Politicians meet over staff crisis at Czech Television

PRAGUE, Czech Republic, AP

Czech political leaders met Tuesday, to try to solve the crisis crippling the country’s public television, where staffers are on strike to demand the dismissal of the new general manager.

Social Democratic Prime Minister Milos Zeman, parliamentary speaker Vaclav Klaus of the opposition Civic Democratic Party, and leaders of the two smaller opposition parties represented in Parliament were discussing a plan to solve the standoff between Czech Television’s new director Jiri Hodac and the rebellious staff.

The dissidents — largely young reporters who support President Vaclav Havel — charge that Hodac’s appointment was politically motivated and that he is too close to Klaus, a former prime minister opposed to Havel.

Havel, who has openly sided with the strikers, was scheduled to address the problem in a live broadcast on Czech radio later Tuesday.

An eight-point plan proposed by Klaus calls on political leaders to refrain from intervening in the conflict, appeals to the striking TV employees to clear the newsroom they are occupying and calls on Hodac to stop attempts to fire some of the rebellious staffers.

It was unclear if the plan would be adopted. It also calls on both sides of the conflict not to present their versions of the events at the station in their respective television broadcasts.

The plan also stipulates that the Czech Television Council, an independent supervisory body which elected Hodac on Dec. 20, refrain from undertaking irreversible steps before it submits its report on the crisis to an emergency session of the lower chamber of Parliament on Friday.

While the two smaller opposition parties openly sided with the rebels, Klaus’ party and most of the ruling Social Democrats maintain Hodac’s appointment was legitimate and the rebels are violating the law.

Dissident journalists announced Monday, they would continue to work and remain in the newsroom, where they have been holed up since the Christmas holidays.

Nevertheless, they declared themselves “on strike” Monday to prevent police from removing them by force from the newsroom, according to union leader Antonin Dekoj.

Czech law forbids such measures against peaceful strikers and bans management from firing anyone involved in the protest, Dekoj said. The strike call gives a legal basis to the protest, but does little else.

The protest which started in the television’s newsroom has already spread to other departments. The rebels claim to have two-thirds of the 3,000 employees of the station on their side.