Czech Republic: Broadcasting regulator suddenly lost its quorom when vote was taken on Prima's coverage of refugees
At its session on 19 April, the Council on Radio and Television Broadcasting in the Czech Republic addressed an agenda item regarding a reportage broadcast about Christian refugees from Iraq. According to the complaint submitted, the Prima television station manipulated the information it broadcast.
When the Council voted on that particular item, however, it suddenly no longer had a quorum, even though all of the other 59 resolutions it voted on that same day did have a quorum and were therefore binding votes. The reportage broadcast on 11 February in Prima's main news program prompted strong emotions and many conjectures and reactions in the Czech Republic.
One of the refugees in the report allegedly expressed himself in very critical terms regarding the accommodation he and his group had been offered in the town of Jihhlava. After the report was aired, a dispute arose over whether he had actually made the remarks as they were subtitled for Czech viewers.
It turned out that the interpretation of his remarks had in fact been misleading. The Council then received many complaints about the report.
Seventeen members of the Senate of the Czech Republic were among those complaining. They believe that Law No. 231/2001 on the operation of radio and television broadcasting might have been violated, in particular the responsibility to not incite hatred.
The Council spent several months addressing the complaint. On the basis of their investigation into the report and the doubts about its accuracy, the Council asked FTV Prima for an explanation of its conduct.
The Council reviewed that explanation during its 19 April session and subsequently called for a vote on a decision in the matter that was apparently developed for them by their own analysts. According to the proposed resolution, Prima broke the law by changing "the statement by respondent Georgis Batto, who had traveled here with his family from Lebanon, about his determination to return there should the asylum accommodation prove unsuitable, into a statement that he specifically intended to return to Iraq because of unsuitable asylum accommodation, i.e., to return to a country at war, and this augmenting of his comments by inserting the mention of Iraq was untrue."
The proposed resolution further states that: "What also contributed to the untruthfulness was that the operator of the station, in this reportage, contrasted the respondent's generally expressed dissatisfaction with the level of the asylum housing that would be offered to his family with the positive statements of other persons about the quality of the specific apartments offered to the family, as if the same thing were being discussed by all of them, even though in the former case the statement was a general, hypothetical one, while in the latter it was a statement about specific apartments, and the contrast of those statements was misleading; another factor were the allegations by the news crew that the Iraqi family did not like the accommodation offered, a statement that was made both by the anchor introducing the reportage and by the reporter during the reportage, even though the Batto family member interviewed never made any such direct statement. The operator has violated its responsiblity to ensure that the principles of balance and objectivity be upheld in news reporting and political feature programs."
Only six members of the Council then cast votes for this decision describing Prima's wrongdoing, even though for the subsequent decisions on the agenda all 10 of the members present cast votes, as they did for most of the resolutions described in the minutes of the meeting. The vote on the agenda item about Prima, therefore, was not binding because there was no quorum.
According to the available information, the Council has not returned to the case and has therefore not taken any decision on it. We are investigating how it is possible that four voters suddenly were no longer present during the vote on the agenda item concerning Prima.
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