Czech Radio History Part I: Do we need a public service broadcaster?


This year, the public broadcaster Czech Radio celebrates its eightieth anniversary. Throughout history, its meaning and role have changed from a revolutionary invention to an everyday companion, from a source of entertainment to a trumpet calling on Czechs to fight invaders, from a mouthpiece of communist propaganda to the voice of democracy. Radio Prague has prepared a series of reports to illustrate the eighty-year history of Czech Radio, and from now you can hear them in our programme or find them on our website every Friday. In the first part, we look at the role Czech Radio has played as a public service broadcaster, and whether it still has something to offer among the multitude of commercial radio stations now available in the Czech Republic.

Financed as it is from listeners' subscriptions, Czech Radio is not meant to be a subject of political influence or market competition. Its current mission, as stipulated by a special law, is to inform, educate and develop the cultural identity of Czech citizens, giving room to all legitimate political, philosophical, cultural and religious streams. Nevertheless, there have been efforts in recent years to redefine the role of public service radio broadcasting, to reduce it or even eliminate it. We spoke to political commentator Vaclav Zak about the role and position of Czech Radio:

"I am not 80 or 100 years old so I can't evaluate the performance of Czech Radio during its whole eighty years but it is the last thirteen years that are important, from the revolution in 1989. I think that compared to TV, radio performed better because it most probably was not under as much political pressure as Czech TV was. I therefore think that the listeners of Czech Radio got more balanced information and a variety of information that was not part of TV broadcasts. I would say that Czech Radio has really contributed to the development of democracy in this country."

What role should the public media service have in the Czech Republic. Would you say their role is defined and secure?

"I would say that Czech public media - both radio and television - should not depend so much on the Czech Press Agency. They really should be able to get the information on their own and should have analysis departments that provide the people who are working there with good information background as is the case usually on the BBC or in other public media in Germany and other countries. So, they should improve their information service but I still think that the present performance is not so bad."

Focusing solely on Czech Radio, what importance do you think does it hold among Czechs in general?

"I think there are hours in which people listen to radio more than they watch television. Political discussions are followed by millions of people. I think it's a huge amount of people. Radio can influence them and can provide them with information on what is happening in this country, so I would say that public radio is an important service."

Next part: the beginnings of radio broadcasting in the Czech Republic.