Journalism in Transition - Is the Czech Press developing into a democratic media market?

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2004
19 Pages, Grade: B


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Media and its function
2.1 Media in democratic systems
2.2 Media under communism

3. Transition problems

4. Media in the Czech Republic – a case study
4.1 Historical background
4.2 Old habits
4.3 Failed privatization
4.4 Western investors
4.5 Embracing capitalism
4.6 Politics

5. Conclusion

1. Introduction

When Freimut Duve, the Representative on Freedom of the Media of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), quit his job in December of 2003 because his mandate ended after six years, he delivered his last regular report to the permanent council, saying:

“Six years ago there was great hope in the world for those countries that came from a very dramatic past where freedom for writers and journalists was non-existent. […] Back in the nineties we all felt confident that we would be able to overcome the burden of the past in the structure of many media outlets in the newly emerging democracies. […] We had not foreseen that in the following six years the situation would change not for the better.”[1]

Duve does not analyse the Eastern and Central European media as still being stuck in communism or repressed by their governments. What he does state though, is a lack of really free, investigative journalism in former communist countries.

This essay will take a closer look at these accusations and discuss possible reasons for the existing problems. The different approaches to the media’s function in communism and democracy will be explained (chapter 2), and transition difficulties from one system into the other will then be highlighted (3). Chapter 4 will go deeper into the events that took place in the Czech Republic after the Velvet Revolution in 1989. The conclusion will finally not only summarize the essay’s findings but also look further into the future and try to give possible solutions for the occurring problems.

2. Media and its function

The problems Duve states base on a very simple fact: the concept of media in communism and the one of media in a free, democratic system do not fit together in any way. The transition from one system into the other is something immensely complicated that cannot be done from one day to another but needs a lot of time and a lot of effort put into it. The following paragraphs will describe the importance of media in both systems – for very different reasons.

2.1 Media in democratic systems

Indicators for a well functioning democracy are not only free and fair elections and a government that is there to represent the people. All countries we consider democratic have the right on publicity engraved in their constitutions as a form of freedom of assembly and freedom of expression and the media. “Democracy, in the modern senses of the word, is literally impossible without the media. It is a characteristic claim of Western societies that they are democratic precisely because they have both regular elections and a free media.”[2] Public communication has a very high normative value: the creation and establishment of a collective will that enhances the common good.[3] Dieter Grimm, a former judge at the German constitutional court, explained the importance of public discourse for a democracy in the daily newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung as follows:

If democracy is understood as a strong connection between the mandate and the responsibility of the people and those institutions working for them, the most important thing is the existence of a base in society that is able to discuss its own matters and bring its interests and opinions into the political process even inbetween the elections. Only through this input can the government be made responsible for its actions.[4]

Media is often called the fourth power in the state, right next to executive, judicative and legislative. Media is just as important for a functioning democracy as for example the parliament. But what is it that makes media such an important force? Firstly, there is the general information and orientation. In societies as complex as today’s, publicity is the only way to discuss and in the end solve common problems. Especially on the field of politics, the helping role of the media is undeniable. To make a well-considered decision, for what party to vote or what group to support, the elector has to be informed about the different aims and actions. Media has to inform the people to enable them to take part in the democratic process in a politically mature way.[5] Through mediation between politics and the people in its truest sense, media and publicity transform a simple citizen into a responsibly acting voter who openly expresses his will.[6] “The links between the individual, social associations and the State bodies are maintained chiefly by the communication media, which create the public needed for any general opinion forming and democratic participation at all”[7], says Grimm. A government floating above everything in the air could never be truly democratic without a well functioning media structure that supports it. “Where a parliament does not rest on such a structure, which guarantees constant interaction between people and state, democratic substance is lacking even if democratic forms are present.”[8] On the other hand, media does not only provide the citizen with information, it also creates a mirror of society, thus enabling politicians to monitor their voters and get to know their opinions:

Citizens base their electoral decisions on information they get through the monitoring of press presentation of politics. The other way around, politicians keep an eye on society at the same time, informing themselves about wishes and claims of the people by following the media.[9]

Jarren/Meier summarize the media’s role in the political system of democracy as follows:

The political functions of the media are to enable every single member of society to take part in the arising decision processes actively, informed and elucidated , to act to a certain degree self-responsibly. Media thus indicates the degree to which political powers are allowed to be criticised and functions as a central indicator for a well working democracy.[10]

Given the fact that a democracy is never stable and secure, media acts as a watchdog. “The key problem of this sort of system [democracy], in which possession and exercise of State power are separated, is mediation between people and institutions, and the biggest danger comes from the latter’s tendency to become independent.”[11] Without constant control through the media, even convinced democratic politicians are in danger of going their own ways.

