Ivo Mathé: Can’t cross the same river twice

Whenever there are speculations about Czech Television’s next director, the name of Ivo Mathé is almost always mentioned, as so far he is the only person who has managed to serve out his full term.

You worked with Václav Havel for four years as the director of the Czech Republic President’s Office. Did you consider staying with him after his term was up?
Mr. Havel was unable to offer me a job. On the contrary, we tried to take care of him. Our nation was completely unprepared for the end of his presidential term. This is a terrible shame. It’s scandalous to turn a president out onto the street after thirteen years. And it’s doubly scandalous to rely on his coincidentally being wealthy. He could lose everything – for example, in a fire. Mr. Havel didn’t even keep Vladimír Hanzel, his secretary of many years who served him at the Castle since November 1989, and also before then. Havel felt he wouldn’t be able to pay him his salary.

How did the president prepare for the end of his term?
We outlined what his private office should look like, how many rooms, how many people, what he would need. Havel was a bit opposed, saying, “I won’t beg anyone for favors.” He just let it run its own course, and he didn’t start thinking about himself until January. I’m just telling you about it in brief. Of course he had a lot of other work besides thinking about what would happen after he left office. We tried to prepare him for losing all services – faxes, computers, equipment, and telephones. We ordinary people can arrange such things ourselves, but he has to learn it all over again.

During your career you’ve been the director of Czech Television and chancellor to the president. Is there any other work that you’d be interested in?
I don’t know. I’m in a situation in which a person should be retiring – it shouldn’t be ten years away. That couldn’t happen in Japan, because there a person couldn’t have such a career until he turned seventy. Additionally, in this country none of these functions offer sufficient social security compared with, for example, what any member of a bank’s board of directors gets. If you live modestly, you can save some money, but you can’t live on it until you die. Summing it up, I’m in a complicated situation in terms of motivation about what to look for. I don’t want to be involved in politics, as following the same path twice is problematic.

Since leaving the Castle you’ve been working as a media consultant. What exactly do you do?
I’m a freelancer, and besides suggestions for television, I prepare documentation for communications seminars. I only rarely take part in the seminars. And what exactly do I work at? A series on etiquette, theses, and desiderata on social and media rules for top managers. I didn’t want to lose touch with the media environment. Otherwise, at age fifty-two I’d have to come to terms with something completely new. Say I wanted to work in the aviation industry and sell airplanes – I’d have to study everything from the very beginning, due to my devotion to detail.

There was a rumor that you might be named ambassador to Australia.
That wasn’t true. But that would probably be a logical transition, a way to draw on my experience. Most of the things you learn in a high position working for the president can be best applied in diplomacy. Perhaps also in these seminars for top managers, as they need to know how to behave, what’s proper and what isn’t, because they are in contact with company presidents and politicians.

So why didn’t you begin a new career in the diplomatic service?
I would certainly have had to push for it. I’d have to make my interest known, speak with people from the foreign affairs ministry. I’d have to tell them I wanted to fight for a position, because you have to fight for such jobs, which you have to wait years for. Unless you’re someone the government wants to farm you out to a fitting position.

After you left Czech Television in 1998, why didn’t you enter the tender to return as its director?
I couldn’t, and I didn’t want it. I promised to stay at the Castle with the president until the end. I tried out for the position twice in the past, first in 1992, and again in 1998, and I was unsuccessful (ed. note: he was replaced by Jakub Puchalský). Unless I see clear behavior that demonstrates that they really want the best person among possible candidates, I won’t trust any tenders.

How do you think the Czech Television director should be chosen?
True, the new law makes things extremely complicated for council members. Now there have to be fifteen of them instead of nine, and now they are legally obligated to run tenders without being instructed as to how it should work. If a tender must be held, professionals should be considered. People off the street or hockey goalies shouldn’t be in the running, nor should people who are clearly being pushed through by someone. That’s absurd. So people should be nominated from the ranks of professionals, people who want the job and have clear conditions and demonstrable experience. A director should then be chosen from among then.

You are extremely critical of tenders conducted by external firms. Why?
Maybe the principle of working with external firms isn’t so bad, but such firms should be professional in their approach. The personnel agency Hofírek Consulting prepared psychological tests, and you can’t even know if they’ve passed them themselves, or how influential they are. In the president’s office we went through the most comprehensive screening in the entire country, and the same applies to NATO, and we passed psychological and intelligence tests and vetted by the secret services. And then Hofírek should test me?

Is it possible that if you returned to television you would no longer understand it?
Maybe. I’m very surprised that most of the applicants for the position don’t demand what every investor who wants to go into something demands – due diligence. Investors pay a deposit and then go check out the firm’s situation. I should know the most about Czech Television of all the applicants, but that would be the first thing I’d demand. The programming, numbers, what is under production or slated for production, when it will be completed, broadcast schedule proposals, budgets, what the mandatory costs are, estimates of profit and losses.

How is managing Czech Television different from managing a commercial firm?
In a business the goal is clear – profit and increasing it. A company that is not rocked by scandal or slander and is profitable is successful. Czech Television is a type of public non-profit corporation, just like Czech Radio or universities. The goal isn’t profit but public service, which is hard to classify, as it is in the case of higher education. It’s necessary to create criteria for that.

A life in numbers
1951 born in Prague on 18 May
1976 graduated from the Academy of Performing Arts, Film and Television Department
1976 – 90 worked as the production staff manager in the main entertainment programs department for Czech Television
1990-91 chief producer of art programs at Czechoslovak Television
1991-98 general director of Czech Television
1999 – 2003 head of the Office of the President of the Czech Republic
April 2003 freelance media consultant for the TV Praha agency, which was founded by former Czech Television colleagues

And who do you think should set those criteria?
The basic criteria should be written into the law. If you want such public institutions, what is wanted and under what conditions should be written down. Everyone knows what’s ideal – high quality programming that is praised by all experts and watched by most of the people in the country. But the management also has to be able to defend expensive broadcasts of operas, even if it draws only 200,000 viewers, which would mean 200 sold-out theaters. A public service is not for the majority, it’s for everyone. And for reasonable money. If we compare the Nova channel with Czech Television, you’ll find that Nova is more expensive.

You are very critical of Vladimír Železný. Do you think the two of you have anything in common?
I have no idea. I don’t know about his life, I only know that it’s been different than it is in the CV he’s disseminated. Fervor, perhaps. But there are many people who are fervid about television, but they haven’t been appointed as directors. Furthermore, he may not even be fervid, he may just be obsessed with power and the possibility of manipulating others.

How would you describe yourself in a few words?
I’m hard-headed, overly responsible in my work, and I want a sense for detail. I don’t like to let things slide. But I should leave more time for myself, for my education, reading, and loved ones.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I’ve thought about my prospects only in terms of work. My father died at age 51, so I don’t think too much about myself.

How would you like people to remember you?
When I left Czech Television a theater full of people rose and applauded. That’s certainly a more pleasant memory than the slander and scuffles in the press and at other television networks.






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