Czech Press Office: a forgotten public medium

While everyone can imagine the basic purpose of institutions like Czech Television and Czech Radio and know that they’re paid for by license fees which are regulated by law and stem from the number of receivers (which, by the way, has created a highly strange situation in the era of internet broadcasts, which are free), things aren’t so clear with the Czech Press Office.  

So what exactly is it? The Czech Press Agency (or CPA) is a public-owned medium that has managed to keep itself in operation by making enough of its own money since 1996 (history of CPA).  

 

 

Poskytované služby ČTK na oficiálních webových stránkách. Zdroj: ČTK. Autor screenshotu: KISK.

“The mission of the Press Office is to provide objective and versatile information for the free creation of opinions. The Press Office provides a service to the public by spreading audio and video reporting from the Czech Republic and abroad. The Press Office provides the same service to foreign countries.” as is written in Paragraph 2 of Act no. 517/1992 Coll. Another important document for the operation of this institution is the Czech Press Office Codex. Its activities are monitored by its Council elected by the Czech Chamber of Deputies.  

Before we begin with an analysis of what this institution actually does and why, it’s good to mention what news agencies such as Reuters, AP or TASS are for. The media generally doesn’t have the opportunity to completely cover all reporting with all the photographs and texts from their own sources. If they could do so, their editorial offices would be many times larger, which is a problem in terms of human limits and also economic problems. Press agencies thus aggregate reports from a certain country and offer them to other media. They can then either use them verbatim or modify them in various ways. A large portion of working in the media thus lies in working with press agency reports. These are typical in their attempts at absolute opinion and value neutrality, as – contrary to common media outlets – they don’t know who they’re selling information to and who their readers are.  

In many countries, press agencies have an additional dimension – they attempt to create reports that will be interesting abroad and contribute to generation of discussion about a certain country. This is both the case of the Czech Press Office, or the rather propaganda-oriented TASS or New China. 

The Czech Press Office thus provides other media the opportunity to subscribe to their news – either all of it or a selected segment (for example religious news) – and is paid to do so. These can be texts, videos or photographs. In order to acquire these news, the editors use a data bank that everything can be easily downloaded and acquired from. At the same time, no medium will print everything – i.e. roughly 700 text reports daily – from CPO per day; they do, however, make selections from them. These fees keep the Czech Press Office alive and are at the same time the subject of occasional criticism of this institution, as  their fees aren’t exactly low, nor are their conditions always favorable. But, it is a fact that Aktuálně has relatively quickly returned to using the Czech Press Office, and perhaps CPO’s only more serious competitor in written reporting – the project Novy – Mediafax – didn’t take hold. Operating a press office is expensive, demanding, and requires time, which isn’t very ideal for a common business model.  

How exactly is CPO public and what do we actually need such an agency for? Firstly, a relatively broad media market is necessary here – in order for more media outlets to exist, they need to gain content from somewhere, and that’s something CPO can help them with. Their prices aren’t low, but at the same time, they’re not high enough to make it impossible for semi-large media projects to be created and operated. This is thus the primary role of the institution. By the way, if you subscribe to news from CPO, you’re required to change the headline of the article, which is a rather interesting condition for functioning on the media market.  

The second level is of a foreign-policy nature – the Czech Republic has an interest in the world knowing what’s happening here. CPO produces reports not only in Czech, but also in English, which allows foreign media to report on the goings-on here. This is important both for “advertising” and also for a greater involvement of the Czech Republic in the international context, abandoning isolationism, and also for business.  

The third reason is shared among all public service media – to offer balanced reporting that is not overly burdened by ideology and which will not for example discriminate smaller entities. All public media must make sure they’re not giving too much space (than the degree of real political power) to one side. The fact that news from CPO is distributed to (almost) all large Czech media outlets makes them (at least partially) public. 

The Czech Press Office operates theČeské noviny news website, which is interesting in that it’s ad-free. Compared to the two other public media, it doesn’t have a commentary section, which is logical and stems from what we’ve already mentioned about CPO. Just to get an idea – CPO currently has 252 employees, 184 of which are editorial staff. It has 5 million images in its photo archive, which makes it a significant memorial institution mapping the political and social life in the Czech Republic (and previously Czechoslovakia). This also fulfills a part of their public ethos, as it creates the memory of our country in a carefully sorted data bank in easily analyzable form. This makes it an interesting partner to other memorial institutions of a national character, such as the Czech National Library, the National Archive or the National Gallery.  

 

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