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Czech editor responsible for anti-Romani, anti-refugee news reporting at TV Prima to lead public broadcaster Czech Radio's news division

17.12.2021 6:54
Jitka Obzinová (PHOTO: TV Prima)
Jitka Obzinová (PHOTO: TV Prima)

The news division of public broadcaster Czech Radio (ČRo) is to be run as of January 2022 by the former head of the news division at TV Prima, Jitka Obzinová, who is meant to replace the current news director, Jan Pokorný. ČRo Director-General René Zavoral informed the public of the personnel changes and about the transformation of the organizational structure of the ČRo governing board on Wednesday. 

More than 400 ČRo employees have spoken out against the decision to hire Obzinová. She worked at Czechoslovak Radio from 1989 to 1992 as a commentator and war correspondent from Yugoslavia. 

After working for several television stations, Obzinová returned to radio in 2006 as the head of the news division for Czech Radio 2-Prague, from which she moved up one year later to the position of head of domestic news for the nationwide Radiožurnál station. In July 2009 she moved to TV Prima, where for a decade she worked as Chief Editor of their news and features division. 

During her time at Prima she was mentioned in association with the approach taken by the news division toward covering the refugee crisis and the station's anti-Romani news reporting. In 2014, for example, the Czech Council on Radio and Television Broadcasting (RRTV) found that TV Prima, in its main news broadcast, confirmed viewers' stereotypical prejudices against the Romani minority

The criticized reportages evoked fear of Romani people, among other things, and portrayed them as criminals or as a group destroying their environment. The RRTV also reviewed an audio recording made by the Hlídací pes ("Watchdog") investigative news server documenting that employees of the news division at TV Prima were being instructed by management to distort their reporting about the migration crisis to emphasize aspects about the risks and threats allegedly posed by immigration, de facto ignoring the principles of balance and objectivity. 

The recording was made during a staff meeting and captured Obzinová directly participating in the manipulation of the news coverage. The RRTV also criticized Prima during her time there for lack of balance in its news broadcasts in the runup to the presidential elections in the Czech Republic.

ČRo employees call on Zavoral to cancel appointment of Obzinová 

More than 400 ČRo employees have already spoken out against Obzinová becoming head of the news division, and in an open letter yesterday they called on Zavoral to cancel her appointment. The employees are concerned that the balance, independence and objectivity of public broadcast radio is now endangered in the Czech Republic.  

The Czech News Agency sent questions about the staff uprising to Zavoral, who responded through a spokesperson that he respects employees' opinions, will assess the content of their letter, and will express his views of it at the beginning of next week. More and more employees are continuing to join the open letter of protest.

The Chief Editor of the ČRo news division, Jan Dražan; editor of Radiožurnál, Pavel Šuba; head of the investigative reporting division at Radiožurnál, Markéta Chaloupská; head of the international news division, Filip Nerad; Radiožurnál anchor, Jiří Chum; and editor at Radiožurnál, Tomáš Bystrý, who is also a coworker of the online broadcaster ROMEA TV, have all signed the open letter. It reads, in part: "We are convinced that Jitka Obzinová poses a direct threat to the independence of our news reporting, as has been sufficiently demonstrated by the steps she has taken in the past. Jitka Obzinová has directly participated in manipulating news reporting. This is clearly evidenced by the documented event described by the media in September 2015. At an FTV Prima management meeting, Jitka Obzinová, as head of the news division, directly influenced the wording of reportages about refugees so as to evoke passions against immigration. The RRTV also found that facts had been manipulated in those reportages." 

Obzinová's work during the 2013 Czech presidential elections is also mentioned in the open letter, when at her instigation, the news editors, according to a member of the editorial board at the time, Tomáš Drahoňovský, allegedly favored candidate Miloš Zeman at the behest of the owners of TV Prima. According to the open letter, Zavoral should reconsider and cancel Obzinová's appointment.  

"You have the right to remove and to appoint your closest co-workers. However, you do not have the right to endanger the independence of the news reporting performed by the public broadcast media of Czech Radio," the letter says.

ČRo employees have also begun to change their profile photos on Twitter en masse to a black background with the hashtag #nebudemezticha ("We will not be silent") referencing the appointment of Obzinová and have been tweeting the message "We disagree with the confirmed manipulator Jitka Obzinová becoming head of the news division at Czech Radio #wewillnotbesilent". The Czech National Committee of the International Press Institute and the Endowment for Independent Journalism have called on Zavoral to resign.    

"If the ČRo Director-General has come to the conclusion, after six years on the job, that the organization he runs requires crisis management and has chosen a journalist against whom renowned employees are protesting, it is appropriate that he himself resign his post. We call on him to do so," representatives of those organizations said in a joint statement yesterday.  

ČTK, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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antigypsyism, Český rozhlas, Media, Prima TV



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