PRAGUE – The new Czech president attacked the country’s media on his first day in office Friday, saying some of them “brainwash” and “manipulate public opinion.”
Milos Zeman’s outburst, shortly after being sworn in as this country’s third president since the collapse of communism, did not have a stated target. But his sparring with the country’s press goes back to the time when he led the Czech government, 1998 to 2002.
In 2001, Zeman threatened to destroy a weekly that accused his government of non-transparent policies supporting corruption, triggering protests by journalists at home and abroad.
He said Friday he had in mind those media “that deal with brainwashing, media manipulation, manipulating the public opinion. (Those) whose representatives have little knowledge but a huge self-confidence. People who write about everything and understand nothing.”
Zeman, 68, staged a big return to power by defeating conservative Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg in the country’s first direct election for president. After Czechoslovakia split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic in 1993, the Czech Republic’s first presidents, Vaclav Havel and Vaclav Klaus, were elected by Parliament. But the bickering at the last two elections led to a change in the law.
Zeman, who took the presidential oath Friday during a joint session of both houses of parliament at the Prague Castle, replaces Klaus, an outspoken euroskeptic whose end of term was marred by his decision to halt court proceedings in several high-profile fraud cases, infuriating many Czechs who are fed up with widespread corruption.
Zeman is considered more favourable toward the 27-nation European Union. The Czech Republic joined the union in 2004.
“I want to be the president of all citizens,” Zeman said.
Under the Constitution, the president has the power to pick the prime minister after a general election and to appoint members of the Central Bank board. With the approval of Parliament’s upper house, the president also appoints constitutional Court judges.
Zeman offered to be a mediator on the political scene “but in no way a judge because that is not a proper role for the president.”
“I offer the presidential office to be a place for dialogue,” he said.
Besides the media, Zeman pledged he would focus on fighting corruption and right-wing extremism.
“One of the biggest dangers we are facing are godfather-like mafias that reside on the body of Czech society. They suck blood out of this body and don’t return any added value.”
Later in the day, Zeman was forced to sign the oath for a second time after it turned out that the document contained a grammatical mistake in one word, said Miroslava Nemcova, speaker of the parliament’s lower house. Nemcova said Zeman added his signature again after the mistake — two missing letters — was corrected.