web site (in Czech)
Anti-rebel journalists' Web site (in Czech)

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