The only metropolitan area that the private television station TV Markíza has not penetrated successfully is Žilina, in northern Slovakia. That's because Markíza has been unable to gain access to a nearby broadcast transmitter that would extend the station's signal to this city of 85,000 from a regional station called TV Sever.
Currently, TV Markíza is broadcasting within "10 km of Žilina," according to the station's director, Pavol Rusko. "This is not a solution for us, because we need the signal from the transmitter," Rusko said. "If we have the transmitter, Slovak Telecom can bring our signal to Žilina by mid-1997. Markíza has penetrated 66 to 70 percent of the [Slovak] market. Sever's frequency will raise this to 80 percent, which means our advertising revenue will rise by 10 percent."
Markíza's waiting may not end soon. In October, TV Sever won an appeal in a regional court in Banská Bystrica reversing a decision by the state Radio and TV Broadcast Council that revoked TV Sever's broadcast license.
Negotiations gone sour
At the heart of the matter is the broadcast transmitter, named "Križova," which both stations need to reach Žilina's populace. Knowing that TV Sever was using the transmitter, Markíza offered to pay TV Sever's owner, Zdeno Spičak, Sever's estimated debt of 70 million Sk to Slovak Telecom, in return for use of Sever's frequency. Markíza's general director, Pavol Rusko, told The Slovak Spectator that five to six months before Markíza went on the air in August, Markíza entered negotiations with Spičak to share access to Žilina's transmitter.
Palo Rypal, a former TV Sever moderator, said the Broadcast Council's general director, Peter Juraš, advised Spičak to "connect" with Markíza, "so they could broadcast all over Slovakia and save a lot of money," but that despite "bilateral desire," the proposed connection never came to pass.
Another factor clouding the negotiations was that at the moment when a deal seemed to be in the making, the Broadcast Council yanked TV Sever's license. "As soon as the negotiations started," said a media source familiar with TV Sever, "the Broadcast Council accused [Spičak] of breaching Sever's license." According to this source, one reason may have been a Council decision that mandated at least 30 percent of all programs broadcast by a domestic station must be Slovak-made.
Markíza's Rusko claims a deal was never consummated because Spičak pulled out at the last minute. "He made a verbal agreement with us, then the day before it was due for approval by the Broadcast Council, he wrote to them that it was all a big mistake, and took it back," Rusko said. "He still hasn't explained this to me." Spičak would not respond to The Slovak Spectator's requests for an interview on the subject.
Despite the bad blood, Rusko indicated that the two stations may resume negotiating. "It's a very touchy question," he said. "We really want to start broadcasting in Žilina, so we will have to negotiate. I cannot predict the outcome."
TV Sever resumed broadcasting on November 25, but it is a financially troubled entity, sources said, with some estimating that it is 70 million Sk in debt. Former TV Sever moderator Rypal said the local station owes "half a billion crowns" in fines to the Broadcast Council, while Rudo Podkrivacký, the owner of Žilina's Radio Frontinus, says it owes "a lot of money" to two distribution companies for various programs which Sever broadcast.
Nevertheless, Rypal also said Spičak "will definitely sue" the Council for financial damages resulting from his station's forced exile from Žilina's airwaves, which Rypal estimated at "more than 100 million crowns."
According to industry sources, TV Sever may have found itself a savior in the owner of Sipox Holding, Jozef Majský. According to Rypal, Spičak told the press in late October that "there were some terms under which Mr. Majský said he would pay TV Sever's debts." Majský himself would not confirm whether he had bought a share in TV Sever.
As long as TV Sever is broadcasting, though, TV Markíza remains shut out of Žilina, a fact which still gnaws at Rusko. "If Sever is 70 million Sk in debt, that comes out of people's taxes," he said. "TV Sever does not own this frequency; the owner is the state, and if the state rents this frequency to Sever and it cannot pay for this frequency, it is their right to take the station off the air. This is not a case of the state fighting to crush the freedom of a private station, but of the state fighting a bad private business."
4. Dec 1996 at 0:00 | Tom Reynolds