Rally looms as anti-Hodac strike strengthens

PRAGUE — Czech politicians were unsuccessful Tuesday in their efforts to end a two-week battle for control of pubcaster Czech Television that pits rebel journalists against a new director they accuse of political bias.

Czech TV employees refuse to accept last month’s appointment of Jiri Hodac by the parliament-elected Czech Television Council.

But despite a deepening sense of crisis across the Czech Republic that threatens to bring down the government, leaders of the four major political parties did not reach a decision on the situation after meeting for four hours.

“We found no compromise. This uncertainty can escalate rather than calm down the political situation,” said Vaclav Klaus, leader of the Civic Democrats (ODS), the only major party still backing Hodac.

He added that the failure would not end the coalition ODS/Social Democrat government.

Social Democrat leaders have urged Hodac to resign to open the way for negotiations, but Prime Minister Milos Zeman declared after the meeting that either no one should quit or both sides should do so.

Meeting today

He said the Cabinet would meet today to discuss ways of voting nonpolitical members onto the council, which is dominated by government appointees, but he gave no details.

Journalistic freedom is a sensitive issue in a country where many remember television as a propaganda instrument for the Communist Party before the party’s fall in 1989.

In a televised interview, a defiant Hodac said he was determined to continue fighting and announced the names of a new financial director and programming director.

Jousting journos

Rebel journalists have occupied Prague studios and produced their own news programs since Dec. 23. Hodac has blacked out the terrestrial broadcasts, but viewers with satellite or cable can still see the reports.

But the situation is growing more tense by the hour. A source inside the barricaded newsroom told Daily Variety: “Police are blocking the access to toilet facilities, so the strikers have sneaked chemical toilets in through the windows. A doctor is being brought in today to treat various illnesses, as there are cases of flu, colds and general exhaustion.”

The strikers are now pinning their hopes on a dramatic show of support in a rally planned for Wenceslas Square today.

Formally on strike

Czech TV’s 3,000 staff members formally went on strike Monday but continued airing scheduled live broadcasts and other programs. They were backed by the country’s two main union associations on Tuesday.

The protesting television staff members have the support of the vast majority of Czechs, including President Vaclav Havel, who has said Hodac was named “against the spirit” of the law.

Thousands have rallied outside the station’s studios, and over 120,000 have signed a petition in their support.

(The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.)

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