Since March 2020, when the first Covid-19 cases appeared in the Czech Republic, four different ministers have led the Ministry of Health. Roman Prymula enjoyed the greatest media coverage, although he held the post for the shortest period. Adam Vojtěch was rated the best by social media users, mainly for his hard work and communication with the public. Petr Arenberger, on the other hand, received the most criticism, as people blamed him for property irregularities and the minister’s welcoming attitude to the Sputnik V vaccine. That’s according to an analysis by Newton Media which monitored the media coverage of individual ministers and the opinions of social media users.
Czechia has been facing Covid-19 for more than a year. A great deal of attention has been paid to healthcare, which, of all sectors, has been hit by the pandemic the most. And thus to the health ministers too. Ministerial replacing and related controversies have aroused the interest of journalists and social media users as well. Roman Prymula (1,402,303 mentions) had the greatest media coverage in the monitored period from 1 February 2020 to 31 May 2021 in both traditional and social media, followed by Jan Blatný (1,022,792) and Adam Vojtěch (993,013). Petr Arenberger (292,601) had the lowest media coverage.
Poor communication, different attitudes, restrictions, and property irregularities
All four ministers were assessed very negatively by social media users. The largest number of negative comments in the monitored period was about Peter Arenberger. People criticized Arenberger’s alleged property irregularities, which led him to resign. Social media users also did not like the minister’s welcoming approach to Sputnik V. In this regard, they praised ex-minister Jan Blatný, who refused vaccination with untested vaccines. According to the discussions, Blatný had the most difficult position of all four health ministers. At the time when Blatný was the head of this department, the Czech Republic underwent the most serious phase of its fight against the coronavirus epidemic.
Adam Vojtěch faced the lowest criticism
“Users of social media rated Adam Vojtěch the best, even though we noticed 78 % of negative mentions in connection with his name. Discussants criticized Vojtěch for his inability to deal with the coronavirus epidemic and blamed him for the growing number of infected people after March 2020,” said Newton Media analyst Nikola Kopáčová. The price of the Covid tests and the inability of the minister to provide enough face masks were not well received either. In addition, his decisions were often considered confusing. The discussants called the then Deputy Minister of Health and epidemiologist Roman Prymula to be a greater expert.
However, many users appreciated Adam Vojtěch for his hard work and good communication with the public. Others also did not like the behaviour of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš towards Minister Vojtěch. There were opinions that Babiš tried to control and influence him too much. There were also mentions that Vojtěch was a decent minister, and because of this, it was difficult to stay in the political environment for a long time.
After a few weeks, when Vojtěch’s successor Roman Prymula came into the office, many social media users called for Vojtěch to return. Commentators did not like the strict measures that came into force during Prymula’s tenure. According to many, Prymula was an untrustworthy minister. Their opinion was then confirmed by his visit to a Prague restaurant at a time when restaurants had to be closed. “According to social media users, the Minister of Health should not have such attitude,” says Kopáčová. This opinion was strengthenedby Prymula’s presence at the football match between Slavia and Leicester City in February this year. According to the discussions, he should not visit such events when he proposed to introduce a hard lockdown in the Czech Republic and restricted people’s movement and contacts.
In the past year, many memes related to the health ministers were created, they most often reflected the frequent replacements of the heads of the office or the participation of Adam Vojtěch in the Superstar singing competition. “It is no surprise that the constant changing of ministers, their vague communication with the public, and rapidly changing anti-epidemiological measures have provoked negative reactions from the public. The high concentration of insults and vulgarisms in the comments only reflects the mood in society that is tired of a long-lasting epidemic and constant restraint. Highly publicized personalities and their statements thus become the target of negative reactions and critical evaluations,” concludes Martina Maňhalová, an analyst at Newton Media.
Analysis is based on data in mainstream and social media in period 01.02.2020-31.05.2021. The tonality assessment was made based on 5% sample of 78,304 contributions with a clear assessment of the health ministers.
Analysts: Martina Maňhalová a Nikola Kopáčová