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Britské listy

ISSN 1213-1792


Jan Čulík


Karel Dolejší


Michal Panoch, Jan Panoch

Grafický návrh:

Štěpán Kotrba

ISSN 1213-1792
deník o všem, o čem se v České republice příliš nemluví
28. 7. 2006

Ten Years of Britské listy:

Britské listy -- a gateway of ideas

Britské listy is a Czech language cultural and political daily, founded in July 1996. The first issue came out on 29th July, 1996.

The daily is edited by dr. Jan Čulík, Lecturer in Czech Studies at the University of Glasgow, United Kingdom. Čulík frequently visits the Czech Republic and works with a team of collaborators who live in the Czech Republic.

His independence from pressure group interests in the Czech media and in Czech politics makes it possible for him to publish material which would otherwise be suppressed within the Czech Republic and/or become subject of political or commercial manipulation.

His position, "standing between the Czech Republic and the West" makes it possible for him to for him to analyze and comment upon Czech developments from a detached perspective, to place Czech developments in a broad international context and to break news which local media often miss.

Time and again, Britské listy has introduced new themes onto the Czech media scene. In several instances, Britské listy was ahead of the local media in breaking new topics by as much as two years. As a result, Britské listy is now regarded as one of the most authoritative sources of information in the Czech Republic.

The Context

"Czechs talk solely amongst themselves."

The Czech Republic suffers from its linguistic isolation from the outside world. Only about 7 per cent of Czech citizens know foreign languages and only some of these are capable of following international discourse on topical issues.

Largely disconnected from the outside world, within Czech society, the internal public discourse takes place in Czech, uncorrected and untested by the international intellectual competition. The number of participants is small and often, with impunity, they make public statements which would be shot down in flames by the international community.

Also many participants openly manipulate public discourse for internal political or commercial aims.

Frequent media campaigns are run by Czech newspapers, whose hidden manipulative purpose is not discovered until months or even years later, if ever.

The internal Czech discourse often diverges from what is being debated in the West quite considerably.

There is practically no independent media in the Czech Republic. Most newspapers are owned by foreign institutions who are not interested in cultivating democracy or the modernization of journalistic practices, but solely in making profits. Moreover, the two most important serious newspapers in the country, Mladá Fronta Dnes and Lidové Noviny, are owned by the same company, which narrows even more the already tight variety of views.

Most journalists' pay is low and it does not give them confidence and independence needed for their work. Thus there is the danger of corruption. Some journalists do take their personal needs into account when being offered bribes in order to write in a certain way. So-called "PR" articles are a constant threat and part of the reality of the Czech media.

Most television and radio stations represent either commercial interests or various -- often informal -- political factions. The public television station is overseen by a regulatory body whose members are elected by Parliament, so its composition reflects the balance of party political power in the country. The decisions of the regulatory body are often influenced by the political parties who elected its councillors to their posts. Thus, the Czech public television channels cannot pursue independent journalistic work. Czech parliament regards public service television as its own property. Moreover, Czech public service TV has been suffering from a chronic management crisis for many years. Its chief executives have been changed often, either as a consequence of political pressure or of the rebellion of its employees.

There are no effective trade union structures to protect journalists who would run into difficulties by doing independent investigative work.

There are no resources in the Czech media for systematic investigative reports. Journalists do not have time to thoroughly do their work, having to produce their articles with little resources and within a short period of time. Most newsrooms are under-funded and understaffed.

It was in particular after the violent attacks of 11th of September, 2001 in the United States that Britské listy emerged as an essential medium, for all the print and electronic mainstream media in the Czech Republic reproduced the propagandistic American line of coverage. Instead of following the British or French approach, which pointed out the inconsistencies and abuses that came about from the American government after the tragedy, the Czech media chose to deal with the events emotionally. Only Britské listy brought the general European rational, neutral coverage of the aftermath of the terrorist attacks to the Czech cultural environment.

