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Markíza struggle returns to square one

Just when it looked like peace was returning to privately owned Markíza TV, a Bratislava court decision reignited a furious ownership dispute at the station. Businessman Marián Kočner, who was within an ace of being confirmed as Markíza's new owner, had victory snatched from his grasp when the court ruled on September 23 that he should not have been given title to company shares in the first place.
Kočner and his company Gamatex had bought the company Markíza Slovakia in a court auction on August 14. The deal occured after the court ruled that former Markíza Slovakia owners Pavol Rusko and SylviaVolzová had defaulted on a contract held by Kočner. Rusko objected strenuously that only Markíza Slovakia's assets, not its shares, were subject to seizure in the event of a breach of contract.


Cut off at the pass. Gamatex bosses Štefan Ágh (left) and Marián Kočner discuss their next moves in 'Markízagate'.
Vladimír Hák - Profit

Just when it looked like peace was returning to privately owned Markíza TV, a Bratislava court decision reignited a furious ownership dispute at the station. Businessman Marián Kočner, who was within an ace of being confirmed as Markíza's new owner, had victory snatched from his grasp when the court ruled on September 23 that he should not have been given title to company shares in the first place.

Kočner and his company Gamatex had bought the company Markíza Slovakia in a court auction on August 14. The deal occured after the court ruled that former Markíza Slovakia owners Pavol Rusko and SylviaVolzová had defaulted on a contract held by Kočner. Rusko objected strenuously that only Markíza Slovakia's assets, not its shares, were subject to seizure in the event of a breach of contract.

On September 23, the second court upheld Rusko's position."If the executor sold the company shares of Pavol Rusko and Sylvia Volzová in auction, he sold an unfit object of execution," read the statement of Bratislava District Court. The court then claimed the right to postpone the execution until a higher (regional) court made a final decision.

In effect, then, the Markíza dispute is back to square one. Gamatex's original claim on Markíza remains to be satisfied in some way, while Pavol Rusko has been given back all that he lost during a chaotic past month.

Big beefs

Rusko had been lobbying hard for weeks to have the original court verdict overturned, but to little avail. A Bratislava regional court issued an order on September 21 that "prohibits [Rusko] from performing any legal actions that might injure [Markíza Slovakia]" until Gamatex's ownership rights could be recorded in the official company register.

"It is unbelievable how the court acts on behalf of Gamatex and how it leaves my appeals unnoticed," said Rusko after the decision.

But perseverance paid off when Rusko sent a letter to Slovakia's media watchdog, the Radio and TV Council, telling them that Gamatex had not been registeged in accordance with the law. "Currently, there is no procedure, not even a preliminary one, which would limit my rights as an official representative [of Markíza]," he wrote.

As if to prove the truth of his words, the court decided on the following day to overturn the August 14 seizure of Markíza Slovakia shares and to postpone settlement of the Gamatex claim.

Gamatex, with the court decision, became a two time loser. Besides the nixing of its ownership stake in Markíza Slovakia, it also has to pay a heavy price for violating the election law on media during the company's mid-September occupation of Markíza premises, which sparked public demonstrations across the country.

During the outcry, Markíza staff broadcast shots of chanting crowds and interviews with opposition politicians accusing the ruling HZDS party of Premier Vladimír Mečiar of being behind the scandal.

For these offences, the state media council fined Markíza 3.5 million Sk ($120,000) under the terms of the country's new election law, which forbids electronic media to broadcast information promoting candidate parties during the election campaign. The council decided that the fine should be paid by Gamatex

"The council ruled that Markíza violated both its licence conditions and the election law, because opposition politicians appearing on the screen conducted election campaigning," said council spokeswoman Jarmila Grujbárová on September 17, adding that the station would also have to broadcast three statements to viewers that it had broken the election law.

The Markíza case quickly became a political cause célébre. Slovak Democratic Coalition leader Mikuláš Dzurinda claimed that 'Markízagate' was connected with government officials. "It is the HZDS and the Slovak Information Agency (SIS) who are behind the case. They are doing their best to liquidate the free media and thus to avoid the defeat of the government party in the elections," he said.

Mečiar denied this claim and said that for him, the station's problems were matters of bad business, not corrupt politics.

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