The above does not mean a constant fight between politics and media though. Society is more of an interactive network of relationships between politics, people and the media, a symbiosis of which every part-taking actor approves and profits.

Triangle of Political Network

(in democratic systems)

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure1 – Triangle of Political Network in a democratic system

Source: Meyer: Europäische Öffentlichkeit als Kontrollsphäre: Die Europäische Kommission, die Medien und politische Verantwortung, p.66

In addition to a free media, pluralism plays an immense role as well. Only a widespread landscape of media can assure the discourse and presentation of all sides that is needed for information, orientation and education of the citizens.

2.2 Media under communism

In communist regimes, media is not of any less importance than in functioning democracies. Just its functions are very different to those in the former states. Media in communist countries is needed to support the leaders and their ideas and indoctrinate the people. Siebert, Peterson and Schramm took a closer look at the history of media organisation in several countries throughout the last centuries and came to the conclusion that there are four major theories: authoritarianism, liberalism, the principle of social responsibility and the communist approach.[12]

Authoritarianism is defined by the rule that media are not allowed to question the leader’s authority but have to subordinate themselves. The media’s reports are not to violate any moral or political values. To ensure this, the state is even able to restrict media and practise strong censorship. Breaking those ‘journalistic’ rules is considered a criminal offence that will be prosecuted and punished.[13]

Liberalism, which is still the base of all western media systems up to today, follows the idea of the free press. Media therefore are private enterprises, competitors on the “free market of ideas.”[14] Media does not need any license, there is no censorship whatsoever and no duty to publish the government’s press releases. Freedom of the press does not only mean freedom to publish but also the right to acquire information in every legally possible way. Attacking the government, officials or parties is no legal offence but part of the function of the media to control politics.[15]

The principle of social responsibility of the media comes into action after the free media has developed into a Sodom and Gomorra. Too much liberalism leads to an enormously powerful media that at some point endangers common moral and values. Instead of supporting the state like it happens in authoritarianism, media in this scenario develops into the slave of economy. To leave the swamp of unfree and not in any way objectively reporting press, TV and radio again, media is bound to accept certain duties that show their responsibility for society. High standards of quality and pluralism that catches all the different views existing on a topic are the highest values in a socially responsible system. If these are aimed at, the media regulate themselves without the state interfering.[16]

Characterizing for a communist system is a lack of private media. The biggest task of media is to educate, motivate and mobilise society for the ideas and plans of the regime. Any reporting against the societal format is censored and punished. Weischenberg calls the communist media system a mere variety of authoritarianism.[17]

While the former communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe are therefore used to a authoritarian/communist system of the media, the West relies on a liberalist idea that is on its way of slowly developing into a socially responsible form. The clashes between these structures are obvious.


[1] Duve, 2003, p.1

[2] Sparks, 1998, p.16

[3] Eder, 2000, p.174

[4] Grimm, 2003, p.35

[5] Brömmekamp, 1997, p.9

[6] Meyer, 2002, p.55

[7] Grimm, 1995, p.293

[8] Grimm, 1995, p.293

[9] Gerhards, 1993, p.558

[10] Jarren/Meier, 2002, p.106

[11] Grimm, 1995, p.293

[12] Siebert/Peterson/Schramm, 1956, p.7.

[13] Weischenberg, 1998, p.88

[14] Weischenberg, 1998, p.88

[15] Weischenberg, 1998, p.88

[16] Weischenberg, 1998, p.89/90

[17] Weischenberg, 1998, p.91/92

Excerpt out of 19 pages


Journalism in Transition - Is the Czech Press developing into a democratic media market?
Charles University in Prague  (Sociology Faculty)
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ISBN (eBook)
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Journalism, Transition, Czech, Press
Quote paper
Birte Müller-Heidelberg (Author), 2004, Journalism in Transition - Is the Czech Press developing into a democratic media market?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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