Some of the issues that Britské listy has introduced onto the Czech scene

  • Globalisation (The Nation State is withering -- based on a BBC series by Simon Hoggart, Britské listy 13- 14th November 1996)
  • The Information Era and Human Consciousness (what changes are required of people for economic reasons in the new information era? Britské listy 31st July, 1997)
  • illegal manipulation of Czech commercial "Nova TV" ownership by its chief executive Vladimír Železný - Britské listy from 19th December 1996)
  • Censorship in the US-run Czech Service of Radio Free Europe (Britské listy from 1st November, 1996)
  • Criticism of Václav Klaus's controversial "voucher privatisation" (Britské listy from 25th November, 1996)
  • Czech media content analysis (Britské listy from 21st May, 1999)
  • Václav Havel's broken promise to Alexander Dubček to support his presidential candidature; John Keane's critical analysis of Havel's transformation from a human rights campaigner to a pragmatic politician (Václav Havel: A Political Tragedy in Six Acts) (Britské listy, from 14th October, 1999)
  • systematic ongoing analysis of the long term (1998-2001) crisis in public service Czech Television, which led to a rebellion of its employees at Christmas 2000. (Britské listy from 18th January 1998) During the Christmas 2000 Czech TV rebellion, Britské listy was practically the only independent voice, pointing to the manipulative aspects of the "mutiny". Hindsight shows that the analysis was correct.
  • Czech police brutality against the demonstrators during the Prague IMF/World Bank meeting, Septemeber 2000, in cooperation with the legal experts of the Civic Legal Observers (Britské listy from 27th September 2000) -- not until August 2005, after a similarly brutal Czech police action against a large "techno music" party did Czech media commentators admit that police action against international demonstrators in Prague in September 2000 was equally illegal and brutal
  • personal data protection and transgressions against its principles during the 2001 Census in the Czech Republic (Britské listy from February 2001)
  • fierce social and political opression of the Roma minority in the Czech municipality of Slaný (Britské listy from July 2003)
  • publishing recordings of internal debates of the Executive Committee of the ruling Czech Social Democratic Party, after it had abolished the previous principle of openness and started to meet in secret. The recordings were widely quoted from Britské listy on Czech TV and in newspapers, summer 2004
  • British racism towards Czech Roma asylum applicants. To quote the British Guardian newspaper of 30th July, 2001:

    "Internal documents obtained by Britske Listy, a Prague-based investigative website, show that the Czech foreign ministry held secret negotiations with the British government on how to prevent Roma from travelling to the UK because they were disrupting otherwise excellent Czech-British relations." ZDE

  • US attempts to site its biggest missile defence bases in Eastern Europe. To quote the Guardian newspaper of 13th July, 2004:

    "The talks are at the exploratory stage and no decisions have been taken, officials stressed. US officials played down talk of central European participation in the missile shield. But the confidential nature of the negotiations, being led on the US side by John Bolton, the hardline under-secretary of state for arms control, has angered senior defence officials in the region, who have been kept in the dark. Milos Titz, deputy chairman of the Czech parliament's defence and security committee, learned of the talks last week and immediately called the defence minister, Miroslav Kostelka, to demand an explanation. According to the Czech web newspaper, Britske Listy, Mr Kostelka conceded to Mr Titz that the talks were going ahead and promised to supply details to the committee this week. ZDE

  • (many other instances, of freedom of speech defence passim) In January 2002, the US Helsinki Committee listed Britské listy as one of the sources of its official report on the current state of human rights in the Czech Republic ZDE

  • independent information on the 9/11 WTC attacks, war on Afghanistan and Iraq. Czech media have taken an uncritically pro-US government line. Britské listy published European views and alternative American views. As a result, during this period, the number of Britské listy readers quadrupled.
  • Michael Moore and his satirical films about the US, culminating with Fahrenheit 9/11 (Britské listy from 3rd February 2003; Czech media started writing about Michael Moore only Fahrenheit 9/11 won the main prize in Cannes in May 2004)
  • the neoconservative Project for the new American Century (Britské listy from 24th February 2003); (Czech daily newspaper MFD metioned this project, once, in a single line on 28th July 2005)
  • British documentarist Adam Curtis and his analyses of salient developments throughout the twentieth century, the BBC series The Century of the Self (Britské listy from 10th April 2002) and The Power of Nightmares (which outlines disturbing parallels between US neoconservatives and Islamic extremists), (Britské listy from 18th October 2004; the BBC Czech Service did not published the transcript of The Power of Nightmares on its web pages until three months later, 21st January 2005)
  • The end of the Oil Era (Britské listy from 22nd April 2005; Czech newspaper MFD dealt with this topic for the first time properly in mid-September 2005)
  • Britské listy has also systematically debated the accession of the Czech Republic into the European Union, the issues surrounding the European Constitution, issues of Czech nationalism, xenophobia and racism.
  • A haven against populism and tabloid journalism

    Most Czech newspapers are trying to defy their decreasing readership by moving towards tabloid reporting and manipulation of populist themes.

    Britské listy has been able to defy this trend. Increasingly, there seem to be more and more people in the Czech society, who feel dissatisfied and isolated amidst the aggressively tabloid media approaches.

    Some of these people have started to use Britské listy as a platform of defiance. Britské listy has gathered together a group of interesting young writers whose analysis and comments forms the backbone of the internet newspaper.

    It is also gratifying that people do not read Britské listy only for news and current affairs which do not normally make it in the Czech media. We publish stuff on literature, philosophy, religion and other "difficult", this non-commercial, topics.

    Usually within twenty-four hours, several thousand readers will click on a literary-theoretical article which would under normal circumstances found it quite difficult to find a publisher in the Czech Republic.

    Thus Britské listy has attracted, over the almost ten years of its existence, a sophisticated and intelligent readership.

    There is no budget, although about a hundred readers make regular small contributions.

    This network of contacts of intelligent people in the Czech Republic is very valuable. Everyone who currently writes for Britské listy does it for free.

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