Revolution Changes the Face of Czech Press

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

`SINCE the revolution, we have been accused of exchanging one ideology for another,'' says Jan Tobias, a young editor at Czechoslovakia's only religious daily newspaper, Lidova Demokracie. Once popular for its non-Communist stance, the paper is having difficulty catering to a readership that is hungry for straightforward news, devoid of religious or political overtones.

Sponsored by the Christian People's Party, Lidova Demokracie endorses the party's ecumenical program and is one of the oldest newspapers in the country. It claims a circulation of about 300,000. Few of the 35 journalists at the newspaper are religious themselves, but increasingly they find themselves coming under fire for the paper's orientation.

``We were always a newspaper that people liked because we were not Communist. But now some people believe it is not so good that it is religious. Many members of our paper feel the party tries to influence what we can and cannot write,'' Mr. Tobias says. Criticism of any aspect of the party's Christian platform is ``not possible,'' he says. Most of the staff would like to publish a ``modern, middle-of-the-road'' newspaper, according to several editors.

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The Prague offices of Lidova Demokracie are cramped and modest, boasting a color television, several manual typewriters, and one computer. The newspaper is typeset by hand in two rooms on a distant floor of the same cheerless building, an elevator ride and two flights of stairs away. Two copy editors mark up articles in a glass-enclosed corner of the room. Nearby, five black presses are operated by technicians with ink-stained hands, painstakingly plugging letters into the antiquated machines.

The facilities are remnants of Czechoslovakia's Communist days, when the newspaper was one of the few nonparty publications to function relatively undisturbed.

Today, the paper's journalists welcome the changes brought on by the revolution with a combination of enthusiasm and caution, explains Anna Ploskova, the weekend section editor. They are eager to employ their newfound journalistic license but are reluctant to endanger the young regime of President Vaclav Havel, the popular playwright, she says. ``It is very soon to start making criticisms, the changes have been good. But we will try,'' she says.

The one-koruna (approximately 16 cents) newspaper averages seven pages a day with an additional six pages on Friday, according to Ms. Ploskova. Topics include national and foreign news, women's affairs, humor, sports, children, and automobiles, in addition to advertisements.

Lidova Demokracie reporters felt obligated to keep silent during the demonstrations in Wenceslas Square, according to Tobias. The aftermath of the revolution, however, saw staff journalists filing eyewitness accounts of the revolution and interviews with Czech refugees who live abroad, he says. The editors emphasize that the newspaper is ``not sensational'' and tries to keep a low profile.

The revolution may be changing the face of Czech journalism, but it is also highlighting its ironies. For instance, not only does Lidova Demokracie continue to rely primarily on the government press agency, CTK, for its information, but the newspaper's publication also depends on the facilities of a rival paper.

Ploskova explains that Rude Pravo, the Communist Party newspaper, has the most expensive modern technology while Lidova Demokracie's twice-daily runs are carried by Svobodnoya Slovo. ``Tomorrow they can refuse to print our newspaper,'' says Tobias matter-of-factly.

Ironically, reporters are having a more difficult time obtaining information despite the freer political atmosphere, according to Tobias. Sources who were not afraid to discuss controversial issues before because they knew their comments would never see the light of day are now reluctant to talk and risk being identified.

``Of course, we knew about certain problems, such as drugs in athletics. Athletes weren't afraid to tell us about doping because they knew we wouldn't write it,'' says Tobias, who is the sports editor.

Shaking his head, Tobias explains that he chose sports so he could work as a ``real journalist'' in an apolitical area. Ploskova says she also entered journalism because there would be ``many possibilities to write interesting things.'' Trained by a union newspaper, she says, she became quickly disillusioned after 1973.

``Before the revolution, we had to be careful when we published stories. It was official news. You must realize that in our country we published books that people didn't buy,'' Tobias says with amusement.

``I hope now it will be much more our own news. It is necessary to give the people what they want,'' he says.

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