Czech Republic downgraded in global human rights report as press freedoms deteriorate across the E.U.8 December, 2021
- Czech Republic downgraded from ‘open’ to ‘narrowed’
- Concerns about free speech and the right to protest
The Czech Republic has been downgraded from ‘open’ to ‘narrowed’ in a new report by the CIVICUS Monitor, a global research collaboration that rates and tracks fundamental freedoms in 197 countries and territories. The report, People Power Under Attack 2021, says repeated attacks on media freedoms and the right to peaceful assembly have led to the downgrade.
Previously among the most open and democratic countries in the world, the Czech Republic’s new ‘narrowed’ rating means civic freedoms, including the freedoms of expression, assembly and association, are now being undermined by those in power.
The CIVICUS Monitor is particularly concerned about dwindling press freedoms in the country.
In May, the office of Czech President Milos Zeman announced that it would stop providing information to several investigative media outlets critical of the government and its allies, including public broadcaster Czech Television, which airs seven channels. Although Zeman’s office said this decision was made in an attempt to fight disinformation, in reality, it creates barriers to information and seriously hinders journalists’ work.
Similarly, in September 2021 a number of international and Czech journalists were not allowed to attend a joint press conference held in Ústí nad Labem by Prime Minister Babiš and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. The PM’s office reasoned that this was due to logistics, however, lists of specific journalists and outlets who were banned appeared online.
Czech Television CEO Petr Dvořák was also in the firing line this year after attempts were made by the broadcaster’s council to remove him from the top spot. Critics have raised concern about the government’s attempt to stuff the council with government allies who are critical of the broadcaster’s investigative reporting and seem to have little media expertise. Concerns about the assault on Czech Television’s independence first began last year, when five members of the Advisory Board were unexpectedly dismissed.
The impartiality of Czech national radio also seems to be under threat. In May, civil society organisation Million Moments for Democracy reported that council member and right-wing influencer Tomáš Kňourek told Czech Radio CEO, René Zavoral, that the network didn’t broadcast enough diverse opinions and that he would prefer more coverage of Euroscepticism and resistance to migration.
Another council member, Josef Nerušil, posted on social media that the far-right populist party SPD is underrepresented within Czech Radio.
“The CIVICUS Monitor is particularly concerned that an increasing proportion of the Czech media is being taken over by politicians or business people. These pro-government allies are swamping the boards of independent TV and radio stations in the hope of drowning out critical opinions. We urge the new coalition government to take immediate steps to protect media independence,” said Aarti Narsee, Europe and Civic Space Researcher for CIVICUS.
An example of the increasing influence of government allies was seen last year when Czech millionaire Petr Kellner bought European Media Enterprises (CME), which broadcasts the country’s largest private TV channel, TV Nova. Although CME confirmed its commitment to media freedoms, Kellner has been accused of using his financial ties with China to boost coverage of Beijing in the Czech press and to monitor political figures opposed to the Chinese Communist Party.
Attacks on vulnerable communities in the Czech Republic seem to be more commonplace. In June, a Roma man died after a police officer knelt on his neck for about five minutes. Roma people face persistent discrimination in the Czech Republic, and are often forced to live on the outskirts of cities where there are few amenities and little hope of employment.
In June, President Milos Zeman undermined LGBTQI+ rights when he publicly supported a Hungarian law banning LGBTQI+ material in schools and called transgender people “disgusting”. More than half of the E.U. member states have opposed the Hungarian law, urging Prime Minister Viktor Orban to respect LGBTQI+ rights, but so far the Czech Republic has remained silent on the matter.
This dismal pattern of civic rights violations in the Czech Republic is mirrored across the European Union. Belgium and Poland have also been downgraded in People Power Under Attack 2021, with the spread of right-wing populism slamming fundamental freedoms across the region.
Over twenty organisations collaborate on the CIVICUS Monitor, providing evidence and research that help us target countries where civic freedoms are at risk. The Monitor has posted more than 550 civic space updates in the last year, which are analysed in People Power Under Attack 2021.
Civic freedoms in 197 countries and territories are categorised as either closed, repressed, obstructed, narrowed or open, based on a methodology that combines several sources of data on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.
The Czech Republic is now rated ‘narrowed’ on the CIVICUS Monitor. There are 40 other countries with this rating (see all). Visit the Czech Republic’s homepage on the CIVICUS Monitor to find out more and check back regularly for the latest updates.
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: