Just as the media market started showing signs of recovery after the pandemic, it had to cope with the energy crisis and rising inflation. The war in Ukraine also tested the country’s resilience against disinformation, and there are intensified calls for more systemic measures to counter this.
The advertising market continued its return to the pre-COVID levels of growth in the first half of 2022, but the rebound stopped towards the end of the year, following the country’s plunge into economic recession and the second-highest inflation rate in Czech history (+15%). Dramatic cost increases have hit newspaper publishers hard, with many cutting budgets and journalists. In addition, a dozen outlets ceased publishing, mostly blaming the rising cost of paper. However, the largest Czech digital company, Seznam, was also hit, reportedly cutting staffing on its news website Seznamzpravy.cz by 11%,1 and closing the newsroom at its television station TV Seznam.
On the other hand, parts of the digital media market have enjoyed further growth, especially online video on demand. Following the arrival of Disney+ in June 2022, another global streaming platform – SkyShowtime – launched its services for Czech customers in February 2023, and the leading Czech commercial TV network Prima added its own platform Prima+ as well. The popularity of news podcasts has also been increasing. In a search for new revenue sources, Seznam launched the Seznam Medium blogging platform in late 2022. Modelled on Medium.com, it allows users the opportunity for their blogs to appear on the Seznam.cz homepage (once the article receives 100,000 views), and to earn up to half of the advertising revenue generated.
In November 2022 – just a year after its launch – Google added to the sector’s woes in announcing the end of its News Showcase programme, which had provided eight Czech newsrooms with an extra source of revenue. Furthermore, both Google and Meta have stopped displaying snippets from Czech news websites on their platforms, hitting traffic and consequently advertising income. This was in reaction to an amendment to the Copyright Law (transposing the provisions of the EU’s DSM Directive into the Czech legislation), implementing very stringent rules for the digital platforms’ compliance, including a penalty of up to 1% of global annual turnover in case of a breach.2 Many commentators argue that the legislation has done more harm than good, unintentionally denying publishers their customary revenues, instead of strengthening their hand vis-à-vis the global platforms, as originally intended.
Commercial media, however, are not the only ones under economic pressures. The public service Czech Radio announced 60 redundancies in 2022, with another wave planned for 2023. Czech Television revealed its plan to sack 250 employees by 2024, together with other cost-saving measures, including a halt on investment. Both broadcasters have blamed these moves on the unsustainable financial situation caused by the continuing freeze on the licence fee, which has not been increased since 2008 (for Czech Television) and 2005 (for Czech Radio). Promises from the centre-right government elected in late 2021 to safeguard the financial sustainability of public service media have not been realised. Similarly, planned reforms to reinforce independence of the regulatory bodies – the media councils – by reforming the appointments system have stalled, faced with obstruction by the parliamentary opposition. Both the continuing uncertainty regarding the licence fee and the protracted impasse concerning the system of media councils means PSBs remain exposed to potential political pressure.
There were renewed policy initiatives in 2022 to strengthen protection against disinformation, particularly in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Czech Republic was one of the few EU countries to end broadcasts by the Russian propaganda channels Sputnik and RT and temporarily block several prominent domestic disinformation and conspiracy websites. The perceived arbitrariness of this action by the Czech association of internet service providers, following a request by the army, highlighted the need for a legal framework backing the fight against disinformation. However, the proposed law has been repeatedly delayed, raising concerns about the government’s commitment to this cause. Concerns increased in late 2022 when the draft action plan to combat disinformation was leaked, including proposals for the centralisation of state advertising and systematic financial support for independent media. The draft plan attracted vigorous criticism from the Union of Publishers. The government responded in February 2023 by suddenly abolishing the post of the Media and Disinformation Commissioner (established only a year previously),3 thereby effectively ending the preparations of the action plan and leaving the future of state policies for countering disinformation in doubt.
Loughborough University, UK
The percentage of people getting their news from print is now the lowest since the survey began, down by over half since 2015. Local web portal Seznam has a dominant position online, running dozens of web services including the leading news site.
Pay for online news
Trust in news overall
Trust in news I use
Overall trust has reached a record low, possibly because of the cost-of-living crisis and the war in Ukraine, but potentially also reflecting the presidential election campaign in January 2023, which was marked by polarisation and spreading of disinformation. Trust in specific news brands has remained largely the same, with public service media retaining their lead.