The Czech Republic is located in the central part of Europe, with over 10 million inhabitants, Czech as the main official language, and a two-chamber parliamentary system. The state was founded after the split of former Czechoslovakia in 1993, which had belonged to the Soviet bloc after World War II. The current media system, established and developing since 1989, can be characterized as a liberal, pluralistic system operating within the framework of constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression. The media in the country operate in a market-driven environment with no or very limited regulation regarding both content and ownership. Audiovisual media operate within a dual system of both public-service media and private (mostly commercial) broadcasting. The system is close to the so-called “democratic corporatist model” (Hallin & Mancini 2004). The typical characteristics of the system are a high level of both horizontal and vertical concentration of ownership, with wide influence of foreign owners, especially in print media; a strong tendency toward commercialization; a comparatively weak and politically dependent position of public-service media; and dynamic development of Internet media.
The media system of the Czech Republic is based upon developments and changes that took place during the period of former Czechoslovakia (1918 –1992) and, before that, in the period of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. The first periodical newspaper in the Czech language was published in 1719, but even before that periodicals in German were published in the area now known as the Czech Republic. During the second half of the nineteenth century, the big quality or liberal papers and the structure of the political party press were established. The serious interest of the general public in national and political issues slowed down the commercialization of the media, and sensational papers did not appear before the 1920s.
After the foundation of Czechoslovakia in 1918, a liberal approach to the media was adopted and the structure of the media was developing. The coexistence of both Czech and German written periodicals, as well as the rise of big publishing houses, the development of political quality press and cultural/political magazines, on one hand, and sensational press on the other, and the establishment of a national press agency (1918) and radio broadcasting (1923) are main features of the changes in Czech media between the wars. After World War II, Czechoslovakia was incorporated into the domain of influence of the Soviet Union, and its media system was accommodated to it. All of the media were supposed to serve the goals of the leading party and ideology. Most prewar periodicals were canceled or redesigned, and new titles were launched. The content of the media was under strong and systematic control. However, the system itself was developing, and television was introduced in 1953. With the short interruption of the so-called “Prague Spring” (in the broadest sense, the period 1967–1969), when the media were allowed to operate more freely, the system can be characterized as nondemocratic, centralized, and nonpluralistic.
At the end of 1989, developments in Czechoslovakia led to the establishment of the media as independent of the state, market driven, pluralistic, and mostly nonregulated (Jakubowicz 2003). The media and advertising market became established as a new feature of the developing market economy of the country. Both print and audiovisual media were transformed. This development was adopted by the Czech Republic in 1993.
One of the main features of the media transition was the change of media ownership. Private publishers were allowed to enter the segment where only political parties, governmental bodies, and quasi-nongovernmental organizations had been licensed before 1989. During 1990, the structure of ownership of dailies and magazines was stabilized, with substantial presence of foreign ownership. The main dailies are owned by publishers based in other countries. Among the leading dailies, only one is still owned by a Czech publisher.
New newspapers were published soon after 1989 but most of them did not survive. Some pre-1989 newspapers were transformed, and some have survived until today: for instance, Právo, the successor of the former communist daily Rudé právo; Mladá Fronta Dnes, the successor of the former daily Mladá fronta published by the Union of Socialistic Youth; the weekly Hospodá®ské noviny has been changed into a daily; the Lidové Noviny, a daily with a long liberal and quality tradition, established at the end of the nineteenth century, banned during the pre-1989 period, and published as a samizdat since 1988, was re-established and got its place on the market. Among new titles that survived on the market, mostly sensational papers can be found, e.g., the Blesk (“Flash”) daily was founded in 1992. The structure of the regional and local daily press was re-established completely, as well as the structure of magazines. The mainstream magazines are mostly domestic versions of international magazines.
State-run radio and television were transformed into public-service media, the ÇeskÁ rozhlas (Czech Radio) and Çeská televize (Czech Television). Private commercial broadcasting was established (the first private radio in 1991; the first private TV broadcasting in 1993 and 1994). The leading TV station is a private commercial one, TV Nova, which started in 1994 and quickly achieved the position of market leader.
The newly established advertising market is one of the most dynamic segments of the economy in the region. The amount of money fueled into the media via advertising has been increasing constantly, starting at less then 400 million Czech crowns in 1990 and increasing to more than 21.3 billion Czech crowns (0.75 billion euros) in 2006.
The new network media have developed rapidly since the mid-1990s. There are three international mobile phone providers present in the Czech Republic (including Telefónica and Vodafone). The penetration of the Internet into the population was over 48 percent in 2006. All main traditional mass media are present on the Internet and some have developed specific i-products (e.g., the Hospodá®ské noviny daily produces www.iHned.cz; the Právo daily offers www.novinky.cz). New Internet media (radios, news servers, etc.) have been developed as well (e.g., www.aktualne.cz, an Internet news server; Leonardo, a radio station provided by public-service radio).
- Hallin, D. C., & Mancini, P. (2004). Comparing media systems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Jakubowicz, K. (2003). Social and media change in central and eastern Europe: Framework of analysis. In D. L. Paletz & K. Jakubowicz (eds.), Business as Usual. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.