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Media Landscapes

Czech Republic

Written by Tomáš Trampota

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The Czech Republic originated in 1993 when Czechoslovakia divided into the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic. The nation of Czechoslovakia lived for only short, frequently interrupted periods of time under democratic conditions during the 20th century.

The contemporary Czech media system is the outcome of 20 years of history, starting with the Velvet Revolution in 1989. Until November 1989 all mass media in Czechoslovakia were governed by the state, state organisations or political parties in the National Front under the leadership of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. 

The Czech Republic is a central European country with a population of 10.4 million inhabitants covering about 79,000 km sq. The area of the Czech Republic is divided geopolitically into 13 regions. Its capital is Prague, which has a population of approximantly1.233 million inhabitants. There are four other Czech cities with population exceeding 100,000: Brno, with population of 370,000, as well as Ostrava, Plzeň and Olomouc.

According to the Czech Statistical Office, there are 3.6 million households and an average gross income of 22,000 Czech Crowns per month (approximately 860 euro).

The Czech Republic became a member of NATO in 1999 and joined the European Union in May, 2004. Approximately half of Czech households are connected to the Internet. About 23 percent have cable television and 18 percent use satellite TV.

After the Velvet Revolution, three types of print media surfaced: privatised versions of ancien regime products, new private media and legalised editions of former samizdat media.

There are seven national dailies, nine regional dailies and two free dailies published in the Czech Republic. They are all privately owned. Foreign investment companies control a majority of these.

According to recent research, 80 percent of all Czechs read at least one daily per fortnight. On average, the daily press reaches about 71 percent of the population. Every day, about 1.1m copies of national dailies are circulated, as are around 256,000 copies of regional dailies.

The most-read national daily is the tabloid newspaper Blesk (In English, Flash) with 1.4m readers per average issue. Blesk was launched in 1992 by Ringier, based in Switzerland, as a copy of the Swiss daily, Blick. It is intensively focused on celebrity lives and scandals.

The second most-read daily is a middlebrow daily, Mladá fronta Dnes (In English, Young Front Today). It is a successor of the former daily of the Socialist Youth Union, from the Socialist era, and has around 1m readers per issue. It has a centre-right political orientation.

The third most influential daily has a centre-left orientation. Právo ( In English, Rights), has  423,000 readers  and has been transformed from a former Communist party platform Rudé právo (Red Rights). It is the only daily newspaper in the Czech Republic specifically addressing an older age group of readers.

The other national daily is Sport. It is read more by younger readers, as is the tabloid gossip daily, Aha!.

Also among Czech papers are the moderately right-of-centre daily,  Lidové noviny (People´s Paper) and the business-oriented Hospodářské noviny (The Economic Daily).   

The regional daily press is controlled by the de facto monopoly of Vltava Labe Press publishing house, owned by German Verlagsgruppe Passau. It operates two groups of regional dailies: Deníky Bohemia (Bohemia Dailies) for the western part of the country and Deníky Moravia (Moravia Dailies) for the eastern half. 

Cumulative circulation of the daily press has dwindled in recent years, connected with continuous decrease in readership of serious dailies. Readership of tabloids is at a standstill. Circulation decreases have prompted some tabloidization of Czech dailies.  

The most influential current affairs weeklies in Czech Republic are Reflex, with 256,000 readers per issue, published by Ringier; Týden (Week) and Respekt (Respect).

During the past decade, the supply of lifestyle magazines focused on housing and celebrities has blossomed. Higher readership is seen among lifestyle weeklies targeting mostly female readers; the most influential of these is the gossip-oriented Rytmus života (Rhythm of Life).

In terms of advertisement market share, the biggest publishing houses operating in the Czech Republic are Mafra (with a share of 14.7 percent), Ringier Czech Republic (14.5 percent), Vltava Labe Press (10.7 percent), Bauer Media (5.8 percent) and Metro Czech republic (5.4 percent).

During the past decade, print media development was marked by a blossoming supply of lifestyle magazines focused on housing and celebrities. According to the OMD company, ad spend at print media reached 8.6bn Czech Crowns in 2008. This is a slight annual decrease; the year 2009 is supposed to end with decrease of about 30 percent.

The state broadcaster Czechoslovak radio dominated the radio airwaves until the early 1990s when the spectrum was opened to the first commercial broadcasters. Today there are 12 national radio channels broadcasting, eight of which are the channels of public service broadcaster Czech Radio. Around 70 are regional radio stations. Radio reaches around 65 percent of the Czech population daily, 19 percent of which is listening to public service radio channels.

