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Getting the message across

  • Where: Václav Havel Library, Ostrovní 13, Prague 110 00
  • When: October 16, 2019, 13:45 – 17:30

The role of the foreign media in the build-up to the Velvet Revolution in 1989 was an important part of the dramatic events of the annus mirabilis. Through the reports and broadcasts of a small number of reporters based in Czechoslovakia the world had an opportunity to learn about the growing resistance to the communist regime from activists, eye-witnesses and observers. At the same time, citizens of Czechoslovakia became increasingly informed, largely thanks to foreign radio broadcasts, not only about the latest government decisions and the sorry state of the economy but also about various civil initiatives. From the beginning of 1989 the reporting of foreign journalists in Prague became an essential feature in the efforts of the opposition to the regime to organize and attract broader support. Foreign journalists also played an important part in covering the drama of the Velvet Revolution and conveying its significance to the Western and global audiences, and in reporting on the first steps of the new, democratic government. The special event in the Václav Havel Library will bring together some of the journalists who covered the events and their memories.

13.45 Registration

14.00 – 14.15 

Welcome reception at the Václav Havel Library: Michael Žantovský

Introduction: Jennifer Bachus, Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Prague

14.15 – 15.45 PANEL 1: Correspondents of Radio

Jolyon Naegele, former East Europe correspondent of the Voice of America
Martin Schulz, former editor of Radio Free Europe
Ross Johnson, former director of Radio Free Europe in Munich

Moderator: Jakub Szántó, former Czech TV Middle East correspondent and author

15.45 – 16.00 Coffee break

16.00 – 17.30 PANEL 2: Correspondents of Press

Alison Smale, former chief East Europe correspondent of Associated Press, outgoing UN Under-Secretary General for Global Communications
Colin McIntyre, former chief East Europe correspondent of Reuters, currently consultant to the Thomson Reuters Foundation
Michael Žantovský, former Prague correspondent of Reuters

Moderator: Jakub Szántó, former Czech TV Middle East correspondent and author

17.30 – 17.45 A glass of wine

The event takes place in cooperation with Radio Free Europe and with the kind financial support of the US Embassy in Prague.
The event will be held in English.
Admission is free on the basis of registration until capacity has been met. For registration form go to:

A Ross Johnson is a History and Public Policy  Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and Senior Adviser at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.  Johnson was a senior executive of RFE/RL from 1988 to 2002, serving as director  of Radio Free Europe, director of the RFE/RL Research Institute, and acting president and counselor of RFE/RL. He was research fellow at the Hoover Institution from 2003 to 2016 and  senior staff member of the RAND Corporation from 1969 to 1988, where he specialized in East European and Soviet  security issues. Since 2002 he has advised RFE/RL on the preservation of its archives, including those of the Czechoslovak Service.

Colin McIntyre, who has Australian-British citizenship, studied French and German at Cambridge before joining Reuters in 1967. After brief spells in Brussels and Vienna he was appointed East Berlin correspondent in September 1968. In 1971 he spent a year in Prague before returning to East Berlin. After a spell in London he spent two years as Jakarta correspondent, during which he covered the end of the Vietnam War in Saigon and events in Cambodia and Laos. He returned to East Europe as news editor and Vienna-based Prague correspondent in 1979, followed by four years in Dublin reporting the troubles in Northern Ireland, then a spell as UK Political Correspondent reporting parliament, until returning to Vienna as Chief Correspondent East Europe in 1987.Back in London in 1991, he spent the next 10 years between London and Belgrade covering the break-up of Yugoslavia. After retirement in 2001 he worked as a consultant for the Reuters Foundation, training journalists around the world.

Jolyon Naegele, born in New York City in 1955, studied IR, focusing on Soviet bloc (BA 1976 from CCNY, MA 1978 SAIS/JHU); Czech language at SSEES/UL (1974-75). VOA correspondent 1984-94, covered decline and collapse of Communist rule in Eastern Europe, the disintegration of the USSR and Yugoslavia and Czechoslovak's "velvet divorce". Senior editor and analyst for West Balkan affairs at RFE/RL in Prague (1996-2003). From 2003, held political affairs posts at UNMIK, including chief political affairs officer from 2007 until his retirement from the UN in 2017. Since then, he has been researching the files of the Czechoslovak secret police (StB).

Martin Schulz Born in 1954 in Pribram, he graduated from the grammar school in Prague 7. He was not allowed to study at university for political reasons. From 1974 he tried his hand at several professions, such as a lorry driver, stagehand at the Divadlo na Vinohradech theatre, manual worker and first aid crew member. In December 1982 he moved to Germany. From 1983 he worked for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Munich on an external basis and from 1988 as a regular employee.
In 1995 he returned to the Czech Republic and later worked as the deputy director of the Czech broadcasting section of RFE. He has been collaborating with the Czechoslovak and then Czech TV since 1990 as a script writer, director and presenterof features entitled Na hrane and Snezi.

Alison Smale was born in 1955 in London and has some 40 years’ experience as a journalist and, most recently, as Undersecretary General for Global Communications at the United Nations. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in German and Politics from Bristol University, a Masters in Journalism from Stanford University and an honorary doctorate from Bristol. She ran The Associated Press coverage of central and eastern Europe from 1987-98, including the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia and the 1990s wars in the Balkans. After 9/11, she was deputy foreign editor at The New York Times and oversaw coverage of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. She then spent nine years in Paris as editor of the International Herald Tribune, the first and only woman to hold that post. From 2013-17, Alison was the Berlin bureau chief for The New York Times.

Jakub Szanto (*1977) is a Czech TV reporter. From 1999 he worked as editor in the foreign newsroom and later as its director at TV Nova, a private station. Since 2006 he has been a member of the foreign newsroom of Czech TV. In 2013–2018 he was its correspondent in the Near East. In the last decade he has covered the Chechnya conflict, the Israeli–Palestinian wars, the revolutions and coups in the Ukraine and Turkey, the Arab Spring conflicts, Somali pirates and other events in the Near East, Africa and post-Soviet countries. He is a laureate of the Journalist Prize, Peroutka Prize and the ‘Magnesia litera’ literary prize. He is married to the scriptwriter Lenka Szanto; they have two children.

Michael Žantovský is a director of the Václav Havel Library and formerly Czech ambassador to the United Kingdom, Israel and the United States. He has worked as a psychologist, translator, journalist and lyricist. He is the author of the biography Václav Havel: A Life. In November 1989 he co-founded Civic Forum and in January 1990 became the press secretary and spokesman of President Václav Havel. He is deputy chairman of the board of trustees of Aspen Institute Central Europe, a member of the programme board of the Forum 2000 conference and a member of the board of trustees of the Václav Havel Library Foundation in New York.

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