Reporters Without Borders is appalled by a raid on the headquarters of the state TV station Česká Televize (ČT) on the evening of 11 March by around 10 armed and masked members of the military police, who searched the offices of investigative journalist Karel Rozanek and two colleagues for several hours and left with computers, notebooks, CD-ROMs, diaries and other personal items.
“We are deeply shocked by both the purpose of this search and the irregular methods used,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It is extremely disturbing that such a fundamental principle as the confidentiality of journalists’ sources can be flouted in this way in a European Union member state. Such a violation is relatively rare in the EU and deserves to be firmly condemned.”
The press freedom organization added: “We note the rapid political response by defence minister Alexandr Vondra, who suspended the head of the military police and two of his deputies the next day but many questions remain unanswered.”
According to their warrant, the military police who carried out the raid were looking for a copy of a 2007 report that led to then military intelligence chief Miroslav Krejcik’s dismissal. Classified as a defence secret at the time, the reports contents remain a mystery. Krejcik had at first reportedly used it to discredit senior defence ministry officials but then distanced himself from his findings.
Rozanek, who is well known in the Czech Republic for his investigative coverage of corruption cases, is said to have recently obtained a copy of the report and was preparing a series of programmes about it. A source close to the case said the report was not found during the raid.
The day before the raid, plain-clothes members of the military police went to the TV station and demanded the report. When the management refused to comply, they placed seals on Rozanek’s office and left. Military police spokesperson Michaela Cvanova said they had been acting “on a prosecutor’s verbal order.”
What does “a prosecutor’s verbal order” mean? And why were counter-terrorist methods used with journalists who were just doing their job? And does the involvement of an allegedly confidential defence report justify deploying members of the military police, whose responsibilities are normally limited to the armed forces and military bases?
After seizing the files of Rozanek and his two colleagues, the military police are now potentially in a position to identify their sources in many of the other stories they have been covering, including alleged irregularities in defence contracts. This would leave their sources dangerously exposed and violate a core principle of investigative journalism.
The Czech Republic was ranked 23rd out of 178 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index but Czech journalists are concerned about several recent developments including a planned Valued Added Tax increase for the print media, which are already suffering from structural problems.