RADIO PRAGUE - 65 YEARS
The second half of the 1960s was a period of political thaw, a time of gradual
liberalisation. The outward signs of this thaw could be seen in the speeches of some
Communist politicians, but mostly in the media. This new spirit of reform was also felt
in Czechoslovak Radio.
"The atmosphere was definitely more relaxed", says political columnist Jiøí
Hanák, who worked as a commentator for Radio Prague in the 1960s. "The change
mainly affected the central programme department, where we were allowed to portray
the situation in Czechoslovakia as it really was. This obviously had an affect on
our foreign political comment." Olga
Szantova, who worked in the American
Section in the 1960s, has similar memories: "There was a certain degree of free-
dom. This mainly affected the programmes about Czechoslovakia, the texts of
which we were given by the central programme department to broadcast or send
abroad. Russian Radio even refused to
broadcast these programmes in 1968. We
enjoyed our work. It was different, we
started going out into the field more. But
one thing I must emphasise is that the
style of work didn't really change that
much. All scripts had to be approved by the Head of Section, and then they were taken
to the Chief Authority for Script Supervision (HSTD). They stamped them with the initials HSTD. It was ridiculous, actually, because some of the HSTD people couldn't
even speak a foreign language. But without a stamp and the Head of Section's
signature, the script couldn't be broadcast. And even then there was a strong sense of
self-censorship at work. We knew very well what we could write, and what was
unacceptable. During the Prague Spring the HSTD form of censorship was scrapped.
But I didn't experience much of that - soon after '68 they threw me out."
The "Prague Spring" came to an end in the early hours of August 21, 1968, with
the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the armies of the Warsaw Pact. For former
American Section journalist Cecile Køíová, it all began on the morning of the 21st:
"I was one of the lucky few who had managed to get into the radio building that day.
There were barricades on the streets, even some of the bridges were barricaded. I went
into the studio and read the news of the violent occupation of Czechoslovakia by
Warsaw Pact troops, who no-one had invited, and handed over the microphone to a
colleague from the French Section. Suddenly the door to the studio flew open. In the
doorway stood a soldier, his uniform covered in dust. He pointed a machine gun at me
and said "Von!" - which means "Out!" in Russian. I said I was already on my way out,
thank you. And there ended 19 years at Radio Prague. I'd just finished editing an
interview with the American actress Shirley Temple. I'd recorded it the day before. It
never went out. Soon afterwards I emigrated to the United States."
August 1968 was an almost identical repeat of May 1945. On the morning of
August 21, the station broadcast a statement by the Central Committee of the
Czechoslovak Communist Party, condemning the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Prague
citizens began gathering in front of the radio building, and there were clashes which
left several dead. The bullet-pocked facades of several surrounding buildings still serve as a reminder of those violent events. At 8am the building was occupied by Soviet
soldiers. Normal studio broadcasts were suspended, but makeshift broadcasts continued from studios the Soviet soldiers hadn't managed to find. The next day Czechoslovak
Radio - including Radio Prague - began broadcasting from another location in Prague.
The broadcasts were restricted to 10-minute news programmes in Czech/Slovak,
English, German, French and Spanish. These secret broadcasts lasted until September
9th, when Soviet troops left the main radio building and broadcasts could begin again
from the regular studios.
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