PRAGUE — With a blast of fireworks over Prague Castle, the post-communist world’s first nationwide private television station went on air Friday aiming to break the habits of 40 years of state-dominated TV.
Nova TV general director Vladimir Zelezny wiped dirt from his hands just minutes before the historic flip of the switch while last-minute construction was completed at the studios.
“We may have our bowties and suits on top, but we have dirt on our shoes,” Zelezny told opening-night viewers.
Zelezny is a former producer at Czechoslovak state TV who tried and failed to make clandestine TV broadcasts during the Soviet-led invasion of Prague in 1968.
“Of course we will bring a fresh approach, because there are no rules that can restrict us except morality and journalistic fairness. This society must be taught that there is a choice.”
Taking on the entrenched, state-subsidized Czech Television, Nova will offer a mix of Czech public affairs shows and western entertainment.
Nova TV’s Czech parent company CET-21, with U.S. financial backing, won the license for one of the three state TV frequencies exactly one year ago.
A Nova talkshow that translates as “Civic Judo” offers a chance for the public to mix with journalists in questioning government figures.
“The problem is that people after 42 years of communist rule are still not prepared to behave as in a democratic society,” Zelezny said. “They are not prepared to defend themselves as citizens. We will try to help them understand that they are part of the process. They must be.”
Zelezny plans to launch a weekly show called “Vox Populi,” with citizens’ comments recorded at coin-operated videotaping booths scattered about the country.
Both Nova and state TV have rushed to sign contracts for expensive western films and programs, while both say they offer original Czech programming.
A public war of words continues between Zelezny and Czech Television general director Ivo Mathe, who blasted Nova’s early publicity as slanderous and overly profit-oriented.