Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Freedom of the press is constitutionally guaranteed, though the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms prohibits speech that might infringe on national security, individual rights, public health, or morality; speech that may evoke hatred based on race, ethnicity, or national origin is also prohibited by law. Libel remains a criminal offense, but prosecutions are rare, and offenders have received only suspended sentences in recent years. A 2005 Constitutional Court ruling clarified the libel law, stating that value judgments are legally protected. Political satire has a long history in the country, and when such material prompts lawsuits the courts often side with the media, protecting caricature as a valid form of criticism. In an April 2014 decision involving the wife of former prime minister Jiří Paroubek, the Constitutional Court protected the right of the weekly Reflex to publish a caricature, and stated that public figures’ right to privacy can only trump freedom of expression in very serious cases. The Press Law provides a sound basis for independent journalism, and media protections have been bolstered by Constitutional Court and other institutional rulings. Freedom of information is provided for under the law.
Broadcast media are regulated by the Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting (RRTV), while the public-service station Czech Television (CT) is regulated by its own council. Print media are largely self-regulated.
Media outlets are generally free from political interference. However, in March 2014, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Andrej Babiš issued a veiled threat toward the independent online news portal Echo24, whose journalists had criticized him; Babiš noted his position as finance minister and said he hoped the portal’s financer had filed tax documents properly.
Paid political advertising is prohibited in the electronic media. Some degree of self-censorship is present among Czech media workers, particularly at outlets whose owners have significant links with business or politics. Physical attacks and harassment aimed at journalists or media outlets are rare.
National print media are all privately owned and consist of a variety of daily newspapers, weeklies, and magazines representing diverse viewpoints. A few broadcasters operate at the national level, including the public CT. The change to digital broadcasting in 2012 resulted in a more diverse media sector, featuring the launch of several new television channels. Most electronic media outlets are privately owned. Media advocates have expressed concern that while public media are widely respected, their financial sustainability is being undermined by tighter control of public funds and increasing restrictions on advertising. Television remains the main source of information, but the internet continues to develop rapidly as a news source, with 80 percent of the population enjoying regular and unrestricted access in 2014.
Media-related legislation includes minimal ownership restrictions, and none on foreign ownership. Many private outlets do not disclose their ownership structures. The industry had been characterized by a very high share of foreign ownership, but this has changed in recent years with the entry into the market of Czech business tycoons. The restructuring of ownership culminated in 2013 with the purchase of the two largest publishing companies—MAFRA, and a joint venture of Ringier Axel Springer—by Finance Minister Babiš and the influential Czech entrepreneurs Daniel Křetínský and Patrik Tkáč, respectively. Together they own more than 60 percent of the newspaper market; Babiš also controls Radio Impuls, the biggest player in the country’s radio market. These developments reflect increasing concentration of ownership and influence, and critics have warned of “oligarchization” and “Berlusconization”—that is, powerful individuals’ use of media assets to influence politics—after the success of Babiš’s party in the 2013 parliamentary elections.
The economic crisis that began in late 2008, as well as changes in media consumption, has had a lasting effect on the media market, leading to several consecutive years of decline. Observers have pointed to a recent decline in the depth and quality of reporting in Czech news media, due in large part to economic difficulties within the media sector. The trend has been accompanied by an increase in live news coverage, tabloid-style content, and so-called Google journalism that is not based on primary sources. There is, however, a strong tradition of investigative reporting at many Czech newspapers, and a few continue to fund substantial investigative projects.