All three of the most popular national radio stations are private. The most listened-to national radio is Radio Impuls, with daily reach of 12.8 percent of the Czech population.  The other two popular stations come from a chain of regional stations owned by the French company Lagardére — Evropa 2 (with 10.7 percent of the Czech audience), and Frekvence 1 (10.6 percent of the audience).

This big three are followed by public service channel Radiožurnál, which reaches about 9 percent of the Czech population. The most developed regional radio markets are Prague and Central Bohemia with 21 diverse regional stations. The most listened-to regional radio station is the Prague-based Radio Blanik (with daily reach of 6 percent).

The radio advertisement market for commercial radio stations is controlled by the duopoly of Regie Radio Music (owned by Lagardére) representing private national radio stations (with a 30 percent market share) and Media Marketing Services (which has a market share of 32 percent). These two organisations represent the majority of private regional radio stations.

Before the collapse of communism, the only broadcaster in Czech Republic was Czechoslovak television, which was transformed into a public service broadcaster in early 1990s.

The first national terrestrial commercial licence was issued in 1993 to Television Nova, which gained a dominant position on the television market after two months of broadcasting in 1994. Today there are three broadcasters operating on the national television market: Czech Television, a public broadcaster with two terrestrial channels (CT1 and CT2) and two digital channels (CT24 for news and current affairs programmes and CT Sport) and the commercial broadcaster TV Nova. CME and other private broadcasters control TV Nova. The Swedish company Modern Time Groups controls Prima TV, the third broadcaster.

TV Nova has led the private market since 1994 with an audience share of 39 percent. The public service channel CT1 follows with a19 percent share.  Prima TV reaches almost 17 percent of the population while the public service channel CT2 reaches about 7 percent.

On average, 82 percent of Czech population watches these four major national TV channels daily. TV Nova also has the highest advertising revenues.

In recent years, a law has limited the time public service channels may allot for advertisements from 3 percent to 1 percent to 0,5 %. Previous law planned successive total elimination of the advertisement on public service broadcaster channels, but was lately changed. Television advertisement revenue in Czech Republic totalled about 11.5 bn Czech Crowns (approximately 450m euro) in 2008 and is forecast to decrease in 2009, albeit not as steeply as in the case of print media. 

Cinema is a traditional, established medium in the Czech Republic. Viktor Ponrepo opened the first static cinema hall in Prague in 1907.

Visits to cinemas steadily decreased throughout the 1990s, from 36.4m paid entries in 1990 to a mere 8.4m visits in 1999. But the turn of a new century marked the start of a continuous, albeit slight, increase in cinema admissions. In 2008 there were 12.9m admissions to the cinema. The increase can partially be attributed to excitement about the opening of 24 new multiplex cinemas — with a total of 196 halls — in January, 2009.  Coupled with a decrease in the overall number of cinemas — from 1,531 in 1990 to 763 in 2006 — this reflects the concentration of cinema screens.  

According to the Film Distributers Union, total estimated admissions revenue for cinemas in 2008 were 1.2bn Czech Crowns (47m euro). Of this, 84 percent comes from multiplexes cinemas.

Last years are connected with massive development of telecommunications, broad band  and wireless data transport in Czech republic. There is also increasing number of free wifi internet connection spots in big cities. The total number of mobile numbers reach around 13,5 millions. Three biggest mobile phone operators are T-Mobile launched in 1996 (under the name RadioMobil) with 5,5 users Vodafone which entered market in 2000 and has 2,9 millions of users, and Teléfonica O2.

According to the Association for Internet Advertisement (SPIR), 48.4 percent of Czechs use the Internet at least one day per month. About 94 percent of Internet users surf the web from home while 32 percent go online at work and 15 percent surf at school or university. Of those using the Internet at home, 71 percent have a broadband connection, 10 percent a dial-up connection and 3 percent a mobile phone connection. Among regular Internet users, young people are overrepresented, as are men (54 percent) and people with higher education. The biggest portion of regular Internet users, 28 percent, are between 15 and 24 years of age.

A majority of print media in the Czech Republic have established online versions of their print products in recent years, as have key weeklies.

Terrestrial broadcasting has been undergoing digitalisation since 2008. The switch is from analogue terrestrial broadcasting to digital broadcasting. The whole of Czech Republic should be covered by the digital signal by the end of 2009. Digital terrestrial broadcasting is using the standard DVB-T. Digital channels are gathered onto four platforms, each operating by different operator, one of which is devoted to public service channels. 

