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LICENCE DECISION ANGERS MARKÍZA BOSS

Media moguls prepare for TV war

Slovak media magnate Pavol Rusko is promising to wage war against his former friend Vladimír Železný.
Rusko, whose Slovak media empire covers TV Markíza, radio stations and a national daily, launched a bitter attack on the Czech television tycoon just hours before Železný was granted a broadcast licence for Slovakia.
Comparing Železný to notorious Czech financial fugitive Viktor Kožený, Rusko said: "If Kožený comes to Slovakia and wants a banking licence, will he be granted one?"


Vladimír Železný has been awarded a broadcast licence for Slovak Mac TV. He says he will give Slovak viewers a "choice".
photo: TASR

Slovak media magnate Pavol Rusko is promising to wage war against his former friend Vladimír Železný.

Rusko, whose Slovak media empire covers TV Markíza, radio stations and a national daily, launched a bitter attack on the Czech television tycoon just hours before Železný was granted a broadcast licence for Slovakia.

Comparing Železný to notorious Czech financial fugitive Viktor Kožený, Rusko said: "If Kožený comes to Slovakia and wants a banking licence, will he be granted one?"

Backing up earlier statements in Czech media that Železný's arrival would force a "media war" between the two men he added: "My view of Železný was formed following an international arbitration court decision. The court ruled that he had committed a serious criminal act and I think the fact cannot be ignored."

Železný says he will now sue Rusko over the comments.

As general director of the Czech Republic's most popular TV station, Nova, Železný saw his Slovak Mac TV awarded a broadcast licence in Slovakia October 23. He had bought a 70% stake in the firm, operator of the Slovak channel TV Global, in mid September.

Following the Broadcast and Retransmission Council's ruling Železný declared: "A real television market has been created in Slovakia."

He added: "We will do everything to attract Slovak viewers. We will give them a choice."

Markíza dominates the Slovak television market with almost 50% viewership last August, according to the Stratégie media market monthly. It also commands 85% of the television advertising market.

Železný has pledged to invest Sk350 million ($7.5 million) into Global in an attempt to break Rusko's stranglehold on Slovak television. He has also declared he wants a 20% share of the ad market within 18 months.

Since the September MacTV buyout, Rusko has publicly attacked his rival. Immediately after the deal he claimed the Nova boss wanted to "use TV Global as a rubbish bin for the unsuccessful programmes of TV Nova".

He added Železný was "looking to create a Czechoslovak federal television with decisions on programming dictated by Prague".

He also drew attention to a September arbitration court ruling in Stockholm that found Železný's break from Nova's parent company illegal. The case has left the Czech Republic facing a multi-million dollar bill for breaking international investment agreements.

Železný has derided the attacks as "unfair competition".

Independent media watchdogs and other market players say Rusko's swipes at his rival are driven by a fear of losing market and advertising share.

"We saw an active campaign from Rusko on Markíza against Železný. News spots on the court cases were run not at the time of the case, but in the runup to the council decision. Obviously, Železný's coming here will have a big effect on advertising and the general television market," said Rastislav Kužel, head of media monitoring agency Memo 98.

"Until now Rusko hasn't seen any other television station as a rival," he added.

Rumours also began circulating within hours of the council ruling that a member of Rusko's political party Ano, Jiri Malcharek, had been in touch with members of the council prior to the ruling.

"We have heard these rumours as well," said Kužel. He added the Broadcasting and Retransmission Council had asked Memo 98 for the results of recent monitoring on Markíza. The group has already presented evidence that Markíza has been biased in its coverage of Ano.

But Igor Cekirda, executive director of CEN, holder of the broadcast licence for the TA3 news channel, said: "We are glad the council took this decision. It's good it did not succumb to various pressures that have appeared in the media recently," said .

Following the award of the licence Rusko refused to comment directly on Železný but said: "I respect the council's decision."

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