It is unfortunate that Post executive editor Benjamin C. Bradlee could easily dismiss Czech leaders' proposals to make journalists legally accountable for their work {Outlook, July 15}. Perhaps if he had a historical perspective of the press in Central Europe, he might appreciate the value of the Czech proposals, both in their own context as well as in the United States.

Czechoslovakia, an integral part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before 1918, did not enjoy a constitution granting even basic civil liberties until 1867. Newspapers of many languages flourished afterward but were not free from continual government censorship.

On the other hand, the press was often corrupt, noted for toadying to the authorities while freely accepting editorial influence from advertising clients. As Edward Timms notes in "Karl Kraus: Apocalyptic Satirist," the editor of Die Presse in Vienna declared that an ideal newspaper would be one in which nothing would be printed which hadn't been paid for by someone.

Rather than fulfilling its ideal role as a champion of freedom and truth, the press of Vienna in particular was rightfully regarded as doing the opposite by the turn of the century. One ironic consequence was a rejection by the mass electorate in Vienna of the "liberties" of liberal constitutionalism. The irresponsible press was closely linked with the rise of mass political antisemitism, as it became derided as the "liberal-Jewish press," perceived as serving the political and commercial interests of a wealthy few at the expense of the many.

In such a social context, American editors such as Mr. Bradlee would do well to appreciate the fragility of institutions and freedoms in Central Europe, which we take for granted. The Czech leaders are to be commended for their motives if nothing else. They realize the dangers of freedom without responsibility, even as they have rejected central authority without accountability.

Instead of falling back on complacent platitudes, Mr. Bradlee and other editors might apply the lessons of the Austrian press in considering how they might make themselves and their papers more respected by a national audience for whom the phrase "liberal media" has its own contemporary meaning for irresponsibility. RICHARD G. LEAHY Herndon