Had you been watching Czech Television on June 17, 2007, you might have seen what appeared to be a nuclear explosion on your television screen. A mountain resort in the Krkonose region of the Czech Republic appeared to go up in a mushroom cloud of smoke. The video was a hoax, cleverly perpetrated by Ztohoven, a local art group. They later released a statement on their MySpace page claiming responsibility for the event:
“We are neither a terrorist organization nor a political group, our aim is not to intimidate the society or manipulate it, which is something we witness on daily basis both in the real world and in the world created by the media…We hope our action will become an appeal for the future and remind the media of their duty to bring out the truth.”
The performance, entitled “Media Reality” sparked controversy throughout the country. The Czech National Gallery awarded the group with the newly created NG 333 prize for their work. ”This piece—alongside all of the art the group Ztohoven is making – is crossing the border from art into something more social. The artists are trying to escape from the cage of art, and into real life. They would like to influence their own lives, and other people’s lives.” The cash prize totaled approximately 333,000 KOR, or US$18,350.
Unfortunately, the project received scathing reviews from Czech Television, the station that was the unwilling host for the performance. According to Dusan Ondracek, state prosecutor, six of the members of Ztohoven group have been charged with scaremongering and spreading false information. The members, if convicted, could face up to three years in prison.
Ironically, it is not uncommon for media outlets to deliberately report false news. Traditionally April Fool’s Day makes it acceptable to publish fake stories—despite the spread of false information. One of the most infamous occasions of an April Fool’s report was the 1957 BBC report on the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest, where distinguished journalist Richard Dimbleby reported on the favourable season for spaghetti farmers in Europe. Hundreds of viewers contacted the BBC program to ask where they could get their own spaghetti bush. It is believed to be the first instance of television being used for an April Fools broadcast, but many media outlets both before and since, have been documented as having used their voice for a practical joke, including The Guardian and Sports Illustrated.
Perhaps, had Ztohoven carried out their performance two months earlier they wouldn’t be in the hot-water they are facing. What is more likely though, is that only the media believes they have the power to create false news, on April Fool’s Day or otherwise.