The oldest news agency is the Czech Press Agency (CTK), previously the national state press agency. It was founded in 1918 as the Czechoslovak Press Agency. CTK is now classed as a public service organisation. Its regulatory body, the Council of Czech Press Agency, has seven counsellors. CTK supplies most major Czech media with domestic and foreign news service. It is not financially supported with public fees, but lives on its service revenues.   

The most important trade unions for media and communication organisations in Czech Republic included OS Media, founded in February, 1990. It unites trade unions for public service organisations – Czech Television, Czech Radio and Czech Press Agency – with about 3,200 members. OS Media is a member of an international trade union for media organizations, UNI – MEI.

The main national professional organisation of Czech journalists is the Syndicate of Journalists, which is not widely accepted by journalists because professional unions are seen as a burden of the socialist era. But print media publishers created the Czech Publishers Association in 1990; it researches readership and circulation data. Major national television broadcasters are united in the Union of National TV Stations , which conducts TV meter research. Commercial radio broadcasters founded the Association of Private Broadcasters in 1992. There is also the Association for Internet Advertisement (SPIR) which provides regular data on web viewership trends.

The Czech Republic has few media ownership restrictions, which means the participation of foreign investors is not limited. The strongest legal limits restrict cross-ownership in the media industry (Act on Radio and Television Broadcasting of 2001).

Media regulation is more intense in the area of broadcasting than print. The most important legislative documents include the Law on Radio and Television Broadcasting No. 231 from the year 2001, which defines the license and regulation policy for broadcasting and the role of Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting.

Other important laws are those regulating the performance of public service media, specifically the Law on Czech Television No. 483 and Law on Czech Radio No. 484. Both went into force in 1991. They define the role and duties of public service media and their regulatory bodies (the Council of Czech Radio and Council of Czech Television).

Print media operate according to the Press Law adopted in March, 2000. Important laws influencing the work of journalists also include the Law on Free Access to Information No. 106 from 1999.      

Codified accountability systems are most intensively connected with public service media. Accountability of public service organisations is ensured by their regulatory bodies and by internal ethical codes. Some private print media outlets have written their own ethical codes in recent years, current affairs weeklies in particular. 

There are four major media regulatory bodies in the Czech Republic. The key regulator is the Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting. It consists of 13 counsellors elected for six-year terms. The body’s main task is to monitor TV and radio broadcasting as well as issue and extend broadcasting licenses. The regulatory body governing public service television is the Council of Czech Television (15 counsellors elected for six years each).

The Council of Czech Radio works with public service radio (nine counsellors, elected for six years each). There is also Council of Czech Press Agency with seven counsellors elected for five years apiece. The Chamber of Deputies, part of the Czech parliament, elects the counsellors of all regulatory bodies. This system of choosing counsellors can  lead to politicisation; composition of regulatory bodies typically reflects the ruling parties of the Chamber of Deputies.     

There are a growing number of institutions focused on journalistic education, professional education and on media studies. The most influential universities for journalism education are public:

  • Faculty of Social Sciences of Charles University Prague
  • Faculty of Social Studies of Masaryk University in Brno
  • Faculty of Philosophy of Palackého University in Olomouc

For other media professions, the important educational institution is the Film and TV School of Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. There are also private institutions offering journalism education, located mainly in Prague, eg Higher School of Publicity (VOSP) and University of Jan Amos Komenský (UJAK).

Major institutional information sources used by Czech journalists include the CTK (Czech Press Agency). It supplies information on domestic events. Reuters is a frequent source of information about foreign events and DPA gives information about neighbouring German-speaking countries. Television news organisations use also EBU for the exchange of visual material.  

The Czech media landscape has undergone intensive changes in the last two decades. Recent years have been marked by stronger competition in all segments of media associated with the decline in daily readership of print products as well as plummeting advertisement revenues. The increasing number of digital television channels also figures.

The Czech daily press follow the international trend toward continuous tabloidization characterised by strong visual images, more gossip and celebrity-oriented news as well as intense coverage of soft news.

Other major trends include the narrowing of the thematic agenda of Czech media.

The past five years of development have brought concentration of ownership and interconnectedness of media organisations. This is most intense on the radio market.

Another recent trend is the digitalisation of terrestrial broadcasting, soon to be complete.

 Regarding advertisement revenue, the only medium which saw an increase in the last year was the Internet.  

Tomáš Trampota
Assistant professor
Department of Media studies, Faculty of Social Sciences,
Charles University Prague,
Smetanovo nábřeží 6, Praha 1, 110 00, Czech Republic
Tel: +420 224 491 850
Email: trampota@fsv.cuni.cz