Picketers back rebel reporters airing pirate broadcasts

PRAGUE — Czech Television’s 3,000 employees went on strike Monday, escalating their demands for the resignation of their new director general.

The strikers back rebel reporters who have been barricaded in the newsroom airing pirate newscasts since the Dec. 20. appointment of Jiri Hodac, who they accuse of political bias.

In a strange twist, the workers will continue broadcasting. But their move will stop the police removing the reporters by force — Czech law forbids such action against peaceful strikers.

Hodac has imposed a terrestrial blackout on the rebel newscasts and has been airing makeshift news put together by a team loyal to him. But viewers with satellite and cable reception can still see rebel transmissions.

Earlier Monday, Hodac came to the newsroom backed by the police to check the identity of the 40 staff inside.

But when the reporters asked for police I.D. they refused to show any, sparking rumors that they were merely bodyguards.

Morale inside the Prague studio is still high, despite dreadful conditions — the rebels have no access to toilets.

President Vaclav Havel and the vast majority of Czechs back the struggle for the pubcaster’s two channels. More than 100,000 people have signed a petition in support and thousands have rallied outside the studios.

Hodac was appointed by the Czech TV Council, dominated by nominees of the Czech Republic’s Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and the Social Democrats. The two parties have a power-sharing pact.

(Reuters contributed to this report.)

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