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US investor gains voice at Markíza

CENTRAL European Media Enterprises (CME), a US-based media buyer, has bought a 34 per cent stake in Markíza-Slovakia, a limited liability company which holds the broadcasting license for the popular private TV Markíza station.
CME representatives said the share, approved by the Licence Council (RVR) on January 22, would enable them to have a more direct say in the station that they helped to build over six years ago. They added that their goal was to hold a 50 per cent stake in the license company in the future.
Although CME, which currently operates in Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine and Romania, owns a 49 per cent stake in Slovenská televízna spoločnosť (STS) Blatné, which runs TV Markíza, until recently it had no stake in the licence company.


CME boss Fred Klinkhammer (right) thinks Markíza head Pavol Rusko should "be seen to be virtuous".
photo: Ľuboš Pilc, Sme

CENTRAL European Media Enterprises (CME), a US-based media buyer, has bought a 34 per cent stake in Markíza-Slovakia, a limited liability company which holds the broadcasting license for the popular private TV Markíza station.

CME representatives said the share, approved by the Licence Council (RVR) on January 22, would enable them to have a more direct say in the station that they helped to build over six years ago. They added that their goal was to hold a 50 per cent stake in the license company in the future.

Although CME, which currently operates in Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine and Romania, owns a 49 per cent stake in Slovenská televízna spoločnosť (STS) Blatné, which runs TV Markíza, until recently it had no stake in the licence company.

"We have always been a partner in the founding and operation of Markíza. This change admits us to the license company and helps improve the security of our investment," Fred Klinkhammer, CME executive director told The Slovak Spectator January 29.

Klinkhammer said that his company had "a general desire to control the business in which it makes significant investments.

"All license company decisions now require the agreement or affirmative vote of three executives. We appoint one of these executives."

Pavol Rusko, former general director of Markíza, and his business partner Ján Kováčik now jointly control 40.5 per cent in Markíza-Slovakia. Businessman Milan Fiľo has a 25.5 per cent stake in the license company.

RVR head Peter Kováč said he believed that the CME entry was a positive step for both the US company and for the quality of Markíza's broadcasting.

"With CME now holding a stake in the license company, it's very unlikely for the Nova scenario to repeat in Markíza," he said.

The Czech station TV Nova's general director, Vladimír Železný, took Nova's station license for himself and ran Nova broadcasts without CME's authorisation. Since 1999 CME has been involved in a bitter legal battle with Železný.

The RVR recently agreed to Železný's entry into Slovakia with his Joj TV, which is expected to be a strong competitor against Markíza.

But Klinkhammer said: "I am unable to understand why or how Železný received a license in Slovakia, because his behaviour has been found to be criminal by an international arbitration court, and he is facing numerous criminal charges in the Czech Republic."

However, he said he respected the decision of the Slovak authorities to let Železný into the local media market.

Kováč of the RVR said he looked forward to CME's being a balancing influence in Markíza's news output.

Media monitoring agencies and the RVR have claimed that TV Markíza broadcasted unbalanced news footage favouring Rusko's non-parliamentary Ano party.

"I believe that the Americans don't bring just money to Slovakia, but also a certain type of political culture," Kováč said.

Rusko has rejected suggestions that his media outlets had any bias towards his party, and criticised the monitoring methods of the independent media watchdog Memo 98 as well as those of the RVR.

Klinkhammer said: "CME does not think politics and media mix very well. Our partner, Mr Rusko is aware of how we feel about this and together we both know that this means that like Caesar's wife he must not only be virtuous but be seen to be so.

"We are also aware that there is seldom a government in power anywhere in the world that does not feel unfairly treated by the media and television in particular. The audience votes with its eyes, and if they perceive a station to be unfair they will soon stop watching."

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